High School Show Goes On After All

Chicago the Musical logo over performers from the show
Disappointment turned into unadulterated joy Tuesday as Bronx high school students were told that they will be able to stage the musical "Chicago" after all.

The teenagers at Herbert H. Lehman High School had been rehearsing the musical for the last four months when they were ordered to stop because their school didn't have rights to perform "Chicago."

It was a double-whammy of regulations that prohibited the school from posessing, rehearsing or performing the play. The administration had allegedly not obtained scripts or performance rights from the play's distribution company. But even if it had done so, the school was located too close to — within 75 miles of — the Broadway theater that "Chicago" where is playing.

"They never got a license to put the show on," "Chicago" producer Barry Weissler told "They got our music, lyrics and text. And we have no idea how they did that."

But on Tuesday, as students gathered in the school's main office, the situation suddenly brightened. The principal told them that their drama teacher had received word from the Broadway producer of "Chicago" — the show could go on after all.

At least, it can go on once.

A publicist for the producer of Chicago, the theater and the play's distributor said in a statement, "permission has been granted for an unauthorized, unlicensed single performance of Chicago at the Herbert H. Lehman High School."

The student actors jumped up and down when they heard the news.

"I just woke up from my nightmare," said senior Jason Valentin, who plays the role of fast-talking lawyer Billy Flynn.

Weissler said despite the copyright and distance issues, producers decided to make an exception for the Bronx high school production.

"We care more about the kids than anyone else in that situation," Weissler said.

Samuel French Inc., the licensing agency that represents the authors of the Broadway show, sent a "cease and desist order" to the school last week, because the school's administration allegedly had not obtained rights to the scripts or to perform the show.

Performance rights would have cost Lehman High about $100 per show for "Chicago," according to the producer's office.

The school version of the musical about homicidal jailhouse vixens seeking fame would have been performed Thursday.

The agency president, Charles Van Nostrand, said Tuesday that school leaders did not ask for permission to put on the show — but it wouldn't have been granted anyway due to an agreement between the owners of the show and the New York theater currently putting on the show.

The agreement between the producer and the Broadway theater stipulates that no entity within a 75-mile radius can get the rights. Those who violate the rules could face hundreds of thousands of dollars in litigation, Van Nostrand said.

The location restrictions are common agreements, Van Nostrand said. He said the students probably wouldn't have gone wrong if they'd picked a show that was no longer on Broadway, such as "Shanendoah." They'd still have to get permission first.

Tickets to the high school production are priced at $7 a ticket, a steal compared to the cost of tickets for the Broadway show, which sometimes surpass $200.

A message seeking comment from representatives of the Ambassador Theatre, home of the Broadway show, was not immediately returned.