The leadership of Actors' Equity Association is investigating whether a composer preparing an independent recording of his show is a breach of Equity's contract with the current production's producers — in this case, Dodger Stage Holding and Joop van den Ende, in association with Clear Channel Entertainment.
Can a writer of a show create his own independent concept album unrelated to a Broadway production if the producers (and the composer himself) have exhausted avenues for getting an Equity cast album recorded? This is one of the questions being asked backstage at Dracula.
An Equity spokesperson said, "We're looking into it, we're going through all the due diligence."
Although composer Wildhorn owns his work (along with Dracula lyricists Christopher Hampton and Don Black), the rights to a recording of a Broadway musical's score are usually tied up by its Broadway producers for the duration of the New York run, plus 19 weeks.
Equity requires producers to get permission from the union for any and all recorded documents of the show, including a cast album. Equity rules indicate that a cast recording that does not use the union's actors cannot happen until 19 weeks after the close of a show.
Some Dracula company members are sore and disappointed that Wildhorn's concept album plan isn't going to use them after their hard work in readings, rehearsals — and the five-month run itself, a company source told Playbill On-Line. But in a Dec. 9 letter to the troupe, the composer cited the prohibitive cost of producing a Broadway cast album (a six-figure price tag), and the fact that no record label has stepped forward to pay for a record of the (poorly-reviewed) show.
Playbill On-Line obtained a copy of the Wildhorn letter from a cast member, but actor Chuck Wagner (a standby for principal roles in the show) has also posted the letter on a message board on his website, www.chuckwagner.com.
"I tried desperately to get us a cast album recording deal," Wildhorn wrote. "I have been turned down by every major label that could even afford to do it."
Wildhorn wrote, "I then went to the producers, gave them budgets, and asked that they would take money from advertising and marketing and put it towards a recording. That was not meant to be, either."
Wildhorn wrote that he was left in the position to fund a concept recording himself in order to create a marketing tool not only for the life of the Broadway production (which, at the time of the plan in the fall, was an open-ended run) but as a "calling card" for the show's future as a viable property.
"I need to make a recording that will reflect my vision of the music and be a calling card for the score from here out," the composer wrote. "Along with the other authors, I must look out for the future of this piece, especially for my kids, and will do whatever I feel necessary to make the most of this copyright."
His "vision of the music" includes adding "at least four pieces of music…that are not part of our production, though I have wished they were for a long time now."
Although Wildhorn owns the property, it is customary that the producers of a Broadway production would license the score to a record label that would use the original cast and pay them a week's salary for their day of recording work.
If Wildhorn were willing to wait 19 weeks after the Jan. 2, 2005 close of the show, he would be able to use members of the Equity cast without paying them a week's Broadway salary (although, one guesses, it might fall under an AFTRA agreement).
Wildhorn indicated in his letter to cast members that there was interest in having a recording of the score sooner rather than later.
A spokesman for the producers of Dracula the Musical on Broadway said Dec. 9 they had no comment about the matter. Attempts to reach Wildhorn for comment were unsuccessful.
Equity is expected to weigh in about the matter in the near future.