The Case of the Purloined Playbill Page

Categories: Stage

A missing page in the Playbill for Spamalot, the Broadway tour currently playing at the Music Hall at Fair Park, has fueled a ferocious little fuss among the free magazine’s publisher, the Dallas Summer Musicals and Irving’s Lyric Stage.

Lyric’s founder and artist director, Steven Jones, bought a full-page ad in the Playbill to announce his company’s new season lineup. Lyric is a small local theater company that stages four musicals a year at the Irving Arts Center using singers, actors and musicians who work almost for free. Their next season begins in September with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel.

Jones says he sent Playbill, based in Florida, a check for $5,400 dollars more than a month ago to pay for the ad space. He also says he approved the layout of the ad, which was supposed to go on a right-facing page in the publication during the run of Spamalot. As an advertiser Jones also was granted a couple of opening-night tickets to the big-budget musical. But he had auditions to attend to this past Tuesday and switched the tix to Wednesday.

But by the time he got to Fair Park to see the show, he’d already heard from theater pals that his ad wasn’t in the program. He says he was even more surprised to discover that the page his ad had been printed on had been sliced out of each copy of Playbill handed to Spamalot theatergoers. Well, almost every copy: At intermission, Jones found a box of Playbills at one entrance that hadn’t been scissored. There was his ad, just as he’d approved it, opposite the page listing the cast of characters in the Monty Python-inspired musical.

Dallas Summer Musicals chief Michael Jenkins referred Unfair Park’s inquiries about the Lyric Stage ad removal back to Steven Jones. But Jenkins told Fort Worth Star-Telegram theater critic Mark Lowry this week the page was removed by orders from Playbill and not at the behest of DSM.

This is the Lyric Stage ad that appeared in the copies of the Spamalot Playbill, before it was sliced out by ...?

The magazine’s publisher, Leslie J. Feldman, first told Jones that his ad was never printed in the issue. But Jones told him about finding the Playbills that still had his ad intact. Feldman then said the ad was cut out of the issues after printing because Playbill doesn’t advertise competing productions. That’s odd, said Jones, considering every Broadway Playbill contains pages of ads for competing Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. The Spamalot Playbill even features an ad for Dallas Children’s Theater. And Lyric Stage has been allowed to advertise in the Dallas Summer Musicals’ Playbills in the past, says Jones.

“It’s one of the funniest things, really surreal. I can’t believe it really happened,” says Jones of the Great Missing Ad caper.

He says Feldman at Playbill told him Lyric Stage was a competitor with Dallas Summer Musicals.

“I said, do you realize we’re a 250-seat theater? We have 500 subscribers. DSM has 25,000. I just roared laughing. He didn’t like that,” says Jones. “I said, 'I paid you to run an ad in your Playbill. You cashed the check. When were you planning to tell me you weren’t running it? The show opened last night!’ And he ended the conversation right there.”

Jones said DSM’s Jenkins told him the Playbill staff had asked that the ad page be cut out. Now, do the math on that: The Music Hall passes out about 3000 Playbills for every performance (when the house is full). There are eight performances a week. Spamalot runs three weeks. That’s more than 70,000 issues that had to have surgery performed on them, one by one, with an X-acto knife (or so it appears).

Now technically, Lyric doesn’t directly compete with DSM. As Jones points out, “They’re a summer theater. We don’t open until they close. We’re a locally produced 250-seat theater against a Broadway touring series. It’s apples and oranges.”

It is a little like General Motors complaining about competition from a soapbox derby.

Or as Jones puts it: “It’s like a gnat and an elephant. A multi-million-dollar budget they have against our couple hundred thousand.”

If DSM thinks the Lyric season is big competition, well, that’s flattering, but a bit of a stretch. After Carousel, Lyric is doing two other oldies, They’re Playing Our Song and Hello, Dolly!

They’re also staging a new musical by Larry Gatlin, however, and there’s where it gets sticky. A while back, Jenkins dubbed Gatlin the “composer in residence” at Dallas Summer Musicals. There was some hooha about Gatlin premiering a new show at Fair Park and then sending it to Broadway, produced by Jenkins. But that didn’t happen. Instead, Gatlin’s Look Homeward, Honky Tonk Angel will debut at Lyric Stage in October, overlapping just a little bit with DSM’s umpteenth road production of Disney’s The Lion King, which runs during the State Fair of Texas and is almost guaranteed to be a sellout (it always is). The Gatlin show, as Jones describes it, is a “very commercial piece of country fluff.”

So whether it’s jealousy, non-compete clauses or one big theater outfit trying to keep subscribers from defecting to a smaller company, one thing’s for sure: Spamalot ticketholders are still being handed Playbills that are a mess, with pages missing and inserts fluttering out of them. And that’s the unkindest cut of all. --Elaine Liner



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