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Is it okay to Change a musical?



Listers,

Thank you for all of your responses regarding changing
a musical. I feel that most of you are as
uncomfortable as I am with the proposed changes. The
only time I have changed anything in the past is to
edit language and shorten extensive dance sequences.
You seemed to agree with me that the changes mentioned
were "over-the-top".

I am actually not the music director for this show
this year. After my experience with this drama
director last year as well as some other extenuating
circumstances (I teach K-12 vocal music in a district
with 550 kids in the high school!!) I resigned from
the musical stating that I am spread too thin. Again,
I could go on, but that's another matter entirely.

Wendi Bogard
wendibogard(a)yahoo.com
Basehor-Linwood Schools

Here are the responses.

In response to your question re: changing a
musical...While I have seen and indeed taken liberties
with the script, e.g. editing unecessary dialogue,
cutting profanity, etc., I have never heard
eliminating a speaking role to be considered liberty.
My gut tells me that's a bit too far, but if their are
circumstances which permit such as "Snoopettes" and a
kite...well then...make it interesting. It also
allows for participation. BUT, If it affects the
integrity of the show and their is no justificatioin
then it should not be done. Editing full parts is
known as a re-write and I am not sure what the
parameters are if you perform it as such. In music,
it becomes an arrangement or adaptation-in theatre.
Sounds too sticky to me...good luck this is actually a
relatively common occurrance, particularly at the High
School level... most schools just simply aren't
equipped to perform a three-hour Guys and Dolls with a
cast of 60 or possess the male singing support for an
unabridged Gilbert and Sullivan. I have myself
"condensed" the dialogue of Drood, The Secret Garden,
and The Sound of Music for schools... but bear in
mind, although cuts are legal, major artistic changes
are not.
_______________________
In your position, I would add material as would SUIT
THE BEST TALENTS OF MY CAST, and "credit" these
sections to the choreographer/director "____ Dance by"
in the program.

What you are describing is actually common practice in
terms of "artistic licence." I love the idea of the
"Snoopettes." I have seen several productions of
"Joseph and the ....Dreamcoat" that divide the
Narrator among several singers. The dramatic intent
remains the same and provides opportunities for more
students to participate. As a music director, we
sometimes augment solos and make them small ensembles
with the idea of re-enforcing a weak singer or again,
giving more students an opportunity to perform.

"Godspell" is a wonderful H.S. show for providing
opportunities for multiple performers. I saw one
production where the performers were predominantly in
white mime masks allowing them to "act out" the
parables. I saw another production where the Jesus
miracles were "magic acts" complete with flash paper
and disappearing coins. I wish you the best as you
prepare to make your production "unique."
_________
Yes, it is in violation. Some minor changes are
common, but I have personal experience with a director
who rented all of my costumes/sets from NUNSENSE and
she added parts and had a chorus of 20 nuns (not in
script)..... Samuel French called her and shut her
down. They had quite a problem..... since opening was
two weeks away. They apologized profusely, said they
would never do it again, etc.... They DO have people
scanning the newspapers, going to bars and churches,
etc.looking for violations. (The above-mentioned
director \put an ad in the paper with a picture of 30
or so nuns,....obviously NOT as the show intended...
that's how they spotted her....
_______
It does violate the rental agreement. In the rental
agreement it states that the show cannot be altered in
any way without written permission from the copyright
holder. The agreement also states that productions
can't be videotaped.

I hope that helped.
___________
I don't believe that there is any prohibition in
adding a kick line or other elements of staging, those
always are a director's decision. As to changing which
character delivers a line you might run into
difficulties. I have been told by the then director of
Theatre Maximus (back in 1991) that Stephen Schwartz
didn't care what you did to Godspell, that may have
changed since MTI now also has the show. You can seek
approval for changes by contacting the publisher.

I know that most of us have had to make changes but
legally, you cannot. I don't believe that there is any
prohibition in adding a kick line or other elements of
staging, those always are a director's decision.
As to changing which character delivers a line you
might run into difficulties. I have been told by the
then director of Theatre Maximus (back in 1991) that
Stephen Schwartz didn't care what you did to Godspell,
that may have changed since MTI now also has the show.

You can seek approval for changes by contacting the
publisher.

I know that most of us have had to make changes but
legally, you cannot. I don't believe that there is any
prohibition in adding a kick line or other elements of
staging, those always are a director's decision. As to
changing which character delivers a line you might run
into difficulties. I have been told by the then
director of Theatre Maximus (back in 1991) that
Stephen Schwartz didn't care what you did to Godspell,
that may have changed since MTI now also has the show.

You can seek approval for changes by contacting the
publisher.

I know that most of us have had to make changes but
legally, you cannot.
_____
Sometimes adaptation may be necessary. Altering a note
because the person can't consistently hit it, cutting
out songs/scenes for the sake of fitting it to a
specific time, would seem to me to be legitimate
issues. Certain actors may improvise in any given
performance; is that a violation of the copyright or
the integrity of the work? The concept of the
"Snoopettes" and the kite dancer don't bother me as
much as the idea of the Godspell situation. John the
Baptist is an integral character. I guess I would have
to ask why this was done. Is the person playing J. the
B. not capable of handling all of his lines? Does the
director think it just works better that way? Perhaps
he/she should be using this "creative genius" to
create original works.
Read the rental contract; it should spell out
whether or not these "liberties" are violations of the
agreement and infringements in the copyright. If not,
as musical director you need to decide how strongly
you feel about it. Perhaps you just have to swallow
and make sure that the musical aspect of it is
excellent. If it is in violation, speak up. Our
drama director had a habit of allowing parents to
bring their video cameras and film the performances.
This is a violation of most rental agreements and
copyright laws. I spoke up and pushed to have it make
known as our policy that video taping is not allowed.
Find out; decide what kind of grief you're willing to
take.
_______
A lot depends on the show. Any Rodgers and
Hammersteins CANNOT BE CHANGED LIKE THAT! We did
Charlie Brown with talented 13 year olds and kept it
just as it is. I'd love to do it with my elementary
school some day. Frankly, I can't imagine Snoopyettes
and a dancing kite. Sorry to be a gloomy Gert!
________

I am a professional actor/director (national tours of
"Fiddler" and "1776" and, most recently, "Phantom")
and founder of a small theatre here in Virginia. While
I am shocked that someone thinks they can do this and
get away with it, I am not really surprised that they
are. Most "theatre people" at the high school level
never worked onstage in college. As a result they
have no idea of how the system is supposed to work.
And if they did things like this in college, it was
wrong then too. It really ticks me off when this
happens. It gives those of us who ARE ethical a bad
name.

Who signed the rental/royalty contract with the
licensing agent? If it was you, did you read the
specifications of what you may or may not do? And if
it was this "drama" person, did they? The majority of
contracts stipulate that you may NOT make changes to
the script and other things, like not allowing video
recording of performances. I would STRONGLY advise
that you acquire a copy of the contract and read it.
Also that your administration be made aware of
anything done illegally. That way, the school is
protected, and no, ignorance of what occured is not an
excuse. The licensing folk are famous for making
examples of schools and small theatres that fail to
follow the requirements of the contract. You might be

taken to court, you might be fined, you may lose your
deposit, you may also be denied rights to any more
shows. And not just from this agent, but all the
houses that rent shows out.

You don't mention where your school is. There may
also be laws on the books in your state which address
things like this too. So it's not just the agent you
might need to worry about.

If I can be of any other help, don't hesitate to ask.
_________
Most musicals you agree to do the show as written with
no changes. It's in the contract the you sign.
(Frankly, at the high school level nobody is going to
come out and check) but there is the artistic
consideration of the original authors. If they wanted
a kick line in it, they would have put one. (I've done
some of it myself don't get me wrong.

However, in Godspell, instructions in the script give
you lots of permission to do the show the way that
works for you. No problem with this particular show.
_______
The difference between choral directors and stage
directors is that we feel we have a responsibility
to do the piece as Brahms wrote it, while stage
directors seem to feel it necessary to do Shakespeare
with dolphins and Moliere with leather jackets and
gang signs.

I can understand how in educational theatre one would
want to add performers to a small show like "You're a
Good Man, Charlie Brown." Creating a dancing chorus
isn;t the worst idea I ever heard. I have known
directors who actually added a few more scenes, using
some other Peanuts characters from other strips. It
probably does violate the copyright, but probably
won;t get you sued. The dancing kite is actually a
fairly clever idea, since there is no way to have a
real kite do the malevolent things that it does in the
cartoon.

As to the Godspell issue, the play is really an
improvised one, with only Jesus and Judas having to
stay constant. To give more kids opportunities, I
think it is in keeping with the spirit of the play
to share the lines. Years ago we double cast the play,
with the solos trading each performance (one Jesus,
one Judas - but different folks fronting "Oh, Bless
the Lord," etc.). In a strictwer book show, I would
never split character roles, but we have split small
parts. In Equity Union contracts they have to pay you
more if you speak lines, even a single line. That's
the real reason why only a few of the Jets in West
Side Story get lines. Whenever I have done the show
with amateurs, I have given lines to the other
characters where it ddn't alter the relationships of
the characters.

My excuse is always, "It's educational theatre." The
kids who lose lines usually understand and the
other kids (and their families) are much appreciative.

That's my 2 cents.
__________
Read your contract carefully. You are generally not
permitted to alter anything. That includes changing
keys or text. You may also not record it in any form,
you may also not change the gender of any character.
These things are all spelled out in clear, but
detailed English in all the standard contracts from
Tams-Witmark, Music theatre International, Samuel
French, etc. That contract will also usually specify
the relative sizes of fonts used in publicity and on
programs.
________
The answer to both of your questions is yes. Yes, many
directors change things. Maybe he had some good kids
and wanted to give some roles in a very small cast,
such as the Snoopettes. Or he had a very terrible John
the Baptist. I just did the same for A Midsummer
Night's Dream because my Duke is from Colombia and we
couldn't understand him. Long story, but sometimes you
change things to make them work better. But, yes,
changing things is very much against the copywright
agreements. Before, you turn him him, remember almost
all plays and music have the same copywrights.
Someday, you might want to change something yourself.
If you are co-directing with him, you do have the
right to put down your foot and tell him NO, because
it is both of your necks on the line.

I hope that this helps!
_______________
I have known more than one teacher who wanted to
change the ending of GREASE because they thought it
was sexist. Someone reported one of them to the
publisher, who demanded that the show be done as
written, so my guess is it depends on if anyone
"tells" or not. Personally, I do not think it is
ethical to change the show and have never done so,
except to delete inappropriate expletives in a couple
of cases.
___________
I hope you'll post a compilation of your replies!
You're welcome to use my story, and to connect my name
to it.

When I did "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," I
remember reading the rental/rights agreement and
seeing that no changes were legal.

In my case, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa.
The "little red-haired girl" didn't make sense -- to
my students, red hair was a sign of malnutrition. We
made her a little bright-eyed girl. Also, "baseball"
didn't mean anything, so we made it a hockey game.
(Didn't need to say "field hockey" -- in Kenya,
"hockey" was field hockey.) And instead of "Peter
Rabbit" we used the Swahili folk
character "Abunwasi" ("Clever Rabbit," my students
explained). I went through the script with a
committee of students and figured out
what wouldn't work.

I think I actually wrote to Tams Witmark (or whoever
owned the rights), and got a form letter saying we
couldn't make the changes.

I took a deep breath, and thought, "I am a Peace Corps
volunteer teaching kids in Africa. If the rights
people make a fuss, this could actually develop into
an amusing case." I ignored their form letter and
never heard from them again.

Hope this helps!
_________________
Your instinct is on target. Yes, it is against
copyright law for the show unless, of course, you seek
and receive permission for the changes.
____________
I'm sure the rental agreement says something like
"change neither jot nor tittle lest the furies descend
and turn you into green slime." It's always been
printed (in a more boring format) on the rental
materials we've used. So yes, it violates both
copyright (which under Grand Rights gives ALL control
to the copyright owner) and the contract you sign.

But your question is really about a whole different
thing, and yes, I've found that it's quite common in
theater, including musical theater, to make changes,
sometimes significant ones, in the script. Sometimes
it's done simply because you don't have a person for a
particular role. I'm usually involved in musical
direction or vocal supervision, and as an arranger I
don't hesitate to make changes in the vocal writing if
I think they will enhance the production. But I would
NEVER do so at random and without a good musical
reason.

One finds lots of productions in musical theater or in
opera in which a stage director makes major changes in
the time, place, or other important factors in a
script, moving the action to modern Chicago or to
antebellum Alabama or whatever, or dressing the stage
in black and white oilcloth. Heck, West Side Story is
Shakespeare brought into the 1950s! This, I think, is
called "artistic license," although sometimes I think
a particular director's license should be suspended!

The bottom line is, is there a real artistic concept
here, will the changes help realize that artistic
concept, and is the result acceptable for your
cast/administration/audience?

Lots of luck finding a solution. I'd suggest starting
with a sitdown with the director and a serious
discussion of the artistic concept.

_________
This happens all of the time, in professional as well
as academic theatre. Godspell is done a gillion
different ways with all kinds of cuts and senarios.
Even the sacred Shakespeare is cut and adapted. The
thing that I think has to remain true is the essence
of the author's message. Good Luck!
_____________

It is pretty common to rewrite things for the needs of
an actor or a singer, or in some cases because of
community values. But to cut and rewrite as much as
you have let on is not common. What to do about it is
another thing.
_______
I have found this to be common, but usually to
"update" a show's vocabulary to the current
vernacular. Blatant re-writes of the script are
indeed a copyright issue not to mention the artistic
integrity of a production and the composer/lyricist's
original conception. Unless the person you're working
with has extensive experience on Broadway s/he is
probably way off unless her edits are in good taste.
_____________

Beyond the element of good taste, I would suggest that
there are legal issues as well. Before you get into
too much of an alteration, I would read the contract
(presuming that you are doing this legally) over
carefully regarding the idea of changing the character
of the show and billing it as the given show as
written.


__________________________________________________
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