Go-Go's jukebox musical Head Over Heels made it to Broadway for a brief run in 2018 with curious billing. James Magruder was credited with adapting the original work, while Tony-winning Avenue Q writer Jeff Whitty was billed as supplying the concept and "original book."
According to a lengthy essay posted online by Whitty, we now know that non-standard billing was at least partially due to turmoil and artistic disagreement behind the scenes. In what Whitty has titled Grand Theft Musical, the writer alleges exploitation at the hands of his attorney Conrad Rippy and agent John Buzzetti.
Asked for a response, Buzzetti told Playbill, "I haven't commented for the years he's been at this and still no comment." Rippy also declined to comment.
Whitty describes the musical's pre-Broadway world premiere at Oregon Shakespeare Festival as an unqualified smash. "Within a week of my June 2016 opening night in Oregon, delighted word-of-mouth sold out the entire five-month run of Head Over Heels," Whitty writes. "In the show’s closing weeks, hopeful audience members lined up outside the theatre in hopes of snagging a spare ticket." He goes on to share that it was only after this initial run that he discovered a problem in his contract, signed in 2013. "[M]y lawyer and agent intentionally removed my creative control, seizing my consent over the fortunes of my work, to enrich themselves in an industry where a hit musical property can be worth over a billion dollars nowadays."
According to Whitty, Buzzetti took control of hiring the creative team for the Broadway bow, replacing Whitty's choices—"colleagues whom I found best suited to the show’s mashup of classical theatre ... and modern sensibilities ..."—with other clients of Buzzetti's.
"When Buzzetti recognized the giddy crowd response on my opening night, he proceeded to bully and manipulate his way into packaging a show already three years in development," writes Whitty. "All of my collaborators were fired with no reason given, and their work was pulled. Major sections of the show that worked wonderfully before the crowd—the result of years of effort—were jettisoned. Clients of my agent seized the slots of my unjustly fired collaborators. Alas, these clients proved ill-suited to the task."
Whitty says this was compounded by Rippy "quietly representing all sides of the contract in flagrant violation of Rule 1.7 of the New York Rules of Professional Conduct," which Whitty characterizes as Rippy "[commandeering] control over my art."
The online tell-all goes on to detail missed payments, loss of artistic control, an intimidation campaign, stolen royalties, and more.
In Whitty's estimation, what started out as a sure-fire hit had become something different (in Whitty's words, "a baffling, critically-panned, audience-allergic musical that ran for 28 weeks at a loss every single week") by the time it reached Broadway, where he notes it was advertised as coming "[f]rom the mind that brought you Avenue Q."
Whitty addresses the entire writing to "the Attorney Grievance Committee of the First Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York." It remains unclear what, if any, repercussions Rippy could face in response to Whitty's allegations.
Featuring the music of The Go-Go's, Head Over Heels opened at Broadway's Hudson Theatre July 26, 2018, running for 164 performances before closing January 6, 2019. On the road to Broadway, original director Ed Iskandar was replaced with Michael Mayer and Magruder was brought on to adapt Whitty's book.
Loosely based on The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia, the story follows a royal family trying to prevent an oracle's prophecy of doom and save their kingdom, embarking on a wild journey of mistaken identities, jealous lovers, sexual awakening, scandal, and self-discovery. RuPaul's Drag Race star Peppermint made history as the first openly trans woman to originate a principal role on Broadway in the original cast, starring as the oracle Pythio. The cast also included Andrew Durand, Taylor Iman Jones, Jeremy Kushnier, Bonnie Milligan, Tom Alan Robbins, Alexandra Socha, and Rachel York.
Whitty's account is available in full at GTMusical.com.