Setting The Glue Trap
In 2011, my attorney Conrad Rippy approached me about creating a jukebox musical from the catalog of his clients the Go-Go’s. As I am not much a fan of jukebox musicals, I declined. But I reconsidered after a couple of other long-term projects failed to generate income – including a musical I wrote called Bring It On, from which I did not make a cent for a twenty-week Broadway run. Every week the theater owners called the writers' agents, demanding that we surrender our royalties “to keep the show running.” Bring It On was the result of three years of grueling work. I needed an income, so I considered the Go-Go’s catalog again.
Rather than creating a by-the-numbers “jukebox musical” (a category that too often deserves an eye-roll) I decided to innovate: I’d go the distance to create a legitimate work of art whose cheeky twist was that it used the catalog of the Go-Go’s. Low expectations would be its hook, offering audiences and critics a surprising, fresh take on the form. I would mash up High Art and Pop Culture in a seamless joyride of broad audience appeal.
Thus inspired, I wrote a brief treatment that got all aboard excited …
… including three first-time producers who bought the stage rights to the Go-Go’s catalog: GWYNETH PALTROW, DONOVAN LEITCH and RICK FERRARI. Ms. Paltrow, a famous A-list actor, was largely a figurehead. I suspect that she knows little of the ugliness that unfolded. As first-time producers, Leitch and Ferrari were gullible marks, easily manipulated – and soon to fall under the thrall of my self-dealing representation.
Rippy, Buzzetti, the Go-Go’s and producers were effusive about my proposal.
So began negotiations with the producers. In the December 2012 Deal Memo, Rippy and Buzzetti wrote the following language concerning my approvals over my creative team. NOTE: Without fail, originating authors in theater have a hand in choosing their collaborators and possess veto power.
APPROVALS. Sole approval of the book, and all standard author approvals - cast, creative team, designers, dispositions, understudies, replacements, etc. All approvals to be unanimous between bookwriter and composer/lyricists.
Please note Mr. Rippy's term: “standard author approvals.” Such approvals of the creative team are “standard” to be sure. On Head Over Heels, the creative team was:
BOOKWRITER, Jeff Whitty
COMPOSERS, the Go-Go's
MUSIC DIRECTOR (my co-writer who arranges pre-existing songs to tell story)
No contract in Broadway history has denied such “standard approvals” (Rippy’s words, again) to a musical’s creator who works for years, taking jawdropping risks in the public eye. As an artist, you don't want to deliver your work into the hands of just anybody, because they could blow it.
Fast forward six months to May 23, 2013. This is a draft of the Deal Memo, sent to me that day by Mr. Rippy. I did not notice that my approvals were no longer “standard.” Such discoveries were Mr. Rippy’s job:
APPROVALS: Book, cast (including understudies), designers; musical director; orchestrator; music arranger; rehearsal pianist; translators; and any replacements of the foregoing. Also, dispositions of merged musical; cast album label and material terms of cast album agreement.
(On Head Over Heels, I hired Carmel Dean to be the Musical Director / Orchestrator / Music Arranger. For brevity I shall henceforth use the blanket term “Music Director” to describe the multifaceted position.)
I was never informed by my lawyer Conrad Rippy nor my agent John Buzzetti that my approval over my DIRECTOR was lifted from the contract - by themselves, the very men whom I paid to protect my rights as an artist.
My agent John Buzzetti wanted to ensure that his client would go into the director’s slot when he so chose.
Mr. Rippy informed me about other changes in the evolving contract but neglected to inform me about this crucial omission.
Two weeks later on June 11 2013, Rippy sent me the final draft of the contract – which I signed, oblivious to the swindle underway:
APPROVALS: Book; cast (including understudies); designers: translators; and any replacements of the foregoing. Also, dispositions of merged musical; cast album label and material terms of cast album agreement.
Now missing from my contract were the two open creative slots: DIRECTOR and MUSIC DIRECTOR.
Had my lawyer and agent made me aware, I would never have signed the contract. But I was never told. And I did not notice. I engaged a lawyer, after all, to pay attention to such matters.
This is theft of a most insidious sort, evidence of which I only recently discovered. It is the Rosetta Stone that sheds clear light on the elaborate, deceptive mischief that followed. These small points are hard evidence of the bad faith of my representatives.
Through a calculated torrent of lies and abuse, Buzzetti would install his clients in the very slots deleted from my contract: DIRECTOR and MUSIC DIRECTOR, the latter against my emphatic opposition. My brilliant Music Director Carmel Dean would be fired, her arrangements pulled, the careful musical that we built together over three years destroyed.
Its audience appeal was no accident, for Carmel and I were rigorously on top of the crowd’s experience, working arm in arm at every turn, making something where there was nothing before.