When it comes to sentimental indulgence, there really is no business like show business. Where else but on Broadway would employees (aka actors) expect to receive royalties or perpetual acknowledgement for a job when, years later, the vehicle they worked on enjoys a new, extended life without them?
The recent brouhaha surrounding Jennifer Holliday and her self-proclaimed injury regarding the current film version of “Dreamgirls” recalls the even sorrier, more egregious spectacle of all those “A Chorus Line” thesps whining about not receiving enough — I emphasize, enough — money from their original turn in that other Michael Bennett musical so many years ago.
One might expect, and so forgive, a little emotional overdrive from actors. By trade, they have to wear their feelings on their sleeve. But why would journalists be so eager to give them a forum, from the Los Angeles Times to the New York Times, to tell their stories of wounded ego and financial woe?
Frankly, if I have a complaint with Holliday and the “Chorus Line” profiles in the two Times, it’s with the reporters, who, after all, make their living by getting people to tell their life stories for free!
Ask any biographer how much he paid his sources for the many hours of interviews that were the spine of his book. A biography, by definition, is nothing but a collection of life stories.
So why would a reporter for the New York Times (” ‘Chorus Line’ returns, as Do Regrets Over Life Stories Signed Away,” Oct. 1) sympathize with a bunch of dancer-actors who shared their stories of career angst in exchange for a fraction of the show’s royalties, ultimately earning them “up to $10,000 a year.” The Times article omitted that this up-to-$10,000-a-year gravy train went on for several years while the original Broadway production and its national tours continued to bring in the bucks.
The money definitely stopped before the current Broadway revival. But Bennett and the show’s original producers were not obliged to give the workshop participants and original cast members a dime beyond their production salaries from the get-go. Neither would any biographer be obliged to share his royalties with his subject.
It’s truly astounding that people could play perf after perf of “A Chorus Line” and not get the show’s message: When you’re in the chorus, you’re not a star. You’re interchangeable — and so are your life stories.
As one of those original cast members put it to the New York Times, “There never would have been ‘A Chorus Line’ without Michael, but there never would have been ‘A Chorus Line’ without us, either.”
Not true. Nineteen dancers contributed to the show’s original tapes, but, if they had not agreed, Bennett could have found another hundred, another thousand to take their respective places. It’s what makes the story of “A Chorus Line” universal.
Creative vs. interpretive
Regarding Holliday, it’s a little more difficult to figure out what currently bugs her. Newspaper reporters hear from one-shot wonders all the time, and generally have the good taste to let them stew in silence after a quick heave-ho on the phone.
Did the L.A. Times reporter (“Out of the Picture,” Dec. 12) really think that, 20 years later, 46-year-old Holliday should play teenage Effie in the “Dreamgirls” movie? Or was it simply that Holliday wanted tix to the movie premiere?
Yes, Holliday and the “Chorus Line” gang “created” their roles. But not really. If that had been the case, they would have been credited as writers. There’s a difference between a creative art and an interpretive one like acting and directing.
Which brings us to that show-me-the-money-too controversy involving directors, choreographers and designers (the original “Urinetown” creative team being the current case in point) who think they should be able to add their copyright to what is already copyrighted by someone known as the author — the point at which movies, plays and musicals all begin.