Rumpelstiltskin On Rewind
July 26, 2018
Had I not been aware that a major Broadway musical was opening 25 years to the day after my arrival in New York City - a musical that was my brainchild once, bearing my name, which touted my success in its marketing - it would have just been another lonely day on my sofa in West Hollywood.
Alas, I was all too aware. I knew better than to expect any sort of gracious recognition from the producers who stole my work. But to have not a single word from any of the actors, crew, from nobody at all was painful beyond measure.
A Broadway opening night is incredibly special for all involved. I earned my opening night. Instead, my abusers paraded around in ill-fitting finery that was mine.
The abuse was organized to make me feel shunned and hated, and it worked. Judging from their sneering contempt in prior months, the producers surely took pleasure in knowing that I was completely alone that night as they flaunted their possession of my work like my head on a spike after battle.
My sister Kelly is a powerful empath. She was the only person to call me that day, at around 4PM. The show’s curtain was set to rise in New York at 5:07PM Pacific Time. I didn’t need to say much before Kelly gave me the phone number to the suicide hotline (which is now 988) and urged me to get a volunteer on the phone.
So I called, feeling ashamed. A kind female volunteer took my call and listened supportively as I wept through the whole grisly story from beginning to end: the wonderful process of creating Head Over Heels, the betrayals of those I counted on most for support when they smelled a hit, and the abuse and smears and lies that followed. I grieved the loss of the career I built through such courage and struggle, which was snatched by entitled rich people as their toy. I mourned my beautiful work of storytelling art that was recklessly destroyed. I described my terror of going homeless. I felt shame as I described the stalking and harassment of the people hired to silence me, because so many doubted me before. I told her about the fear that I felt 24/7 as a result of so many scary encounters. She stayed on the phone with me for the entirety of the show’s 2:15 running time, and by 7:30 I felt the worst was over. I assured her that I wouldn’t harm myself and fell into a slumber.
If any day of the last seven years inspires me to tell this story now, it is the memory of that day. The Broadway industry has much to answer for. This can’t ever happen again to another artist.
FROM NEW YORK MAGAZINE DRAMA CRITIC SARAH HOLDREN’S REVIEW OF MICHAEL MAYER’S HEAD OVER HEELS:
“Oh, to have been a fly on the wall in the elevator where Jeff Whitty, best known for a musical about the neuroses of New York Muppets, originally pitched the idea for Head Over Heels: ‘It’s an Elizabethan pastoral sex-romp jukebox musical - no, wait, hear me out! It’s based on Philip Sidney’s 16th-century prose closet drama The Arcadia. Oh, you don’t know it? That’s too bad, it’s one of my favorites, written in the Hellenistic mode, really all over the place, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral - no, please! Don’t get out, I’ll buy you coffee. It’s, uh, it’s got princesses! And prophesy! And cross-dressing! And it’s very public-domain. And the music, I almost forgot, the music will all be the Go-Go’s!’
“I imagine this is exactly how it went down, given Whitty’s ‘Conceived & Original Book by’ credit in the Head Over Heels program. (...)
“As befits a story about transformation, the show has seen a fair bit of shapeshifting. It began its life at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2015 and in its earliest incarnations—according to one of its stars, the marvelous Bonnie Milligan—“it wasn’t even in iambic pentameter.” The current Broadway version has been adapted into florid, funny verse by James Magruder—a dramaturg and scholar who has adapted Marivaux, Molière, Gozzi, and more—and is now under the direction of Michael Mayer, whose credits include Hedwig and the Angry Inch, American Idiot, and Spring Awakening.”
A horrid reviewer, that Sarah Holdren. Why so vicious, dear? Why are make such dizzy assumptions instead of, I dunno, picking up the phone like a journalist?
This was one of the few favorable reviews of Mayer’s largely panned Head Over Heels. And it’s largely a smear – of me. Holdren could have saved her “humorous” fabulations about the show’s genesis and simply asked, and I’d have sent her my 3-page proposal.
Holdren’s nutty reporting suggests that my Head Over Heels was not in verse, which it certainly was. And Holdren’s unfounded smears continue with her claim that “The current Broadway version has been adapted into florid, funny verse by James Magruder.”
Um, no, hon. Quite the opposite. Magruder vandalized my verse into clunky prose that blew most of the humor.
But he formatted it to look like iambic pentameter.
I was astonished that few critics realized that the “iambic pentameter” sold to Broadway audiences was in truth ishambic penshameter, formatted to look like the real deal, but in truth as inauthentic as everything else in Mayer's enterprise.
The rules of iambic pentameter are incredibly simple. Though it takes care in the crafting, it’s a fun puzzle once you get the hang of it. And it’s mathematical in its form. You can log every syllable into an Excel spreadsheet to check its validity.
Here are two equivalent scenes from Head Over Heels, where the King meets the Oracle, in such a spreadsheet. The first scene is mine, the second Magruder’s. In both scenes, I marked every metric error with a pink box.
In developing the show, Magruder had two full workshops plus 49 previews over two full productions to get the meter right. As he said in his interview, “It was kind of fun to count to ten for two months." Alas, there is more to iambic pentameter than counting to ten. A thirty-second Google search would explain its rules.
And how can Michael Mayer not have noticed the fake meter? Any classical director worth their salt is fluent in verse performance, and can direct actors accordingly.
Even the producers of the show attacked me in public with unprecedented hostility. Check out the response by one of the show’s producers to a post on FaceBook:
I can't quite express how hard it was being everybody's convenient dumping ground and kicking-boy for so many lonely years. Mr. Sigman is bullying, plain and simple.
Such a public attack on an artist (on whose work my abusers depended) is unprecedented in my years in the industry. This was the first I’d heard of Mr. Sigman, who I found on the lengthy list of producers above the title. I have no idea what “fast one” I can possibly have pulled in any negotiations, and to learn that Mr. Sigman was spreading such a fiction was disturbing to say the least. By this point, the cult was just making anything up they wanted and touting it as fact. Why wouldn’t they? Who was speaking up for me besides me? I was being buried alive by gaslighting.
Fact: I sat behind the delighted Go-Go’s on my Ashland opening night, and they left accounts of their enjoyment of the show. They were thrilled. If Mr. Sigman and the rest of his group were as bored as he claims, why would he bother to invest in the show in the first place?
In my reply, I referred to the strangers who were giving me threats, taking care not to be too overt lest I fall into the “crazy” trap that was so carefully set. (Gaslighting is a bitch that way.)
I did nothing to deserve these smears. Such repeated humiliations were devastating to my mental health. My “crime” was standing up alone for my rights in the absence of effective legal representation – and carrying the receipts of abuse.
This man was emboldened because he was in a group and I was alone. And if this is how I was portrayed in public, I shudder to think what was said about me beyond my view.