They Even Snatched My Royalties!
The stalking and harassment continued over the next several months at regular intervals.
Had my agent and lawyer not destroyed my work, Head Over Heels could have opened on Broadway after one more workshop. By the time they announced their Broadway opening several months on, my Head Over Heels could have already passed its first year on Broadway.
But Mayer's decimation of my script demanded three expensive workshops, and then an additional unnecessary and expensive out of town tryout at the Curran in San Francisco before going to Broadway over three years after my pilot production.
Their marketing strategy was inscrutable. In my 2012 three-page proposal - before a word was written - I urged the producers to choose a logo with eyes (for nearly all successful Broadway show logos have them). That is how on top of business I was, from the start.
Instead, as the logo of their Broadway-bound musical comedy, the producers chose ...
... a murdered heart.
The San Francisco run sold abysmally and received middling-to-poor reviews, a signal to experienced producers that the show needed an overhaul. (Spoiler: it did not get an overhaul.)
The San Francisco closing date was May 6th. I could not bring myself to attend - but with the clock ticking, on their closing day I flew to San Francisco to see Michael Mayer's "vision" realized. I arrived at the theater as the curtain rose on the baffling opening number.
It's hard to describe the experience of watching characters borne of my imagination, all parts of myself, dumbed-down and rudderless without any clear intentions or obstacles. As I watched the garish-yet-cheap-looking spectacle unfold, I found myself shuddering and chuckling in equal measure. I was deeply embarrassed that the insult to the audience bore my name, but the vandalism of my art was downright parodic in its "Broadway"ness.
My show in Ashland played like a rock concert. The closing night crowd at Mayer's production was game at first, then sank into listless stupor when it became clear there was no sensible story unfolding.
("Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" as Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols famously asked the crowd.)
The program contained an interview with James MacGruder:
Lucky indeed, Mr. Magruder.
And yes, he did not mention me once. While the advertising cried "From the mind that brought you AVENUE Q!" the reality was that those people wanted me erased.
The reviews of the production were tepid to poor, and their sales dismal. I resisted attending, but on the morning of their final performance, I flew down to San Francisco to take in what Michael Mayer and his cronies did with my art and livelihood.
The closing was sparsely attended, as was their entire run. The problem became clear with the opening number. I saved "We Got the Beat" for the closing number, because it was the hardest song to justify (I did) and I wanted to send the audience out on a high.
Mayer made "We Got the Beat" the opening number - perhaps the only musical theater opening number in history where no characters are introduced, no story is told, and nothing changes from beginning to end. His changes were puzzling throughout Act One, without a single improvement made. The audience was baffled.
Everything that I told the producers was going to happen, happened. The show was a turkey.
Act One was enough for me.
I left at intermission, feeling a cautious elation - less from schadenfreude than confirmation that just desserts would be served when The Murdered Heart hit Broadway.
Michael Mayer’s Head Over Heels began Broadway previews on June 23rd.
The writing was on the wall well prior to their July 26th opening night. The word of mouth was poisonous and every week the show sputtered at the bottom of the list of Broadway grosses, thanks in no small part to baffling marketing that targeted no discernible audience.
I took no pleasure in their incoming flop, for my abusers now had egg on their face. When the emperor wears no clothes and is a tyrant besides, those who see through his pomposity are in danger merely for knowing.
Besides, if I blew the whistle, I would be blamed for the show’s failure. Best to let them hoist themselves on their own petard. I kept quiet, never speaking to the press.
Historically, any experienced producer (which these were not) closes a flop shortly after opening night, unless the reviews are effusive (which theirs were not).
As a writer I feel a paternal need to look after my actors and crew. I’m confident that any actor I’ve worked with will agree: I work like a maniac to give them a joyride to play, and I address their every concern. If an actor can’t make sense of a line, I fix the line. If they have to “mug” (adding extra business to make a joke land), I blame myself, not them, and fix the joke so they can play it effortlessly.
None of the actors from Broadway’s Head Over Heels ever reached out to me. I can’t imagine what they were told. It’s customary to acknowledge the artist who gave them jobs ...
... but why would they be grateful to the villain that was surely being portrayed to them?
I held no grudge. I felt sympathy for the actors and crew, who on any other Broadway production would be turned from their dressing rooms immediately. They were in no way to blame for the production’s manifold faults. The actors were clearly talented, game and doing their best with subpar, baffling material.
When the writers of my Bring It On musical were forced to surrender our royalties for all 20 weeks of the run, we did so because there was a provision in the contract. Head Over Heels had no such provision.
Nonetheless, I extended myself for the cause of allowing the actors and crew a week or two more of employment on Broadway before the logical close:
July 21, 2018 at 12:57:30 AM EDT
From: Jeff Whitty
To: Christine Russell
It is at this point in a show's fortunes when the producers ask the creatives to surrender their royalties in order to keep the ship aright.
You have not cultivated such a relationship with me.
But nonetheless this email extends the offer to forego royalties on "Head Over Heels" when the coffers are low.
In truth this is for the actors and Union members who depend on my work for their revenue.
My proudest achievement is not a Tony Award but the work I have provided for so many hundreds of people over the years. Many have raised their children from its proceeds.
I created that endowment in my original Head Over Heels. It is one of the ongoing griefs of my life that I am not proud of the work bearing my name, for it will not provide such a legacy.
I could not redo it all. I quit. Then all else followed.
If something must be signed I would prefer not to deal with my former lawyers at LPMNY nor their understudy, Mr. Lawless. I created that endowment in my Head Over Heels. It is one of the ongoing griefs of my life that I am not proud of the work bearing my name, for it will not provide such a legacy.
In retrospect, I can’t believe that I made such an offer to people who chose corruption at every turn. I offered a sacrifice for the cause of helping the actors and crew get a few more paychecks. I should have known that my money would end up in the pockets of con artists who'd stolen so much already.
I just kept ferrying those scorpions across the river.
Clearly, the show was doomed to close and the sooner the better for the sake of the investors. Any business-oriented Broadway producer would shutter a show that was hemorrhaging money like Michael Mayer’s Head Over Heels.
But these were no ordinary Broadway producers. I got no response to my proposal, typical of their shunning tactics. The show kept running – on what revenue, I am not sure. I heard almost nothing about the production as it limped along, playing to tiny houses month after month.
144 days passed.
I’ll write that again:
144 days passed.
… whereupon my business managers got a letter from the show’s company manager:
December 6, 2018
Mr. Frank [redacted], CPA
Re: Head Over Heels - Bad Fairy, Inc. f/s/o J. Whitty
Enclosed please find check #1889 representing the royalties due to date to Bad Fairy, Inc. for Head Over Heels.
The producers thank Mr. Whitty for his email to Christine Russell dated July 21, 2018 (copy enclosed) agreeing to royalty waivers. Details are included on the attached summary, but due to the low grosses for the show, the following waivers were agreed to by royalty participants, and the same was applied to Mr. Whitty's royalties:
Full Waiver: Week-ending July 1, 2018 through July 22, 2018 (4 weeks)
50% Waiver: Week-ending July 29, 2018 through January 6, 2019 (24 weeks)
We believe the enclosed summary details what is due, but if you have any questions, please let us know.
The balance of royalties due will be paid upon the show's closing. As you may be aware, the show has announced January 6, 2019 as its final performance.
Associate General Manager
I was gobsmacked. This was no agreement but Batvillain-level theft. (I do not impugn this Associate General Manager, whose experience with those producers I can only imagine.)
Head Over Heels ran 28 weeks, so the actors and crew did just fine.
I did not offer to line the pockets of abusive, predatory con artists for over six months.
I had no reason to underwrite the funding of the thugs hired to intimidate me.
Had an agreement been drawn up (as I mentioned in my email), I certainly would have included a provision that if the show ran longer than a month or so, I'd get my full royalties on the remainder.
OnBring It On, the theater owners had to contact my agent every single week to get my approval to forego royalties.
This is how grown-ups do business, even shitty business. But I was not dealing with grown-ups now.
When the Head Over Heels con artists got my letter, I imagined them cheering the opportunity to give the artist they’d thoroughly abused a final shitty kick out the door.
Normally, royalties are paid in increments – a couple of weeks at a time in my experience. But had they paid me normally, I would notice that they were seizing my royalties and tell them to stop.
So they paid me an ugly lump sum near the end so I would not discover their theft of my income until it was too late. They knew I was too poor to afford a lawyer. And if I engaged one, my spiteful former lawyers at LPMNY would just run up my legal fees to exceed the balance owed.
It sickens me that these entitled men and women of business, with so many blessings, so much money, used my kindness to steal even more from me.
At no point did they miss a chance to loot my corpse. They took every inch of rope that I allowed.
I emailed the company manager to no response. I was enraged, and wrote the following email to Ms. Russell:
December 6, 2018
FROM: Jeff Whitty
TO: Christine Russell
I received a letter from Mr. Klein and called him on Thursday. As is usual with you people, no response. Shunning is a typical tool of manipulation among sociopaths and those with narcissistic personality disorder, as is the gaslighting I have endured and which I have chronicled at length, with names, dates, phone numbers, and text and email messages that suggest that some among you are seriously troubled and sadistic people. How lucky I was to get such a sterling collection of examples to set their sights on me.
I call you on your most recent example of high-handed entitlement. I never agreed to any terms insofar as my rightful royalties, as agreed upon in the contract drawn up by your “lawyers” and Mr. Ben-Zvi. I had no idea you even received my characteristically kind and thoughtful offer for 144 days. Classy as ever.
It is in my calendar to send a “you’re welcome” in late June.
An offer is not an agreement, for by your logic you could decide that Jeff Whitty agrees to a negative sum docking me $14.5 million you lost your investors, demanding that after the three years of torture I now shall fund your failed enterprise – for which I cannot be blamed, especially considering how strenuously I tried to put a quality product before the public. And yes, I saw the result of Michael Mayer’s tasteless “vision,” another in his long line of soulless shows that ignore the audience experience and close in months.
Had you offered terms in July, I might have accepted them in order to ease the shock of an immediate closing for actors and crew.
As it turned out the union members did WONDERFULLY WELL for the baffling largesse that ran the show for so incredibly long.
I see no reason that I should fund my own exploitation, do you? You can’t exactly pretend that I was ever included in the family, even as you paraded about proudly in my tarnished finery, so ignorant of the parodic decline of the property. I’m not inclined to take one for the other team.
And rather than paying me a cent in seven months (which to be fair comes short of the previous record of fifteen), your entitled selves made my financial decisions for me, unheard of in my career as was the horrifying, disrespectful Playbill bio you attempted to slip past.
One among you holds an empire worth a quarter of a billion dollars. We had a contract, Ms. Russell. You had money to run it all those months. And you short your artist in this manner for such a small sum compared to the money you hemorrhaged so naively. It all is ugly from any angle.
I worked doggedly and reliably for fifteen years and finally broke when my guaranteed success was once again botched, and how, by the middlemen and -women of Head Over Heels. Just desserts are served and nobody enjoys them.
Knowing how you people use money as a means to control those without, given the long delays in the Broadway paycheck and the 15-months tardy payment that only arrived after my show was destroyed, not to mention your long expensive conversation$ with my most accomodating lawyer to make me go broke so I would cry uncle, my business manager immediately deposited Mr. Klein’s check for the partial sum owed.
I expect the balance to arrive at my business manager’s office by Wednesday. [address redacted]
If you and your people don’t like the way your behavior would seem before the public, I suggest that you all behave better.
Honest to God. Save the energy required to slither the low road.
I am not the repository of your sins, carrying their weight as you hide from yourselves. Nor am I a doormat for you people to work out your dysfunctions. You nearly killed me. You really did. To be hated by a group of people who you believed were your friends, only exploiting you instead, seeing your art destroyed and your livelihood wrecked by preening amateurs, will make anybody fall to pieces.
Back away slowly please, wipe the drool from your mouths and put down your knives.
It is how I see you all. I mean, look why I am writing this.
144 days. Feel free to be in touch.
I found this email in my “drafts” folder, alas, when I was compiling this document.
I wish that I’d hit “send.”
Eventually I reached the Associate General Manager by phone and expressed my dismay. He sounded sheepish and embarrassed, as would anyone working for such people. I had no way to get my money, and they knew it. I kept after Christine Russell now and then:
On Jan 3, 2020, at 12:35 PM
TO: Christine Russell
FROM: Jeff Whitty
Can you please send me a copy of the purported agreement signed wherein I agree to surrender half of my royalties for all 32 weeks of the ill-fated run of HEAD OVER HEELS?
And an agreement involves communication between two or more parties. You know this I am sure. I look forward to getting your response by the end of today.