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Musical Theatre Variety Performance Ideas

  • 1.  Musical Theatre Variety Performance Ideas

    Posted 02-18-2015 21:15
    My high school troupe would like to do a cabaret like performance as a fundraiser.  I would like to tie the songs together with some type of story.  Has anyone done this before?  Any ideas?

    Lori Duncan
    Drama Teacher
    Bay City MI

  • 2.  RE: Musical Theatre Variety Performance Ideas

    Posted 02-19-2015 11:16
    I wanted to do a cabaret night, and I'm a writer.  So I tried to thread the songs together with a bit of a plot line.  My students wouldn't buy into it because it was not ONE show.  I'm going to try again in the future.  I think they saw it as more of a glee club concert than a cabaret, and I couldn't get them past that.  Good luck.

    Maria Baisier
    Metaicie LA

  • 3.  RE: Musical Theatre Variety Performance Ideas

    Posted 02-19-2015 12:21


    The short answer is that you are not permitted to put together a revue of musical numbers from Broadway shows (with or without a "book") - especially if those songs/scenes are done as if they were extracted from the musical.

    Whether based on a composer's body of work, or around a theme, or from pre-existing "grand rights" (existing musicals) individual songs, creating a Broadway themed musical revue is a complex and time consuming process which requires a myriad of correspondence to obtain clearances from song publishers, record labels, authors and their representatives. With the complexity of issues that arise (i.e. the show is still running or the show is very popular in its full format, or the authors or estates are not interested in devaluing their work into a revue show, or the proposed script is unacceptable, etc.) these clearances are almost never provided. As a matter of fact, ASCAP, BMI and SESAC (United States Performing Rights Organizations that protect copyrights) specifically prohibit organizations from obtaining a license from them when the creation (or presentation) of a musical revue, using songs that were copyrighted as part of a grand right work, are involved.

    Here is the relevant language from the ASCAP license: ASCAP Limitations on License:

    "c) This License is limited to nondramatic performances, and does not authorize any dramatic performances. For purposes of this agreement, a dramatic performance shall include, but not limited to, the following:
    i) performance of a "dramatico-musical work" (as hereafter defined) in its entirety;
    ii) performance of one or more musical compositions from a "dramatico-musical work" (as hereafter defined) accompanied by dialogue, pantomime, dance, stage action, or visual representation of the work from which the music is taken;
    iii) performance of one or more musical compositions from a "dramatico-musical work" as part of a story or plot, whether accompanied or unaccompanied by dialogue, pantomime, dance, stage action, or visual representation;
    iv) performance of a concert version of a "dramatico-musical work" (as hereafter defined).

    The term "dramatico-musical work" as used in this agreement, shall include, but not be limited to, a musical, musical comedy, opera, play with music, revue, or ballet."

    I could go on but I gather you get the point. I can tell you that hundreds of requests for usage of individual songs from Broadway shows for revue projects have always been denied. That being said, you might want to see if the song(s) that you'd like to perform are available as a choral arrangement at JW Pepper, If you purchase one copy of a choral arrangement from JW Pepper for each member of your performance group/cast, the license to perform that piece is included (as is an accompaniment track in most cases).

    As an example, having answered this question in the past, I can tell you that the only number from SPAMALOT available as a choral/vocal arrangement at Pepper is "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life"

    If you read the fine print in every Broadway Vocal Selections book in print, it specifically states that "public performance is an infringement of copyright." Even if you purchase sheet music on an authorized site like,, the permission granted is for private use, auditions and competitions only.

    I'm sure you must have the "sorry I asked" feeling that I had when I first asked this question years ago. But these are the facts regarding copyright law and musical revues - and they do apply to schools and youth theatres.

    Your best bet is to look at one of the existing revues already created and licensed by one of the licensing companies.

    Jim Hoare
    Vice President, Licensing & Accounts
    New York NY

  • 4.  RE: Musical Theatre Variety Performance Ideas

    Posted 02-19-2015 18:59
    Thanks Jim for the information.  I'm checking with J.W. Pepper now to see what I can find.  

    Lori Duncan
    Drama Teacher
    Bay City MI

  • 5.  RE: Musical Theatre Variety Performance Ideas

    Posted 02-20-2015 07:58
    Jim Hoare.  I don't know how many times I have been asked this question or watched local groups do this.  THANK YOU for you reply.  It is so good not to have someones "opinion" but the specific legal explanation. 

    Valerie Scott
    Duluth GA

  • 6.  RE: Musical Theatre Variety Performance Ideas

    Posted 02-20-2015 09:39

    fyi, "The Song That Goes Like This" is also available fromSpamalot.

    Not totally relevant, but wanted to share because we used it in a concert to GREAT success!

    Amy Crane
    Michigan City IN

  • 7.  RE: Musical Theatre Variety Performance Ideas

    Posted 10-26-2015 15:49

    Jim Hoare is wrong. You can do it under the Fair Use Act. See the link below. Schools do it all the time.

    More Information on Fair Use| U.S. Copyright Office

    Copyright remove preview
    More Information on Fair Use| U.S. Copyright Office
    More Information on Fair Use Fair use is a legal doctrine that promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances. Section 107 of the Copyright Act provides the statutory framework for determining whether something is a fair use and identifies certain types of uses-such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research-as examples of activities that may qualify as fair use.
    View this on Copyright >
    Stephanie Fairbanks
    Cardiff CA

  • 8.  RE: Musical Theatre Variety Performance Ideas

    Posted 10-27-2015 10:22


    Sorry, but Jim isn't wrong, and just because a bunch of schools do it doesn't mean they're right. My play 4 A.M. has had half a dozen illegal productions (which we've caught) this year alone; schools do a lot of things they're not supposed to, generally out of a lack of understanding of copyright and licensing.

    Fair Use is frequently misunderstood as a magic bullet for everything, and it's absolutely not. It's tricky and very much dependent on the facts of a specific case. Using song lyrics in a book or in a play, for instance, is almost always a no-no; anything more than a few words typically goes beyond the limitations of Fair Use.

    Here is yet another resource reinforcing Jim's excellent answer:


    Jonathan Dorf
    Playwright/ Co-founder of YouthPLAYS/ Co-chair of The Alliance Of Los Angeles Playwrights
    Los Angeles CA

  • 9.  RE: Musical Theatre Variety Performance Ideas

    Posted 10-27-2015 14:58


    Actually I am not wrong. "Fair use" does not apply when putting together a musical revue using copyrighted material from a grand rights work. In Section 1 of the US Copyright Fair Use Index it states, "This does not mean, however, that all nonprofit education and noncommercial uses are fair..." Copyright owners must be contacted for a song license, and in the rare event that permission is granted, tickets may not be sold and you may be limited to one public performance. This is why I ended my previous post with, "Your best bet is to look at one of the existing revues already created and licensed by one of the licensing companies." 

    Thank you,


    Jim Hoare
    Vice President, Education
    New York NY

  • 10.  RE: Musical Theatre Variety Performance Ideas

    Posted 10-30-2015 11:43

    Guys, it says it right there in the document you posted...

    "The only legal performance of such numbers is without costumes and sets specifying the show's

    content, with no dialogue used into or around the song, and a valid ASCAP or BMI 'small rights'

    performance license," says John Prignano of Music Theatre International. "Such a performance 

    license does not cover dramatic presentation of such songs, only their performance a la cabaret,

     or in concert, and normally only three songs from any one musical can be performed."

    There are also additional allowances for fundraisers, which the original post was about.

     And I meant that schools do it all the time LEGALLY.

    I suppose if you just HAVE to do a fully staged costumed production including lines and insist on doing more than three songs from one show, then yeah, you're going to have issues, but that's not what the original poster was asking. If you want to do a revue, and just have students sing different songs, wearing their Sunday best (or not), you can do it, legally! As it says above, maybe calling it a concert, or a cabaret (as we do), instead of a revue would end the debate.

    Good luck and have fun!

    Stephanie Fairbanks
    Cardiff CA

  • 11.  RE: Musical Theatre Variety Performance Ideas

    Posted 10-27-2015 20:11
    Yes, schools "do it all the time," but that doesn't mean it is legal. :)

    For "teaching" to apply under Fair Use, audiences are restricted the teacher and students for that class only. 

    An exception is made for Juried/competition performances for *most* pieces (not all playwrights/bookwriters) allow this. There are lists out there with allowed/disallowed pieces. (in the middle of cooking dinner, so don't have the time to pull the link now).

    Best to assume that, outside of competition, if you're going to have an audience (paying or not) that is anyone other the kids in that class, it constitutes a public performance and royalties are due.



  • 12.  RE: Musical Theatre Variety Performance Ideas

    Posted 02-19-2015 15:25
    It may be difficult to create a story out of musical theatre songs for a cabaret performance. It might be easier to start with a theme (Love and War; Yesterday's Classics and Today's Hits; Monsters, Murder, and Mayhem; Broadway Showstoppers; Christmas on Broadway; etc.). If a story develops out of it, great! I'd love to hear what you decide. Best wishes!

    Rob Duval
    Theatre Teacher/Director
    'Iolani School
    Kaneohe HI

  • 13.  RE: Musical Theatre Variety Performance Ideas

    Posted 10-29-2015 12:19

    I used to have a musical rep class and we did "100 Years of Broadway" every fall to teach the students about classic musicals.  It is low royalty if any, but you do purchase the music.  I think it even comes with a CD.  You can do it with cubes and staging and some dance.  We did it as a coffee house with old couches on stage and carpet with pillows and then also as a small theatre production. 

    I have also done a coffee house fundraiser with short scenes, monologues, bongos/poetry, and a song or two.  Yes you have to be aware of royalty rights so be selective.  

    Lee Hitchler

    Lee Hitchler
    Lenexa KS

  • 14.  RE: Musical Theatre Variety Performance Ideas

    Posted 06-08-2019 15:22
    Hello Lee,
    I am also looking to do a musical Revue fundraiser for a friend of a friend who recently passed away. If I purchase all the music from jwpepper, does that allow me to put on the performance and charge for tickets?Thanks in advance.


    Madeleine Bien
    Southfield MI

  • 15.  RE: Musical Theatre Variety Performance Ideas

    Posted 10-29-2015 17:51

    Hello Ms. Duncan!  I'm a junior in high school, and last year, my sister did something along the lines of this.  For her senior year project, she wanted to fundraise for a organization that helps women who have been victims of human trafficking in the Philadelphia area.  She compiled and selected two acts worth of songs, which she had fit her general theme of struggle and hope.  An ensemble of ten perform the piece, and the one performance event she held raised over $1000.00 dollars!  I would agree that it certainly helps to start with a theme and select musical pieces from there.  I hope this helps--good luck!

    Grace Alt
    ITO Vice Chair
    Wyndmoor PA