Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Let's Get Dramatic About It

Here's a great example of a company stuck between a rock and a hard place - between sticking by their guns and legal rights, and disappointing a bunch of kids...

They Get to Put On a Show in the Bronx
"On Friday an official from Samuel French, the licensing agent for "Chicago," the hit Kander and Ebb musical that has been playing on Broadway for nearly 10 years, told that Bronx high school that it would not be allowed to stage the show because it had not applied for permission. Dozens of students, who had worked for months on the production and had been planning to perform it tomorrow, were heartbroken."
As the article says, it's a basic - basic - responsibility of a performing group wishing to put on a production to first pay royalties to the company that owns the right to the particular play or musical. This is true from the largest-scale Broadway musical on down to some of the most basic children's plays.

But apparently there was ignorance all around of this process:
The case, from a legal perspective, was not complicated. The school's drama teacher, Anthony Cerrini, 24, had decided to stage "Chicago." He found some dialogue on the Internet, transcribed some of it from the 2002 movie starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renée Zellweger, and wrote some of it himself.

At the news conference, Mr. Cerrini took responsibility and said that he had never been told about the need for an application.


To put on just about any Broadway show, a school or performing group must apply to the licensing company and pay a fee. No one at Lehman High School made the application, and the principal, Robert Leder, said he had not recalled having to apply for anything in 27 years of putting on high school musical events.
This lack of knowledge, by a high school principal who's been putting on shows for 27 years, and a drama teacher, is inexcusable. There's also this:
Meanwhile, Mr. Van Nostrand said that Samuel French would begin looking into those previous musical productions that Mr. Leder said the school had been putting on without, to his recollection, applying for permission. "I'm a little curious about what those other 27 years were," Mr. Van Nostrand said.
I think this school could be in some serious, serious trouble.

Oh, but wait! There's hope on the horizon, thanks to some city council members and other community leaders willing to hold their breath until they turn blue and guilt the rights-holders into granting permission:
...four [Bronx] City Council members and Betsy Gotbaum, the city's public advocate, vowed to stage a protest in front of the Ambassador Theater, where the Broadway revival is playing. By the time everyone arrived, however, the protest had turned into a triumphant news conference to announce that an agreement had been reached.

The Shubert Organization, which owns the Ambassador; the producers Fran and Barry Weissler; and, most important, the songwriter, John Kander, and the estates of the lyricist, Fred Ebb, and the book writer, Bob Fosse, had granted permission for a single unauthorized, unlicensed performance at the school.
So the thing we've learned here, is that no matter if you follow the rules, apply for permission to put on a show and possibly be rejected:
With "Chicago" there was an additional wrinkle. For many Broadway and touring shows, agreements are negotiated by the producers and theater owners prohibiting competing productions of a show within a certain distance.

If a group puts on a performance that violates this rule, it could be liable for hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages, Mr. Van Nostrand said. In the case of "Chicago," the radius from Broadway is 75 miles, easily covering East Tremont Avenue in the Bronx, where Lehman High School is situated.
A similar thing happened recently locally to the Oak Ridge Community Playhouse. Last fall, they had planned to put on the musical "Peter Pan", had applied for and been greated the performance rights. Unfortunately, a touring company of "Peter Pan" added Knoxville to its schedule and the company was forced to rescind its permission for Oak Ridge to perform it. That's how, in its place, they substituted "Annie".

But you can see how Oak Ridge abided by the rules, and I'm sure every other school that applied to do "Chicago" and was turned down because they were too close to the Broadway production was disappointed but complied. However, due to the actions of the city officials who excused the school principal and teacher's irresponsible and illegal actions, they saw the opportunity to take advantage of some possible bad publicity and "save" the show.

Sure, the kids were kept happy, but the law and justice and fair play was screwed.


Sounds a lot like the immigration question, doesn't it? Good things these kids are getting an education on how you can buck the system and cut to the front of the line, while the rest of those who work hard, keep their noses clean and follow the rules are ignored.

One final thought. What in the world is a high school doing performing "Chicago"?? It's not the most, um, innocent of shows and a far cry from "Oklahoma!" and "Bye Bye Birdie" that I did at Central High...

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