The Parkway Playhouse in Burnsville recently announced that permission to stage the classic musical West Side Story have been pulled by the rights holders. That loss came as a reaction to the state’s controversial House Bill 2, aka “the bathroom bill.” The growing string of boycotts surrounding the bill, due to its restrictive language concerning transgender people, has finally hit Western North Carolina’s theater community.
Local theaters took notice when famed Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz pulled the rights to all of his shows from being produced in N.C. These productions include Wicked and Godspell. There is concern was over whether other creators will follow Schwartz and call for boycotts of their own shows.
“Parkway Playhouse has given voice to performing artists in our community and the region for seventy years,” says Andrew Gall, the theater company’s artistic director. “While we respect the views of Mr. Schwartz and the authors of West Side Story, none of them have any experience in working in small rural arts organizations, and it is difficult for me to see the value in a boycott that silences artists, which is the direct result of this development. It is similarly difficult for me to understand how this effort, by these writers in particular, will actively contribute to a resolution of the conflict surrounding this law.”
A show is being sought to replace West Side Story, and will be announced soon. Gall also indicated that this sudden shift in the Parkway Playhouse’s summer season presents a lot of challenges, and that the costs incurred due to those changes will be “extensive.”
“Our theater has endured many tests since 1947,” Gall says. “We will survive this too. Parkway Playhouse is not a political organization, and despite the position we have been put in, our focus will remain on serving our community by continuing to create the best theater possible.”
West Side Story, by Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents, is licensed through Music Theatre International. That organization posted the following on its webside: “The rights holders of this show have made their intentions clear and MTI will not issue new licenses for this show within North Carolina or Mississippi until we receive new instructions.”
Representative Michele Presnell and State Senator Ralph Hise, both representing Yancey County, supported HB2. Both are up for re-election in November.