ASK PLAYBILL.COM: How Do Broadway Producers Secure Permission to Revive Musicals?

Ask Playbill.com   ASK PLAYBILL.COM: How Do Broadway Producers Secure Permission to Revive Musicals? A question concerning the hoops a Broadway producer must jump through to get the rights to revive a musical on Broadway.

 

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Poster art for the upcoming Evita revival
Poster art for the upcoming Evita revival

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Question: The currently planned revivals of Evita and Anything Goes have gotten me thinking. I know what any regional or community theatre must go through to secure rights to produce Broadway classics, however I am wondering if producers of Broadway revivals must go through the channels. Often you see changes in the shows, as well. For instance the U.K. production of Evita included "You Must Love Me," a song originaly created for the movie release. How do producers get permission to replace, add or delete songs that normal folks like me would not be allowed to do? — Rob Parrish, East Providence, RI. 

Every Broadway season sees a few revivals of classic, and not-so-classic, musicals. In order to even think about presenting these shows, producers must first obtain permission from the powerful licensing houses that represent the properties. There are only a few big licensing organizations, among them the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization (which represented the R&H catalogue, as well as musicals by Rodgers and Hart, Adam Guettel, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Kurt Weill and others), MTI-Music Theatre International (shows by Stephen Sondheim, Harnick and Bock, Stephen Schwartz and Jonathan Larson, etc.) and Tams-Witmark (Cole Porter, Burton Lane, George Gershwin, etc.).

What does a producer do?

Ted Chapin of R&H
photo by Aubrey Reuben

"The first thing is to find out who actually speaks for the Broadway rights," said Ted Chapin of R&H. "Sometimes going through the licensing house is the right way to do it, and sometimes not. But that's usually a good place to start. Since Broadway is considered 'First Class' rights, often those rights are reserved unto the authors." (Everything from high school on up, falling short of Broadway, is considered "Second Class.") Thus, the producers planning the upcoming Broadway revival of Evita, which began in London, had to directly deal with Andrew Lloyd Webber. For shows in which the authors are no longer alive, descendants or an estate must be contacted. For instance, the producers of this season's new production of Anything Goes worked with the Cole Porter Trust.

"The show is at Tams-Witmark," explained Chapin. "It's Cole Porter. In that instance, the Cole Porter Trust is run out of a law office in New York — Paul, Weiss. [Lawyer] Peter Felcher is the man, because Porter didn't have any direct descendants. That one happens to be extremely well organized in terms of being receptive to ideas, in terms of keeping the Porter shows out there."

Likewise, if the producers want to make any changes to the script or score, they must take it up with the show's reps and get approval. Getting a go-ahead can be a completely subjective matter, based on the reps' reception of the suggested staging. "It's always someone's judgment call," said Chapin. "When Lincoln Center asks about doing South Pacific, that's a fairly easy one. Artistically, we figured that was a pretty good risk."

However, said Chapin, another producer might be rejected because they don't have a substantial enough track record, or have what are perceived to be "bad ideas" for the show.

"There's no magic to it other than Who Has the Rights talking to Who Wants the Rights, and seeing if there's a dialogue."

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