NASHVILLE – The success of an “American Idol” contestant is causing a stir among parents who are complaining they never got refunds for performance fees in a failed musical production Todrick Hall wrote and directed.
Hall, who on Tuesday made it into the top 24 on “American Idol,” wrote “Oz, The Musical,” which he billed on its Facebook page as “a contemporary twist on the classic story, with all new music.”
He had been putting on small productions of the show since he was 17, using local, nonprofessional actors for the lead roles and casting local children as munchkins and flying monkeys.
“They were fabulous, just wonderful productions, and the kids just really loved them,” said Dallas businessman Greg Money, who had three daughters in the shows.
Then in August 2008, Money agreed to finance a production of “Oz” in Lubbock, Texas, that used a professional cast for the lead roles. That led to a small tour of Texas cities in early 2009 Money says was a “financial disaster.”
Reached by phone Friday, Hall said “American Idol” rules do not allow him to participate in any media interviews, however, he did generally confirm Money’s account of events. Hall is scheduled to perform Wednesday on “Idol” with the top 12 male semifinalists.
Plans moved ahead to take the show on a national tour and Money said he tried to line up new backers. Several commitments fell through, however, and the show ended abruptly.
Meanwhile, in several cities, auditions had already been held and children were looking forward to performing on stage in a real musical. Many parents had paid a $50 performance fee that was never returned.
In Lakeland, Fla., Jennifer Davis, who owns the Art in Motion Academy of Dance, said she was not even informed the show had been cancelled. She found out when she opened the studio for a planned rehearsal and no one from “Oz” showed up.
“I don’t believe (Hall) came to my studio knowing that the musical was going to go down and they would steal everyone’s money, but it happened,” she said. “He could have at least called – explained what was going on.”
That complaint was echoed by Rhonda McKissock, of Nolensville, Tenn., outside of Nashville, who paid $100 for her two daughters to participate.
“The sad part is, he’s such a charismatic person, very talented,” she said. “I would love to see him do well. But it’s hard to say, ‘Hey, great job!’ when he’s not doing what he promised to these kids.”
Money said he was responsible for the finances of the production, not Hall. He said Hall tried to make amends to the disappointed children by putting together a smaller, less expensive show, but even that lost money.
Ron and Debbie Kennedy, owners of the Tutterow Dancers studio in St. Petersburg, Fla., said most of their students participated in the substitute production, “Nights on Broadway,” and had a great time, but a few people chose not to participate and were disappointed about not getting a refund.
In the end, Money said, he couldn’t afford to keep bankrolling the production and no one else stepped up to take his place.
“People don’t understand, there’s no devious plan to take these people’s $50 and not deliver a show,” he said. “I simply cannot afford to put any more money into that production.”
Diana Messner, of Pittsburgh, paid $100 to have two children participate in a production that was supposed to take place there in September. She got in touch with Hall through Facebook, even talking to him on the phone, but was not satisfied with his explanation.
“He claims no responsibility,” she said, adding Hall told her there were at least 1,000 children who lost their performance fees.
On July 10, Hall also sent Messner an email in which he said he was worried the project was going to “jeopardize my reputation.”
“I will assure you though that I’m doing everything in my power to return the money myself, even though as director it is not my direct responsibility to pay back this debt,” he wrote.
Davis, the studio owner in Lakeland, Fla., said she hasn’t been watching “American Idol” but some of the parents have kept her up on Hall’s progress.
“I just don’t think that it’s fair if he ends up being the next ‘American Idol,”‘ she said.
Associated Press Writer Janet Blake, in Louisville, Ky., contributed to this report.