Max Hightower, a senior, was cast in the role about two weeks ago, TV station KXII reports. The station doesn’t name the character, but the lead male role in the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical is Curly, a cowboy who’s been played by stars including Alfred Drake, Gordon MacRae, and Hugh Jackman.
A few days later, however, Hightower was called in to the principal’s office and told he couldn’t play the role. He said the principal told him that for this production, “actors and actresses could only play a role that was the same gender they were assigned at birth.” The school’s website identifies the principal as Scott Johnston.
Hightower, who was elated when he was cast, said he was “devastated” when the role was taken away from him, according to KXII. He has played female characters in previous shows, but the staffers who run the theater productions had no problem with appearing as male, he and his father said.
“All kinds of actors have played all kinds of parts,” Hightower said. “I mean, I grew up watching Mrs. Doubtfire.”
He is determined to be reinstated, he said. “I want every kid to be recognized and noticed and allowed to be themselves,” he told the station.
“I expected him to be crying, but no, Max is a fighter,” said his father, Philip Hightower.
The Sherman Independent School District released a statement saying, “There is no policy on how students are assigned to roles. As it relates to this particular production, the sex of the role as identified in the script will be used when casting. Because the nature and subject matter of productions vary, the District is not inclined to apply this criteria to all future productions.”
The statement also said the production is under review and would be postponed.
“It was brought to the District’s attention that the current production contained mature adult themes, profane language, and sexual content,” the statement noted. “Unfortunately, all aspects of the production need to be reviewed, including content, stage production/props, and casting to ensure that the production is appropriate for the high school stage.”
For the record, Oklahoma! is considered a classic of American musical theater. It was first produced on Broadway in 1943 and has been revived several times, most recently in 2019, and made into a film. It has received countless awards and is a staple of school theater departments and community theater troupes.
The Sherman High School production was originally scheduled for December 8-10. The new dates will likely be sometime after January 15, the statement said.