September 21, 2011 at 12:17 PM CDT - Updated June 25 at 11:29 AM
By KEVIN BEGOS Associated Press
PITTSBURGH (AP) - A Pennsylvania school district has decided not to stage a Tony Award-winning musical about a Muslim street poet after community members complained about the timing so soon after the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The Richland School District in Johnstown had planned to stage "Kismet" in February, but Superintendent Thomas Fleming said Tuesday that it was scrapped to avoid controversy.
"We're not saying there's anything bad about the musical. We may potentially produce it in the future," Fleming told The Associated Press. The Tribune-Democrat of Johnstown first reported on the district's decision.
Music director Scott Miller said the district, not far from where hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 crashed, last performed "Kismet" in 1983 - to sold-out audiences.
The play has no inappropriate content, Miller said, but he and other members of the performing arts committee decided to switch to "Oklahoma!" after hearing complaints.
"Kismet" is an Aladdin-style love story set in Baghdad more than 1,000 years ago. It won the Tony for best musical in 1954, and a Hollywood movie was made the next year.
Ahmed Rehab, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that literature and the arts are some of the best ways to bridge gaps between people.
"And those in education ought to know that more than anyone," Rehab said. "We're a country of immigrants. It's doesn't stand true to our legacy as a nation. I think they need to reinstate the play."
An unscientific online poll in the Tribune-Democrat suggested some locals are questioning the decision. Asked whether the school made the right call, 174 said no and 116 said yes.
Fleming said sensitivity about the play is understandable because of Flight 93's demise in nearby Shanksville, and because the sudden death of a drama student in a car crash affected students last year.
There was no answer at a phone number listed for the Islamic Center of Johnstown. Fleming said he didn't know whether his school had any Muslim students.
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