By Cleve Bryan

By Cleve Bryan and Paul Kurtz

CHERRY HILL, N.J. (CBS) – During a private audience with one of Broadway’s best-known performers the discussion between students at Cherry Hill East High School and Brian Stokes Mitchell wasn’t about reaching new octaves or mastering expression.

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They talked about a racial slur, the “N” word.

Mitchell, who was nominated for a Tony Award as the lead in the musical Ragtime, came to talk with students after the school district almost ditched a springtime production of the show because the n-word is in the script.

“The way the show is designed is for the audience to fall in love with the characters, particularly Coalhouse and Sarah, so when that language is used against them the audience also goes, ‘ohhh’ and realize that is part of it as well,” explained Mitchell.

Cherry Hill Schools wanted to delete the n-word from the show but copyright rules don’t allow schools to change the script.

So faced with performing it as written or not all, the school district took input from parents and community leaders.

They decided the show goes on with the n-word included.

“We came to the conclusion that it would be very good to include this as a curriculum piece and use it as a learning experience,” says Barbara Wilson, the district’s media relations representative.

Next week students will get a school lesson and have a discussion on the n-word as well as watch the play.

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“I would much rather see it in a theater portrayed accurately than hear it yelled by two boys in the hall,” says student Samantha Roehl.

Mitchell, who sang Ragtime’s “Make Them Hear You” for the students, didn’t want censorship of the play he loves but says he understands why people are upset.

“I say good, I’m glad you think it’s an ugly word, it should be an ugly word and is an ugly word,” says Mitchell.

Mitchell gave the kids a bonus, as he belted out a song from the show.

He believes the most important thing to come out of this is that people are talking about a sensitive subject. He said he also went there to inspire students and give insights into the show.

The lesson on the n-word will take place one day next week in each grade during history and English classes.

Ragtime opens next Friday.



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