A starry revival of Side by Side by Sondheim by Miami's Coconut Grove Playhouse was shut down in mid-run March 30 after Music Theatre International (MTI), the licensing agent for the script, learned that the resident professional company had interpolated new songs into the revue.
"They are under license and contract to present the show as provided," MTI president Steve Spiegel told Playbill On-Line. When a Miami Herald review of the show came to the attention of MTI, they contacted Coconut Grove and its producing director Arnold Mittelman.
Spiegel said the production, directed and choreographed by Jack Allison, interpolated material not in the original 1976-77 script, including songs that came from the works of Stephen Sondheim in the 1980s and 1990s. First presented in London and New York in 1976 and 1977, respectively, the revue "captures a specific period of Mr. Sondheim's creative life," Spiegel said. "They are not allowed to alter, amend or change the material. If they are interested in doing any one of these things, the proper course of action is to phone or write us."
When MTI confronted the theatre, according to Spiegel, "the manner in which they reacted was not that they were going to shut it down and restore it to the authorized version...their reaction was to see if there was a middle ground." MTI, which licenses 250 shows, including most of Sondheim's shows and two other Sondheim revues, Putting It Together and You're Gonna Love Tomorrow, decided to pull rights and insisted the show be shut down.
A statement from Coconut Grove Playhouse is forthcoming, according to a press representative. It was confirmed the show shut down after the 8 PM March 30 performance. The Miami Herald reported the cast — including Broadway veterans Karen Mason, Florence Lacey, Cris Groenendaal and Kevin Gray — were paid for the run of the show, which was scheduled for the Coconut Grove Mainstage March 20-April 22. Coconut Grove is one of the country's major nonprofit theatre companies, producing a season of revivals and world premieres. "They know better," Spiegel said.
"This is not a [directorial] matter of having a couch five feet from the center of the stage or four feet from the center of the stage," Spiegel said, "[it's about] the script and story."
Spiegel said the pulling of rights and such shut downs happen "very infrequently" and that very often MTI, which is out to protect its authors, is portrayed as a villain.
Spiegel observed, "I encourage anyone who has ever written one line of poetry to think about their property and the integrity of what they did and the time they spent on it — and how they would react to someone making wholesale unauthorized changes."
Spiegel said that Sondheim was aware of the situation.
Jack Allison had also directed an earlier production of Side by Side by Sondheim for Coconut Grove in 1987, according to the Miami Herald.
— By Kenneth Jones