A New Zealand production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” sponsored by a local council has been forced to issue an apology to famed lyricist Tim Rice after removing “Israel” from the lyrics to one of the songs.
Festival organizers said they were doing so to keep things simple for students who would be performing, but did not explain why they found the word Israel in the play problematic.
The substitution was discovered by Twitter user, Kate Dowling, who noted on Friday that in the song “Close Every Door,” the line “Children of Israel” had been replaced with “Children of kindness.”
She wrote to the Wellington city council and to Rice, one half of the famed musical writing team, together with Andrew Lloyd Webber, to ask for clarification.
The changed lyrics were the work of the New Zealand capital’s Artsplash festival, in which 10,000 elementary school pupils take part. They distributed song sheets to those who were taking part with the changed lyrics to one of the best known songs.
"Children of Israel" has been changed to "Children of Kindness". Why opt to do a Jewish-themed song then remove the Jewish-themed lyric? pic.twitter.com/Ur3cdonprK
— Kate Dowling (@Kate_DowlingNZ) June 15, 2017
The musical, written by Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, tells the biblical story of Joseph and the Israelites leaving Canaan and going to Egypt.
In both the biblical story and the musical, the word “Israel” does not refer to the country, but to Jacob, who was given a second name, and “children of Israel” means Joseph and his brothers.
Rice was unhappy at the “unauthorized” change, tweeting, “This is a totally unauthorised change of lyric by @WgtnCC. Plus it’s a terribly drippy and meaningless alteration.”
He tweeted to the Wellington City Council asking them to explain.
“Please explain Joseph lyric change: ‘children of Israel’ to ‘children of kindness’. Permission not given. Tim Rice.”
— Sir Tim Rice (@SirTimRice) June 16, 2017
The Artsplash event is partially funded by the council, but council spokesman Richard MacLean told the New Zealand news website Stuff that the council had no involvement in the changes made to the lyrics.
Artsplash coordinator Mary Prichard told Stuff that the organizers wanted to “keep life simple” for primary school children, though she didn’t say what is was about the word Israel that could complicate life for the students.
Prichard also said that the production had dropped two other songs from the musical, saying, “It’s not worth going there. It’s not worth looking for trouble.”
“We always look to have music that covers and looks after kids from all countries, from all backgrounds,” Prichard said. “It was decided that small change of one word would be made. It’s obviously gone down like a lead balloon.”
Hearing that three of the ten songs were being removed from the musical, Rice tweeted that either Artsplash should do the whole show or none of it.
— Sir Tim Rice (@SirTimRice) June 17, 2017
The council was quick to apologize for the change, saying that it will rectify the situation and makes sure that all the original unadulterated songs are in the production.
Apologies again – we've told the organisers today that the original songs must go back in the programme. This will happen!
— Wgtn City Council (@WgtnCC) June 18, 2017
The council also said that the incident was caused by an error of judgement.
A community coordinator made an error in judgement which we will rectify before the schoolkids perform in Sept. Sorry, we love your work.
— Wgtn City Council (@WgtnCC) June 16, 2017
Stephen Goodman, president of the New Zealand Jewish Council, said the incident was a case of “people trying to be politically correct where it’s unnecessary to be so.”
Subsequently, Prichard issued a full apology, replying to a Facebook user: “You have my complete assurance that this was an unintentional and innocent error on the part of one of my team, and I apologise for it. The person concerned, and myself for that matter, are religious people and would never consider intentionally doing anything racist or anti any religion.”
Unbelievable. First Wellington City Council sponsored school children's festival Artsplash chooses songs from Joseph and…
She also said she had run Artsplash for 30 years, and she stressed that she has “always included children of all sorts of backgrounds including Jewish.”
The incident led one Facebook commentator to quip that maybe New Zealand rugby player Israel Dagg would now have to change his name to Kindness Dagg before the next match.