Theatre message boards are aglow with news about the break between record producer Bruce Kimmel and Fynsworth Alley, the show music label for which he was the creative visionary but not the owner.
Kimmel told Playbill On-Line that he and his colleague David Levy were terminated from the company Oct. 20. They were informed in a letter signed by the company's owner, Barbara Ann O'Connor. She and her Fynsworth partner husband, Tim O'Connor, are Louisiana-based businesspeople and arts supporters.
"It was a personality problem," said the California-based Kimmel, 53. At the company, Kimmel and Levy were two-thirds of a staff of three, serving respective roles that might be called president and vice-president, overseeing the planning and execution of recording and releasing new cast albums, cabaret albums, concept discs or reissues licensed from other labels. The money came from the O'Connors, the sole owners of the company.
"Effective immediately, any relationship between Fynsworth Alley and Bruce Kimmel and David Levy has been terminated," confirmed Andrew Freedman, serving as the O'Connors' spokesman. "We certainly wish them both well in whatever they decide to do in the future."
Freedman described the O'Connors as "people who are devoted to the musical theatre and have the financial means to show their support." Freedman said the company is still "alive" and "vibrant" and "looks forward to releasing more CD's in the future." The website (www.fynsworthalley.com) used as a distribution point for the label's discs (usually prior to public sale in stores) is still active and selling product, although Kimmel noted that cosmetic changes have been made, excising his name and byline.
Freedman said post-production is being completed on seven discs, including the live recording of Donna McKechnie's act, a studio recording of Christopher Durang's Beyond Therapy, Klea Blackhurst's Everything the Traffic Will Allow, and more.
As owners, the O'Connors put more than a million dollars into the operation and funded the release of 20 new discs (not including titles from other labels Fynsworth got the rights to reissue) since the label was formed in March 2000.
Freedman said there was not a personality issue between Kimmel and the O'Connors. "None of this is based on personality, it was based on what is best for the company and the product," Freedman said. "The owners of the company have the highest regard for his artistic ability."
However, Freedman added, "It can be awkward when somebody with an artistic background is thrust into management."
Neither Kimmel nor Freedman could name the number of units that have sold since the company was founded. Among the high profile recordings on the Fynsworth Alley label have been cast albums of Broadway's Copenhagen, Off-Broadway's Godspell revival, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (the tour starring Ann-Margret), the Broadway cast album of Bells Are Ringing and new studio recordings with varied singers crooning new arrangements of popular and obscure songs by Stephen Schwartz and Stephen Sondheim. Freedman said the release strategy of selling a disc exclusively online for three months prior to being in stores "may be reevaluated," but that the O'Connors believe the overall concept "is still valuable and viable. The O'Connors have been happy with the amount of product that's been sold. But we can always do better."
Freedman said the concept for a musical theatre label selling discs online "was kicking around in Barbara's mind for awhile" and when she met Kimmel at an ASCAP workshop "he had a similar idea and it was a marriage."
Kimmel told Playbill On-Line that the concept and the name of the label were his (he's been associated with the screen name of "Fynsworth" for more than five years) and he's examining his options for the future.
"Bruce was an independent contractor to the label," Freedman said. "He had a management title...but production-wise he was an independent contractor. In that capacity, he certainly created some terrific CD's."
Freedman said Fynsworth "may be looking to expand our core group of producers, possibly incorporating more 'household name' [producers]."
Kimmel agrees that he and O'Connor met in late 1999 at an ASCAP workshop, but said Fynsworth "didn't exist before me, Fynsworth is my creation." He said he pitched the Fynsworth idea to the O'Connors in February 2000, over "many e-mail and phone conversations."
Thousands of "club members" have visited the Fynworth site over the past 15 months or so and ordered discs, shared ideas and logged on to read Kimmel's colorful musings about shows he has seen, or the progress made with contracts, recordings and releases. A section called BK's Notes on the site has been renamed "Fyn's Notes."
"I'm a positive person and so I don't go to the heartbreak," Kimmel said. "It was unpleasant, certainly hurtful."
Kimmel said his goal at the moment was to let fans know that he is not responsible for the way the company is run anymore, and doesn't want readers of the site to think he has written any future program notes.
During a period in the 1990s, when new musicals were scarce, or shows were not being actively recorded, Kimmel, a producer for Varese Sarabande, kept musical theatre fans quenched with studio recordings of obscure show scores or songs that were cut from hit shows (his "Lost in Boston" series) or songs from shows not widely known (his "Unsung Musicals" series). On dozens of titles, Kimmel used the best and brightest from the theatre and cabaret worlds — sometimes singing himself, under the name Guy Haines — and got a loyal following in the community.
Among seven Kimmel-driven recordings not yet released by the label are the cast album of Off-Broadway's Pete 'N' Keely, Brent Barrett singing the work of Alan Jay Lerner, the Pasadena Playhouse's Do I Hear a Waltz? with Carol Lawrence and a disc of songs by the Sherman brothers.
— By Kenneth Jones