YOUNGSTOWN PLAYHOUSE Idora Park musical turns into a roller coaster ride
Unwritten agreements have led to a dispute between the theater and a playwright.
By MARALINE KUBIK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Inviting audiences to relive fun-filled days at Idora Park could pay off in a big way for the Youngstown Playhouse. Or, it could spell big trouble for an organization already teetering on the edge of financial uncertainty.
The problem stems from an agreement, or lack thereof, between the Playhouse and the playwright who brought her idea and script for "Idora! -- The Musical," originally titled "My Idora Park," to Youngstown.
A week and a half ago, "Idora! -- The Musical" was set to open July 25 for a four-week, 16-performance run.
That show is off.
"Idora!" -- another musical -- will open instead.
Angela V. Woodhull, a Florida playwright, entertainer and private investigator who grew up in Youngstown, initially submitted samples of her original music, and a story based on her experiences growing up at Idora Park in the 1960s, to Bob Vargo, managing director of the Youngstown Playhouse, last winter.
According to Woodhull, she submitted the unsolicited materials to see if the Playhouse might be interested in producing a musical based on her work.
Woodhull corresponded with The Vindicator via e-mail. She also forwarded copies of correspondence she exchanged with Vargo and Michael Moritz, musical director at the Playhouse, to The Vindicator.
In March, Woodhull submitted an updated musical recording and a printed script to the Playhouse.
In April, the Playhouse agreed to produce the show.
"We agreed to do the show because she offered it at no royalties," Vargo said. But, he stressed, it required a significant amount of work. "Her music did not exist on paper. Our music director had to write it down and arrange it. All she sent us was a midi disk." Woodhull's dialogue was also very weak, he said, and it required much rewriting.
Vargo said that he told Woodhull, "We like your music and we like your lyrics, but we want more history."
For her musical to appeal to the Playhouse audience, Vargo said, it would require some changes, and she agreed to those changes.
Woodhull acknowledged that she agreed to allow Vargo to make some changes that would improve her musical. She even gave him the liberty to rearrange the order of the songs and comical vignettes that connect them.
"I assumed that 'changes' to my script would be the equivalent of allowing an interior decorator into my home to make some bright and splashy improvements," she wrote in a letter to The Vindicator. She likened the changes made to her script to an interior decorator who bulldozes buildings and erects others in their places.
Exactly what changes were to be made were never put in writing.
In fact, there has never been more than a verbal agreement between Woodhull and the Playhouse.
At one point, Vargo sent a signed contract to Woodhull, but she said she declined to sign because the managing director not only failed to specify what changes were to be made to her script, but also neglected to specify which of her original songs would be included in the show.
In one e-mail letter to the Playhouse, Woodhull went so far as to list every song, asking specifically if it would be included.
Vargo told The Vindicator that he had thought about doing a show based on Idora Park a few years ago, but that his idea was to create a show with a historical perspective. After agreeing to produce Woodhull's play, he said, he had planned to incorporate some historical material into her script. Or, more specifically, incorporate her script into a survey of the amusement park's history.
The first act would begin in 1899, when the park opened, and end with the outbreak of World War II, he said. Woodhull's material, which is set in the 1960s, would be incorporated into the second act, which would go from the 1940s to the big fire in the mid-1980s.
In exchange for the rights to produce "My Idora Park," Woodhull asked for three things:
UA professional videotape of the performance,
UA copy of the score,
UArtist-in-residence status, in which the Youngstown Playhouse would provide her living accommodations during pre-production, rehearsal and the run of the show.
Woodhull said that Vargo verbally agreed to the arrangement and that he told her Moritz would make the arrangements for her accommodations.
In an e-mail letter from Moritz dated May 20, he stated: "We are also working on a housing arrangement so that you can be here from tryouts through the actual run of the show. ... Give me a few more days on that, I am close."
However, by the time auditions were held the first week of June, Woodhull said, The Playhouse had reneged on that part of the agreement, offering to put her up for only one week during the show's opening.
Moritz had also offered to provide Woodhull with a grand score for the conductor as well as scores for individual instruments, a simplified score with vocal lines and lyrics, professional audio recording of the score and other related materials, according to an e-mail dated May 20, for what he writes is a "reduced price" of $3,500.
Woodhull said she was shocked to receive the "proposed bill" from Moritz. "I had said I would forfeit my rights to royalties in exchange the musical scores," she explained.
Pulling the plug
With both parties increasingly disenchanted with the situation, and no formal contract, Vargo informed Woodhull via e-mail June 27, that her "new demands and extremely bizarre behavior make it necessary to pull the plug on your show and to continue with a version I envisioned from as early as before the big fire; a historic retrospective. ... Rest assured that none of your material will be used in our production."
The plug was pulled on Woodhull's musical less than one month before opening night and a week after Moritz informed Woodhull that 45 people ages 7 to 65 had been cast and that "the songs are sounding really great" and "almost all of the chorus numbers are taught."
Nevertheless, Vargo said, the show will go on, just "not her version."
Act I, he said, will remain the same. It never included Woodhull's material, he said. The cast is rehearsing Act I while Act II is being written. "We do what we have to do to get the show going," Vargo said.
Meanwhile, the associate director of The Dramatics Guild of America Inc., Ralph Sevush, notified the Playhouse that it does not appear to be operating within industry standards.
The Dramatics Guild represents some 6,200 playwrights.
Sevush informed Vargo that it is monitoring the "Idora!" situation.
Vargo said he is optimistic that "Idora!" will gross $30,000 during its run and become an annual fund raiser for the playhouse.
Seats for the multimedia presentation, which will incorporate news footage, stills and memorabilia from the park, including a car from the Wildcat roller coaster and toy soldiers from Kiddieland, will sell for $10 apiece.