Rebuilding “Hardbody” At A Houston Chop Shop

June 20th, 2014 § 87 comments

“First, let’s define what we mean by ‘changes’.”

Hands on a Hardbody at Houston’s Theatre Under The Stars

Hands on a Hardbody at Houston’s Theatre Under The Stars

This statement came up not once but twice in my conversation with Bruce Lumpkin, artistic director of Houston’s Theatre Under The Stars and director of their current production of the musical Hands on a Hardbody. The comment arose when I asked Lumpkin specific questions about my communications with Hardbody creators Amanda Green and Doug Wright. Green, who attended the show’s opening at TUTS, detailed a fairly extensive list of alterations to the musical, none of which had been discussed with the authors or their licensing house prior to production.

[I should note from the outset that I was first made aware of the authors’ concerns by Bruce Lazarus, executive director of Samuel French, which licenses the show. He reached out to me because of my prior writing on the subject of authors’ rights and because we know each other from my one-year tenure in 2012-13 on the Samuel French advisory committee (two meetings; $500 total honorarium). I say this by way of full disclosure.]

tuts undergroundHaving attended the opening night of Hardbody at Lumpkin’s invitation, Green described to me her experience in watching the show. “They started the opening number and I noticed that some people were singing solos other than what we’d assigned. As we neared the middle of the opening number, I thought, ‘what happened to the middle section?’” She said that musical material for Norma, the religious woman in the story, “was gone.”

When the second song began, Green recalls being surprised, saying, “I thought, ‘so we did put this number second after all’ before realizing that we hadn’t done that.” As the act continued, Green said, “I kept waiting for ‘If I Had A Truck’ and it didn’t come.” She went on to detail a litany of ways in which the show in Houston differed from the final Broadway show, including reassigning vocal material to different characters within songs, and especially the shifting of songs from one act to another, which had the effect of removing some characters from the story earlier than before. She also said that interstitial music between scenes had been removed and replaced with new material. Having heard Green’s point by point recounting of act one changes, I suggested we could dispense with the same for act two.

Hand on a Hardbody on Broadway

Hands on a Hardbody on Broadway

When I asked Lumpkin about the nature of changes to the show. His response was, “I didn’t change lyrics, I didn’t change songs, I didn’t change dialogue. I only changed their order.” In response to my query as to why he felt he could make such shifts, Lumpkin cited having seen the show twice on Broadway and having seen the running order of songs as printed in the program each time differing, in addition to yet other song rundowns on inserts to the program.

“I thought that perhaps maybe I could put together a different order thinking that perhaps if they don’t like it I’ll put it back,” said Lumpkin. “There was no new vision for the show. It was just a matter of the order of the songs in the show. I knew there was a possibility they wouldn’t like it. I was totally upfront.”

Had he notified the authors or the licensing house in advance? “I guess I didn’t. I didn’t think changing the order with them coming [to the opening]. It wasn’t like cutting a number.” He continued, “I’ve done a lot of this before. I did this with Stephen Schwartz and Charles Strouse on Rags and they worked with me. But in that case it was about cutting some subplots and characters. When we did Godspell, I told Stephen Schwartz that the song order was kind of arbitrary and he let me work with it.”

I asked Lumpkin whether he would have made any changes to Hardbody, which he said he did over three days only after rehearsals had begun, if none of the authors had accepted his invitation to the opening. “Probably not,” he replied. “I wasn’t trying to reinvent the wheel. The only struggle they had was the order.” When I asked how he knew of the author’s “struggle,” he once again cited the various song lists he’d seen when attending the show on Broadway.

Lumpkin also suggested that there was some discrepancy between the score and the text he received, saying such things were common with licensed works. When I asked, “Did you ask for clarification from the source?” he responded, “No, I don’t think I’ve ever done that. I take their source material and we figure it out on our own.”

Hands on a Hardbody at Houston’s Theatre Under The Stars

Hands on a Hardbody at Houston’s Theatre Under The Stars

Noting that I was asking a pointed question, I inquired, “Having signed a license agreement for the show, did you believe you had the legal and ethical right to make the changes you did?” Lumpkin declined to answer. But as we concluded our talk, he said that he knows how the authors feel, saying that he too had done original shows.

“I didn’t think that moving four numbers was a big deal. We’ve changed it back and I don’t think anyone in the audience knows the difference. Except me.”

However, Green had pointed out that opening night was also a press night. “He can say it can be turned back,” observed Green, “but it was already being reviewed that night.” And she clearly differs as to the extent of the changes.

Describing her post-show conversation with Lumpkin in Houston, Green says, “When it was over, I was flabbergasted. I had been planning to go to the cast party, but I couldn’t. Bruce came over to me and said, ‘I know you’re mad and I know you hate it, but you know it works better’.” Green continued: “He was pressuring me to make a decision and say I liked it. So I left.”

Green says she asked why Lumpkin hadn’t asked for permission and described his reply as, “He said he wanted to surprise us. He said the show wasn’t working at all.”

Describing her conversation with Doug Wright and their collaborator Trey Anastasio subsequent to seeing the show, Green said, “We wanted to have our show as written. We’d spent years building and honing it and had very specific character-driven moments. People didn’t just say things. We carefully crafted the show. We were taken aback and dismayed by his [Lumpkin’s] lack of respect and regard for copyright laws and our material.”

In response to a series of e-mailed questions about the changes as reported by Green, Doug Wright wrote, “I was stunned, especially because the changes were so egregious.” But because he hadn’t seen them firsthand, I asked him what he hoped directors and artistic directors might learn from the liberties taken with Hardbody at the outset of the short (June 12 to 22) TUTS run.

“Most playwrights welcome the rigorous, insightful interpretive choices that good directors routinely bring to their work,” Wright responded. “But authorial choices are ours, and ours alone. When I write for the movies, I do it with the knowledge that my words may be rearranged, changed, or even stricken; the studio pays me a small fortune, and in exchange, they hold the copyright to my work. In the theater, I’m paid next to nothing for a play…but I get something even more philosophically and artistically valuable: ownership of my own writing. I live with the assurance that my scripts won’t be altered in any way without my blessing. That’s the one reward the theater can truly offer writers.  It should never be taken away.”

As it happens, TUTS is doing another Samuel French property later this summer, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. When I asked Lumpkin about a change that French’s Lazarus said had been proposed to the licensed script, he responded, “When they did the second national company [of Whorehouse], they put in the song “Lonely at the Top” which isn’t in the script now, but which was also added to the first national tour. It wasn’t a change. I talked to Pete Masterson about putting it back in the show and he said it was a great idea. I called Carol Hall and she said, ‘that’s a terrible idea’ and so we aren’t doing it.”

Hall’s account, via e-mail, differs significantly from Lumpkin’s matter-of-fact version.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas on Broadway

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas on Broadway

“‘Lonely At the Top’ was a song inserted into the show, written especially for a much beloved TV star (Larry Hovis) who was from Houston and was playing Melvin P. Thorpe in the Houston company. It was never in the Broadway production and was not meant for any other, only the one with Larry Hovis.

“In a telephone conversation a number of months ago, on another matter, Bruce Lumpkin asked how I would feel if the song were used in the up-coming TUTS production of the show. I told him I had never liked the song particularly, since it was never really necessary, and had only been put into the show because the authors had at the time wanted to accommodate Hovis, who had a large TV fan base. I told him I did not want the song to be in the show.

“Recently I heard a rumor that the song, in fact, was going to be in his production, so I called him to remind him he didn’t have permission to use it. Literally, in the first five minutes of the phone call, he became very upset, began to shout and claimed that I had told him he could “do whatever [he] wanted” with it. He was extremely arrogant and disrespectful and reasonable conversation was impossible, so much so that I eventually just hung up, something I’ve never done in any professional situation before.”

*   *   *

Having not seen the production of Hands on a Hardbody in Houston, let alone having watched it with script and score in hand, I can’t adjudicate independently how the show there on opening night differed from the written version. When I asked Lumpkin why he thought the authors were asserting that sweeping changes had been made, he simply said it hadn’t happened. But there’s no question in any account that the show was altered by Lumpkin without any permission given by the authors, or even sought by TUTS. Despite his repeated statements to me about how wonderful the show is and how well it’s playing with his audiences, to my mind, protestations that reordering a musical does not rise to the level of “changes” strike me as semantic disingenuousness.

Given my prior writing, I won’t restate my conviction about authors’ rights, which align very closely with those expressed by Wright. While I have been challenged by theatre artists from other countries over my fealty to the concept of authorial primacy in many types of theatre, while artists in this country have suggested that I am hiding behind unfairly restrictive copyright law, I have been trained from the beginning of my career to honor and respect authors’ words (and music), and I remain unswayed by other arguments.

I also do not believe it should be incumbent upon authors and their representatives to endlessly travel the country insuring that their works have not been altered without authorization; it is impractical if not impossible. In fairness to Lumpkin, he wasn’t exactly trying to slip his changes by with the hope that no one would notice; he wouldn’t have invited the authors if that was the case. But even if his goals were as well-meaning and admiring as he claims, he didn’t take any initiative to confer with the authors about his intent, and showed his revision to audiences and the press before the authors could even consider his take on their show. That the author of another show asserts Lumpkin’s aggressive stance on a requested and denied change starts to suggest a troubling pattern at TUTS. It will certainly bring the company under greater scrutiny, but it should also serve as notice to other theatres and other directors that authors don’t take changes to their work lying down and that their rights will be asserted.

I have to ask: why risk conflict, why face extra expense, when communication and collaboration might yield the desired result? And let’s face it: I was able to get in touch with Green and Wright within three hours time. A professional theatre company is certainly capable of doing the same.

*   *   *

Addendum: June 20, 12:15 pm Subsequent to this post being published at approximately 10:30 am, the Dramatists Guild issued a statement (read it in its entirety on the Guild site) recounting accepted professional practices regarding scripts, saying that the statement would be sent directly to Bruce Lumpkin at TUTS. It reads, in part:

Fortunately, most professional theaters respect authorship and the standards of the theater industry (and their own contractual obligations) by either asking for permission to make changes upfront or staging the work as written.  They don’t want to run afoul of the licensing agents, nor do they want to bear the extra financial burden of having to stop performances and restage a production, or to endure the costs of litigation. Nor, we imagine, do they want to earn the enmity of playwrights everywhere, who have made ownership and control of their work the core value of their professional lives.

But there are some theaters that take a different tack in this regard. Those theaters engage in the practice of rewriting shows they present without authorial approval, in direct violation of the theater’s contractual obligations and industry standards. The Dramatists Guild of America, a national association representing the interests of over 7000 playwrights, composers and lyricists worldwide, vehemently and unequivocally objects to such illegal practices.

When we become aware of such a theater, we keep apprised of the theater’s ongoing activities and report on it to our membership and their representatives. We hope that writers, agents and publishers will consider this information when deciding whether or not to issue licenses for any works they represent.

Addendum: June 20, 3:15 pm The Dramatists Guild provided me with a copy of a letter they have sent to Theatre Under The Stars, detailing the unapproved changes made to Hands on a Hardbody. Following the listing of infractions, the letter, signed by Ralph Sevush, Executive Director, Business Affairs, continues:

When caught in blatant breach of this contract, it has been reported that you still have only partially restored the play for its few final performances, with the cast having little time to rehearse the changes, and are still including some unauthorized alterations.

And you have done all this begrudgingly and unapologetically, with a history of having done so before…

Addendum: June 20, 3:35 pm: Samuel French Inc. has now sent a cease and desist letter to Theatre Under The Stars. In the letter, Lori Thimsen, Director of Licensing Compliance at French, states:

As a result of your breach of contract, Samuel French hereby revokes Theatre Under The Stars’ license to produce Hands on a Hardbody. Accordingly, demand is made that you immediately cease and desist from the advertising, promotion, presentation and performance of any production of Hands on a Hardbody, cancel all remaining performances and confirm your compliance with this demand in writing to the undersigned no later than close of business today, Friday, June 20, 2014.

Four performances remain in the scheduled 10 performance run, one tonight, two on Saturday and one on Sunday.

Addendum: June 20, 8:15 pm: Theatre Under The Stars released a statement to which reads as follows:

TUTS has found itself in a last minute contractual dispute that prevents the continued performances of HANDS ON A HARDBODY. We regret this unexpected occurrence and we thank you for your support of TUTS and our Underground series.


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  • Noodle94

    “There was no new vision for the show. It was just a matter of the order of the songs in the show.” I think this is the definition of delusional.

  • Natalie Chernicoff

    I saw the show on Broadway a number of times, both in previews and during its brief post-opening run, and the order of the songs listed in the Playbill never actually changed. A song was cut, another song was replaced, but they remained in the same order. Perhaps there was some shuffling during previews, as indicated by the inclusion of inserts, but I find it to be more likely that the inserts existed to inform patrons of the inclusion of “If She Don’t Sleep” in place of “A Little Something Something” and the removal of “The Tryers,” for example. Reordering the songs would likely have meant reordering when contestants left, which would’ve altered the plot of the show.

  • AustinTexas1961

    This artistic director thinks that it is within his purview to make significant changes to a play/musical without the express consent of the authors of such work. He tries to justify his actions rather pathetically, I must say. Shame on TUTS!

  • jd

    When you sign a license agreement, you agree to perform the play as written. A director is not a playwright. It is unethical to change anything about a published play without collaborating with the writers. period. No excuses.

  • mbwiles

    if there were a contract argument to be made that simply re-ordering
    doesn’t represent changes to the text or music (which I agree is
    disingenuous), I believe there is still a strong case for copyright
    infringement. Changing the order is what the Supreme
    Court has called “selection and arrangement” of either facts or
    pre-existing copyrightable material, and one can obtain a so-called
    “thin” copyright in such “selection and arrangement” for a compilation
    or collective work. However, because it is based on an existing work, a
    compilation is, by its nature, a “derivative work” under the copyright
    law, and the right to create, or authorize the creation of, derivative
    works is an exclusive right of the copyright holder – the author. The
    right to create derivative works is not part of a stock & amateur
    (Full disclosure: I interned at the Dramatists Guild for awhile, and I
    also was general manager of a show in a space now occupied by the Hard
    Rock Cafe, which is in the same building as the Dramatists Guild office –
    directed by Bruce Lumpkin.)

  • MikeG.

    AD’s and directors have got to get over trying to re-design something in order to “improve it”. You want to exercise your “creative vision”, write your own piece! Or, re-imagine the piece within the confines of how it’s written. Or make sure you have permission to re-write it. Or collaborate with the author. After that, don’t do it then!!! Changing the order of something is re-writing it. If songs are done to advance the story, you’re changing the story! It sounds like the AD exists to “create” his own “better” art world. Fine….write your own thing and manipulate however you wish. But while you’re licensing someone else’s work, that was done in any way but arbitrary and without much thought and effort, stick to the road map (like that allusion to trucks??)

    • VHouston

      Changing the order of something is NOT “rewriting” it. The words are still the same. And are we talking about the “road map” that lost investors a large sum of money in New York? From the NY Times review:

      “The biggest challenge the musical faces is the inevitably static nature
      of the story line. It’s not a problem the show really overcomes.”

      If reordering the songs fixes the aforementioned problem, then the authors should have done it in the beginning. Maybe the authors are upset that someone did their show better than they did.

      • MikeG.

        You know what? That just doesn’t f’ing matter. It’s not this guy’s show to “fix”. Nobody who owns the rights asked him to. If he doesn’t want to work within the licensed framework, DON’T DO THE SHOW! And if you do want to alter it in any way, get the affirmation in writing! Obviously, this pompous moron has tried to pull this before. It’s not remotely a question of good or bad. It’s having the nerve to take liberties with someone else’s work. You know who does that crap? Frustrated community theater directors who think they know better than an entire team of people who spent large amounts of time and effort making what they now feel give them “license” to change. Nuh uh.

        • Sprimpf

          Amen! I am baffled why anyone would defend this!

        • Regina Beaucheane

          I agree with your principle wholeheartedly. I take issue with your assertion that amateur directors will take the type of liberties Lumpkin took with HARDBODY. In nearly 40 years as a community theater participant, I have never seen such liberties taken. Ever. I’ve seen quibbles over profanity (“our audiences will complain” – I come down on the authors’ side at all times), but that’s it.

          • MikeG.

            Ugh. shhhaaaadddddaaappp!!!

          • Regina Beaucheane


          • MikeG.

            Because I HAVE seen that done by Corky St. Clair type directors who feel their innovative vision for their production in Moosesneeze, WY. would certainly rival that of NY!!! You take issue with what? Ok, so maybe your involvement has never been around such things. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist elsewhere.

          • Regina Beaucheane

            I never said it didn’t happen – only that it’s never happened to me (again, the exception being cleaning up language, which aggravates me). Plus, as I said in my first post…I agree with you.

      • MikeG.

        This dope even was dumb enough to invite one of the writers……just like a cat who brings home the dead bird. “see what I did????? aren’t I sharp? Love me? I’m so clever and innovative that you can take me back to NY with you!”

      • Valerie Lord

        Then FIND ANOTHER SHOW!!!! Enough with the friggin’ back seat drivers!

      • Daryl Lofdahl

        “yes, i said no.”
        no, i said yes.”
        all the words are there, correct?

      • Stephen Farrow

        Irrelevant. It’s not his material to change (yes, altering the order of songs and scenes certainly does constitute “rewriting”), and he’s in breach of the terms of the licence.

      • Jason Purdy

        With musicals, reordering actually is rewriting: It alters the book, which is more than just the lines people speak between songs.

        • Kino

          totally agree. Look at the movie version of Les Miserables compared to the broadway version. There were many song moves that totally changed the tone of the certain scenes. By having “Lovely Ladies” before “I dreamed a dream” dramatically changed the way you saw Fantine’s struggle. Rather then her lamenting because she lost job she’s now lamenting about how low she has fallen. It made sense for the movie. but like i said it totally changed the tone of the scene. Another was having “On My Own” Immediately after “the attack on rue plumet” not as glaring as my first example but just sayin

      • MariselaTreviñoOrta

        Are you a playwright? Have you ever written a play?

        Order is absolutely part of the writing process and therefore when you are working on a play from draft to draft in the rewrite process you absolutely consider how information is ordered–how you reveal information throughout the course of the play. How the play unfolds information (its order, if you will) affects character arcs and the overall narrative–effectively how you (the playwright) want the play to be experienced. To claim that reordering is not rewriting means you do not have a full grasp of this artform nor how plays are written and produced.

      • Petalear

        “Changing the order of something is NOT “rewriting” it? Are you kidding? Let’s reorder the sentences in your post. Will it have the same meaning and impact? Did you just randomly put your sentences and words in a mixer and post them in the order they came out? I’m sure you understand plotting and character development. They happen over time, not in random order. Please don’t pretend otherwise.

      • Adam Miecielica

        Are you serious? Changing the order is rewriting a show because the authors of the show put it it that order because that is how they, the creators of the show, want it to be. If you think, “The biggest challenge the musical faces is the inevitably static nature of the story line. It’s not a problem the show really overcomes,” the do a different show. Its that simple. I’m glad the rights got pulled.

      • TheatreJunkie

        Ugh, please remove the Houston from your username, you’re making Houstonians look very bad. Yes, even is Houston is your last name, you need to change it in this instance.

  • Carlos-Manuel


    First of all, great article once again, Howard. Excellent objectivity. And second, wow! I can certainly understand this matter. A few year back one of my one-act plays was produced by a theatre group. I was invited to the opening and was told they had a surprise for me. The surprise, turned out, was a changed towards the end of the show that turn the “message” or (at least the message I had intended while writing the play) to completely change. I was upset but cordial and because they had decided to do my play for a total run of four nights, I said nothing. But yes, it is devastating to see your work being altered without consultation.

    • VHouston

      In your license agreement, did you specify that your show had to been done exactly as you had previously presented? If yes, then you have a beef. If no, then you don’t have a leg to stand on. You thought the material said one thing, they think it said another. You don’t want it that way? Change the licensing agreement.

      • Bruce Henderson

        Again, you are trying to skirt the issue of standard practice in professional theatre–you just keep insisting on parading your ignorance and defensiveness. Just. Stop.

      • astromiami

        Actually, it does not matter what the licensing agreement says. Under current law the playwright controls the script which cannot be altered without permission. Within that restriction, there is plenty of interpretive room–including the right to interpret in a way other than the author intended. But if the words and stage directions are altered….the law holds that to be wrong even in the absence of any contract at all!

    • TheatreJunkie

      Did you happen to read the title of his article? Chop Shop? That is hardly an objective title.

  • justthefactsmaam

    The height of arrogance. The actions of this new artistic director are hardly innocent. Looks like TUTS is dealing with a firestorm of an enormous ego and apparently, aggressive anger. I’d hang up on him too.

  • Peter J Casey

    Excellent article! Explains the issues clearly and fairly.

    If Lumpkin had behaved like a real director, who knows? There might have been honest collaboration with the creators, and the show might have changed for the better. It’s happened before (Merrily springs to mind).

    Instead, I predict many public domain works in his future.

  • VHouston

    This article shows the bias of the author in spades.

    “[T]o my mind, protestations that reordering a musical does not rise to the
    level of “changes” strike me as semantic disingenuousness.”

    While Mr. Sherman thinks this is all semantics, I believe he is off the mark. If all of the words are there, but in different order, how is that “rewriting” (to borrow from the DGA’s foolish letter) the show? Is a GODFATHER that keeps all the content from the original film yet changes the scene order to be chronological “rewriting” the original film? No- it’s the same piece (many people would say a better one).

    Mr. Wright asserts that “authorial choices are ours, and ours alone.” And he is correct. But all of his words are there. If I directed the play and decided to have a character speak like Yoda for the entire show, would Mr. Wright have the same issues? All of the words are there, just being said in a different order. Or would Mr. Wright chalk it up to the “rigorous, insightful interpretive choices that good directors routinely bring to their work” which Mr. Wright says he (and all playwrights, apparently) welcomes?

    Mr. Sherman (according to his bio) works with high school companies dealing with “content challenges” encountered while presenting different works. I wonder his thoughts regarding edits at that level. Copyright for one is copyright for all, after all. Does he get up in arms when a teacher presents “A Chorus Line” and switches “Tits and Ass” to “This and That” or (gasp) decides to cut the song entirely? Or a stage production of “The Lion in Winter” reordered to match the movie instead of following the timeline of the script?

    Finally, I do not see in this article a copy of the contract or license agreement that accompanied the show. Contrary to Mr. Wright’s assertions, there are playwrights who require in their license agreement that their show be performed exactly as they wrote it, staged only in the intended time period, with no interpretation or change allowed. If the creators of “Hand on a Hardbody” don’t want anyone to see a different show than the one that closed the Broadway run (not opened- let’s remember that) they have ability to write that into the production license. Until that happens, their show will be reinterpreted (which is what this was) for audiences and they will go on being “stunned,””surprised,” and “flabbergasted.”

    • Bruce Henderson

      Oh, come on! You clearly must be a stakeholder in this production–your “arguments” are extremely disingenuous and beside the legal points. The ad hominem attack on Sherman is both lazy (Aristotle called it the least persuasive form of persuasion) and ignorant. Note that he works with high schools to come up with solutions that are acceptable to all parties–INCLUDING THE ORIGINAL WRITERS/COMPOSERS! And asking to see the contract is equally specious–we’ve all seen the kinds of contracts for production rights and they are consistent and boilerplate. It’s so obvious that you are connected in some way to this production–you do no service to TUTS or to the good people injured by this director’s hubris. If I were on the board of this theatre, I would probably push to have him fired (and if it is his own personally-owned company, then all the major publishers–MTI, French, Tams-Witmark, etc.–should put him on a “no-fly” list.

    • Daryl Lofdahl

      “If all of the words are there, but in different order, how is that “rewriting” (to borrow from the DGA’s foolish letter) the show? ”


      Yes, i said no” and “No, i said yes” contain all the same words.

      Playwrights put words in the order they do because that is how they want them performed. That is their right and if anyone wants to change them willy nilly they either have to do so with the permission of the playwright or risk having their production shut down. This is pretty basic stuff. Mr Sherman’s biases (real or perceived) don’t much factor into it.

    • Doug

      You’re a dumbass. Enjoy directing your Yoda show.

    • trixie

      here’s the text from a standard Samuel French professional license:

      No abridgement or enlargement of the Property, no changes in music, lyrics, dialogue, period, setting, characters (including their race, ethnicity, or gender), and/or characterizations in the Property, and no changes in running time, placement of intermission,number or order of scenes, etc., may be made without prior written permission from Samuel French.

    • gwangung

      This is simply incorrect, in every way.

      Stop embarrassing yourself; you’re an amateur trying (and failing rather spectacularly) to argue with people who know more than you, both legally and artistically.

    • Chip Deffaa

      Dear VHouston: The changes to the “Godfather” films were made with the permission of the copyright owner and thus have no bearing on what Theater Under the Stars did. As a published playwright whose works have been published by Samuel French Inc. and five other companies, I can assure you that no reputable publishers permit changes to plays without permission. Amanda Green was horrified to find that–in the production by Theater Under the Stars–the first act no longer opened nor closed with the proper songs. All writers give a great deal of thought to how an act is to begin and how it is to end. Unauthorized changes of that magnitude are in clear violation of any reputable publisher’s licensing agreement, and Theater Under the Stars should have known that.

    • Jason Purdy

      I don’t think you understand how any of this works. Like… at all.

    • astromiami

      Yes, the reordering of scenes in the Godfather is indeed a rewrite of the original. Even you say it is a better piece—which means it is not the original piece. (If it were the same, how could it be better?)

      In writing, the order of words does affect meaning. If I said “I eat breakfast for energy,” it would mean something something different than “I eat energy for breakfast.” You might think they mean the same thing because the words are the same, but they do not. In drama, the order of events is the meaning. (Read your Aristotle!)

      While some leeway may be appropriate for high school productions, I know I would be up in arms about the changes you suggest to Chorus Line and Lion in Winter. If schools are making such changes, maybe that is how people like you get this idea that this is okay. If so, maybe academic settings ought to be MORE conscious of intellectual property issues, since they are teaching the next generation of artists.

      And you can argue that contracts should be changed…but that does not mean a contract is not binding.

  • Theatrics

    My heart goes out to all of the actors and crew who worked so hard on this production.

    • TheatrePerson

      Me, too. They are bound to be super disappointed and it is not their fault.

    • hhh

      thanks we worked or ass off on it … very sad

  • sickinhouston

    TUTS is going forward ignoring the cease and desist. The union has told the actors to go forward. This is the single most disgusting act of hubris and disregard for the collaborative spirit of theatre I have ever encountered. This show should and MUST be shut down until such time as the author’s full work is respected. And the union and its members should stand with the authors. Ultimately, Bruce Lumpkin should be removed as the head of the theater. He was bragging around Houston that he was going to “fix” Hardbody for months. TUTS sent emails out that identified a “reworked and improved” show. Enough with the huge egos and bluster that mark the character of so many regional theatre leaders, we all deserve better. TUTS full board should be made aware of the shame this event has brought upon the theatre and upon the city. Thank you Howard for the article. And to Amanda and Doug – deep apologies – since they don’t seem to be forthcoming from TUTS.

    • Rachel

      This isn’t true.

  • Jerry Ruiz

    Wow. For a professional director to take these kinds of liberties with a script without the author’s consent is really unthinkable. I’ve never seen anything like it in the fifteen or so years I’ve been working in theater. It’s one thing to reorder scenes or make extensive cuts to say, a Shakespeare play, or another play that is in the public domain. But to re-order musical numbers and change the structure of a contemporary musical in this way is far beyond a director’s purview as an interpreter of the work. Furthermore, Lumpkin is also the Artistic Director of the theater; so if he didn’t think the musical was good as it was written, then he should not have chosen to produce it. If he wants to do this kind of ‘re-imagining’ of a play he needs to take something in the public domain and cut it to ribbons. For example, Porgy & Bess was re-conceived and re-tooled recently, but with the consent of the author’s estate. That Lumpkin had the gall to invite the authors, and still not warn them beforehand, is quite odd.

  • John

    “When we did Godspell, I told Stephen Schwartz that the song order was kind of arbitrary and he let me work with it.”

    Seriously??? He let you change the song order? A show that had been performed for decades all over the world, yet YOU think you have a better idea?
    Talk about ego!!

    • Doggiemomma

      Actually I was part of the production of Godspell. He did get permission to do just that. So seriously?, he did let him change the song order.

      • katydid

        I’ve been involved in plenty of shows, both before and during my professional career, that were reworkings, or restored a cut song, etc. Re-conceptualization is common and creative and often very exciting.

        But you CAN’T DO IT unless the creators give you that permission, or the work is in the public domain. Period. “Disingenuous” is a polite/generous interpretation of this line of thinking. He’s only scrambling because he got caught. And the level of hubris it takes to invite the writer and expect her to be flattered, impressed, or actually admit that she’s the failure and you’re the genius…wow.

      • Chip Deffaa

        If you get permission from the copyright holder, of course it is fine to make changes. And the improvisatory spirit of “Godspell” makes changes to that show more acceptable. But changing a licensed script without permission is unethical (besides being illegal)…. And thank you, Howard Sherman, for an excellent article.

  • Did Equity really advise the cast members to perform in the remaining illegal performances? As a member of both AEA and DG, I hope that’s not the case.

    • Rachel

      No, of course not. The cast and crew went back into rehearsal immediately after being told to by the writer to put the show in its correct order. The show I saw on Thursday 6/19 was the intended portrayal of Hardbody. Why a cease and desist was sent out after they spent a week back in rehearsals to fix a regrettable mistake on Lumpkin’s end is beyond me. It’s unfortunate that one man has blemished the professional make up of TUTS, but I am certain that no one else is to blame for it. Not everyone in the company is a part of the production team, I’m sure most didn’t know there were changes made until after the first curtain went up.

      • Ian Garrett

        A cease and desist order was sent because he breached the terms of the license he held. Any other factors are immaterial.

      • Jim Williams

        Didn’t a single member if the cast or crew read the script or listen to the score? Of course they know changes were being made (order of songs changed, plot points moved, songs given to different actors) . As members of an artistic union, they should have been the first to step up and defend the artistic integrity of the authors. Are they all to Blame for Lumpkin’s hubris and TUTS illegal doings? No. But are they blameless? Hardley.

        • Rachel

          Being aware of changes doesn’t mean they were aware that changes were being made without author consent. The cast, crew, and TUTS as a whole are definitely not to be blamed for this situation.

        • ThatreJunkie

          Wow, Jim, really shocked that this is your take on the matter. We’ve done shows together, and in those shows, numerous changes were made, and i never heard you utter a peep. I don’t hold you responsible for those decisions.

          • Jim Williams

            If you’d like to identify yourself, and the show with “numerous” changes, I’d be happy to address them. I personally can’t think of any, other than a production of Grease in which they added a song from the revival. But please, enlighten me…

  • OldTheatreGuy

    Couple of points. Get off the “Godspell” issue. Mr. Schwartz has famously allowed all kinds of alterations to his show, including changing order – even inclusion and exclusion of certain songs. He has certain opinions and won’t bend on some things, but he is VERY generous with all kinds of groups. As for Mr. Lumpkin – this is not the first time he has tried “improvements”, and as some of the commentors point out – has an ego the size of Texas. He seems incapable of doing a show “as written” – always thinks he has a “better idea” instead of trying to be creative within the authors framework. I have no respect for the man, and was frankly shocked when I heard that TUTS had hired him. For their sakes, I hope they “cease and desist” with him before it’s too late.

  • Been around

    Worked with him, and Lumpkin is an angry aggressive bully. Fire him, please??

  • Txstnr

    The point is he violated the licensing agreement and bragged about it. I don’t blame Samuel French on bit. TUTS broke the rules.

  • TheatreGuy

    This is pretty despicable, and unfortunately it’s not the first time Bruce Lumpkin has pulled this kind of act. For his production of In The Heights at the Walnut Street Theatre, he made a number of major changes that included the rearrangement of songs, the omitting of several lines of music, as well as changing the Act 1 finale to a different song, among others. He did all of this without permission from the writers and insisted that he was “fixing” the 2008 Best Musical show. His “artistic” ego prevents him from seeing that the creative personnel behind a show don’t particularly like it when their work is altered without their permission, which is why there are strict licensing contracts to begin with. Maybe now he’ll get the picture, but I also somehow doubt that he’ll change. So sad for the cast and crew to have it end this way because of one man’s ignorance.

  • Howard Sherman

    Because I think it’s germane to this entire conversation, I’d like to share the following article, about a production of David Mamet’s OLEANNA which was just shut down in Milwaukee due to the production changing the two-character play’s female role to male. The article says that, regarding the gender change, “the company went to unusual lengths to keep [it] hidden before opening curtain.”

    • Robert Wildman

      FYI, I believe Mamet also wouldn’t permit a production to proceed in Los Angeles with an African-American actor as the professor and a Caucasian actress as the student because he felt that would force the play to be seen in a light other than the one he had intended.

  • Beverly

    I remember this Bruce Lumpkin from when I was a child. He’s the one who directed a kids productin of THE WIZ while it was still running on Broaddway and TUTS never paid any royalties for doing it. And then he directed CABARET and put all the songs from the movie in it. No permission asked for that either. About time he got caught.

  • Theater fan

    We had tickets for the show tomorrow…how sad that big egos make that impossible. What a disappointment!

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  • Wayne Wilden

    Let us not forget what Shakespeare said: “To be or to not be!”

  • OneMoreAnonymousPerson

    I, too, have worked with Bruce and Michelle. My experience was wonderful. Easy to work with and in the end the show was fantastic and received rave reviews.

    I am not condoning what has transpired, but I do not see how one poor decision is justification for the level of mean spirited remarks coming from the very opinionated yet very anonymous people on here.

    Also, let’s not forget that they were putting the show back into the original order for the second half of the run. Seems to me like they realized they were in the wrong and were trying to put it right.

    There will certainly be a deserved penalty coming at TUTS for this breach of contract, and I do not think they will or could argue against it, but I would like to see them learn from this and move on. Let’s not forget that without Bruce there would be no TUTS Undergound and that the three shows prior to this were excellent and also received great reviews.

    So, to sum up, a big mistake was made by a talented individual (hardly the first time this has happened to a person) but I trust that a lesson will be learned and a better man will emerge to bring the great city of Houston more new and interesting works.

    • Proudtobeanon

      So why not sign your name?

    • Proudtobeanon

      Also, this is not an isolated incident, as this article states, and as everyone who works with him knows. He is truly arrogant, and in my opinion, does not have anywhere near the talent to back that up. Not that anyone should be arrogant, but he’s not even a good director, to add insult to injury. How he even got this position is beyond me. He needed a big wakeup call. Here it is.

  • Writer/Director weighs in.

    “I noticed that some people were singing solos other than what we’d assigned.”
    Oh boy. While I tend to immediately side with the writer and believe the work should remain intact ‘as is'” I read this quote above and thought, “This will be a lose-lose for everyone if this is the first thing Green lists off as a grievance.” As a writer, actor, director, I say “Come oN. Let’s try and keep a bit of gray where the black and white lines are drawn.” I do think re-ordering the song list is absolutely something that should’ve been discussed with the author first. And not done if they didn’t agree. But let’s face it… the show closed pretty quickly. Why not take the opportunity to collaberate and listen to another artist’s take on the material? Especially when they are paying you for the right to do take a shot at it? The addendum at the end of this article stating the show had to close is a shame. The show didn’t have to close. The show closed because artists and dare I say egos couldn’t work it out. And that doesn’t fare well for the future of new works.

    • Theatre Person

      The point is, however, that he did not collaborate, he chose to make the changes and see where the cards fell. That is the root of the problem. If you want to make these changes, discuss with the writers (per the contractual obligation you made). If not, you may end up in a situation like this. The really sad thing is that this affects all the people who worked hard on this production and were just following the director’s guidance.

    • GM52246

      Collaboration requires permission. I suspect the writers would’ve been happy to consider Bruce Lumpkin’s ideas had he bothered to ask about them at any point in the rehearsal process.

  • wildagreen

    i can only say this. I had a play in my very beginning moments in this field accepted by what I thought was a significant theatre in a city that shall remain unnamed. I permitted the director to make some changes which I foolishly did not consider very deeply. The production was an unmitigated disaster. I don’t think I have ever been confronted before or since with such an imbecilic misunderstanding of character, dialogue and timing. I have great respect for actors, less for directors and virtually none for artistic directors. If an actor comes to me to discuss a scene, I listen carefully. But I will never again permit anyone to change a single word of any theatrical piece I write for any reason whatsoever, for any amount of money or any additions to my resume. I accept that you may not like my work. I accept that you may hate it or worse, be indifferent to it. I accept your not producing it. But I will not and do not accept your interference with it. As has been stated here previously, if you have an idea for a play, write it yourself. This is mine and mine alone. And like many, I am willing to give up a great deal for that ownership.

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  • Zach

    Thank you so much, Mr. Sherman, for sharing so much of your insight and information about this issue. I have found myself thoroughly fascinated with this controversy, and truly disgusted by Bruce Lumpkin’s behavior and blindness to the idea that he did anything wrong. At the very least I am glad this issue is raising discussion about author’s rights. It is a shame that Mr. Lumpkin became so defensive and hostile towards you. His name will surely be sullied from this ordeal.

    • Unless, Zach, you are aware of something I’m not, Mr. Lumpkin was never defensive or hostile to me. I would describe our entire conversation as cordial. He shared his position with me and I believe I’ve represented his statements to me fairly and accurately.

      • Zach

        Apologies for my misunderstanding. I was referring to Carol Hall’s quote of her conversation with him. My mistake for not reading carefully enough. Nevertheless, I appreciate you sharing this and I’m a big fan of your blog!

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  • Bryan Ford

    If only the play had been better in the first place while in New York.

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  • TheatreJunkie

    Really, a Houston Chop Shop, so much for objectivity Howard.

    • My blog writing often stakes out a position on an issue. On this piece, I never pretended to be anything but a supporter of authors’ rights.

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