The "singalong" angle of the Dec. 30 performance of Walnut Street Theatre's staging of The Sound of Music has been canceled due to objections from The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization.
The now sold-out performance was announced earlier this year, but according to a spokesman for R&H — the family-run company that protects and promotes the works of composer Richard Rodgers, lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II and others — Walnut Street never asked permission to reproduce the copyrighted lyrics (which would have been available to the audience) nor asked permission for an audience singalong at the Equity show.
Apparently taking a precedent from the 20th Century Fox sing-along "Sound of Music" screening that has been popular in England and the United States in recent years, Walnut Street sought to offer its loyal audience the gimmick for a one-time-only live professional performance. (This prompted local wags to wonder if anyone would sing along with the lesser-known Max and Elsa songs, "How Can Love Survive?" and "No Way to Stop It.")
The film event was a different animal, sanctioned by 20th Century Fox, according to an R&H representative. In an effort to maintain the artistic integrity of the material and experience, R&H, when it learned of the announced live singalong, told Walnut Street it was not allowed. Patrons have been informed of the change. The performance will play as scheduled, minus the audience chorale.
This is the second time this season Walnut Street's Sound of Music has run afoul of R&H. A representative of the writers' estates attended a preview performance of the show and found that director Charles Abbott had interpolated scenes from the film into the stage libretto, which was a violation of two copyrights — Howard Lindsay & Russel Crouse wrote the libretto and Ernest Lehman the screenplay. A cease-and-desist letter was issued by R&H and the troupe went into an emergency rehearsal to restore the show within 24 hours of the letter, which was the day before opening night. R&H spokesman Bert Fink said Abbott and company "fully acknowledged" the changes and "have been very professional" about addressing R&H's concerns.
The troupe has permission to interpolate "I Have Confidence" and "Something Good," from the hit film version of the 1959 musical.
"We have very good relationship with Walnut Street," Fink previously told Playbill On-Line. "We're very big fans of theirs. If a customer wants to make changes they have to call us, and if it's a change we can make we'll work with them."
James Brennan is Capt. Von Trapp and Luann Aronson is Maria in the revival, which began Nov. 5 at the Philadelphia institution known for its new works, revivals and huge subscribership. The show opened Nov. 13 and continues to Jan. 5, 2003.
Ann Arvia (Broadway's Les Misérables, Walnut Street's Phantom) plays the Mother Abbess, Mary Martello is Elsa, Adrienne Young is 16-going-on-17 Liesl, Bobby Steggert is Rolf and John-Charles Kelly is Max. The cast also includes Sharon Alexander (Sister Berthe), Andie Belkoff or Carly Hawkins (Gretl), Kathryn Brunner or Victoria Masteller (Marta), Gillian Burke (Ursula), Jeffrey Coon (Nazi Lieutenant), Rachel Cohen (ensemble), Kevin DeYoe or Taylor Quilty (Friedrich), Maureen Francis (ensemble), Zachary Freed or Ryan Musick (Kurt), Scott Langdon (Admiral von Schreiber), AJ Luca or Alyse Wojciechowski (Louisa), Lee Golden (Franz), Melissa Joy Hart (ensemble), Barbara McCulloh (Sister Sophia), Joyce Moody (Frau Zeller), Joyce A. Presutti (Sister Margaretta), Roxanne Quilty or Arianna Vogel (Brigitta), Christine Robertson (ensemble), Ed Romanoff (Herr Zeller), Donna M. Ryan (Frau Schmidt), Dan Schiff (Baron Elberfeld), Jamie Lynn Udinson (A New Postulant), Denise Whelan (Baroness Elberfeld), with Nick Baker, Rob Delcolle, Jeremy R. Dueh, Benjamin Kanes.
Abbott directs, with choreography by Andrew Glant Linden. Musical direction is by Sherman Frank. Designers are John Farrell (scenic), Colleen McMillan (costume supervisor), Jeffrey S. Koger (lighting) and P.J. Stasuk (sound).
Walnut Street Theatre is at 825 Walnut, in Philadelphia. Tickets range $10-$60 (and $10-$70 New Year's Eve). For ticket information, call (215) 574-3550. For more information, visit www.wstonline.org.
— By Kenneth Jones