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Column: Hands tied on publicizing musical, or so we thought


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For the past four weeks, we have been trying to figure our how we could give our readers information on a much-loved Rodgers & Hammerstein musical that’s going to be presented next weekend at Columbus East High School.

Folks, trust me, this should not be hard. I’ve been doing this for a long time.

When we hear a local group is putting on a musical production, one of these approaches is likely to occur.

They send us information. We write a story and put it in the paper.

We interview the director. We write a story and put it in the paper.

We photograph dress rehearsals or have them send some photos to us. We put them in the paper.

Pretty simple.

Except this situation was different.

Janelle Runge, performing arts director at East High School, initially described her dilemma in a Jan. 30 email.

“Rodgers & Hammerstein made us agree not to publish the name of the show in any medium that went outside a 20-mile radius,” she wrote.

“I’m not sure you’ve ever run into this. I haven’t, but the kids work very hard and ...”

And she asked for our help in publicizing the play, working within the licensing-agreement they signed with R&H Theatricals of New York, the company that owns and manages the rights to many of the world’s best-known musicals.

The license issued to Columbus East High School was contingent on refraining from the use of the title or allusions to the title in any and all advertisements/announcements, including casting notices, outside a 20-mile radius around Columbus. It did allow posting on the high school website. And there was no mention of a ban on posters put up around town.

So Runge did both.

She really wanted Republic readers to know about the school’s production but felt her hands were tied in key respects by 17 specific words:

“Failure to adhere to this advertising restriction will result in the revoking of the attached license agreement.”

My first thought was to have fun with the obstacle. We could say it’s not “North Atlantic.”

Or we could mention lyrics to familiar songs from the musical, blanking out key words, such as:

“I’m going to (blank) that man right outta my (blank).”

“Some (blank) evening. You will meet a (blank).”

I’m as corny as Kansas in (blank), high as a (blank) on the Fourth of July! If you’ll (blank) an expression I use, I’m in love, I’m in love, I’m in love, I’m in love, I’m in love with a wonderful (blank)!”

But that probably violates the allusion clause of the contract, as I’m pretty sure those hints would give away the musical’s title.

From the start, the idea of a media ban didn’t sound right. In fact, I wondered right off if it was limited to paid advertising outside the Columbus market — reaching places such as Indianapolis, which brings many Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals to the professional stage for far more than $5 a ticket.

So I picked up the phone Wednesday and called R&H Theatricals. The person who could speak to me was out with the flu that day — of course! — but a nice lady in New York promised to get me an answer on Thursday. And that she did.

“Thank you for your inquiry regarding The Columbus East High School production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s ‘South Pacific.’ Please note that we do not comment on the terms of contract between R&H Theatricals and our customers. For the record, advertising/publicity restrictions pertain to our customers, and not to the news media, so we are not preventing The Republic from mentioning the work’s name or allusion to the title.”

It was signed, “Best Regards, Christina Ritter, Manager of Amateur Licensing.”

Thank you, Christina. End of problem.

So we can, and will, tell you about “South Pacific,” which is indeed coming to Columbus East next weekend.

If you haven’t seen the production before, or if your memory is a little foggy, here’s the story line of the musical, pulled from the Rodgers & Hammerstein web site:

Set in an island paradise during World War II, two parallel love stories are threatened by the dangers of prejudice and war. Nellie, a spunky nurse from Arkansas, falls in love with a mature French planter, Emile. Nellie learns that the mother of his children was an island native and, unable to turn her back on the prejudices with which she was raised, refuses Emile’s proposal of marriage.

Meanwhile, the strapping Lt. Joe Cable denies himself the fulfillment of a future with an innocent Tonkinese girl with whom he’s fallen in love out of the same fears that haunt Nellie. When Emile is recruited to accompany Joe on a dangerous mission that claims Joe’s life, Nellie realizes that life is too short not to seize her own chance for happiness, thus confronting and conquering her prejudices.

“South Pacific” is a good story with great music.

And next weekend, even the local attorneys can come and see it after reading about the production in The Republic, knowing they’re not going to be pulled out of their seats to defend a contract infringement.

Tom Jekel is editor of The Republic. His column appears each Sunday. You can reach him by phone at 379-5665 or by email at tjekel@therepublic.com

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