According to the Sydney Morning Herald, “Australia's First and Only National Musical Theatre Company”, Kookabura, almost had a problem on its hands when its artistic staff made cuts to Stephen Sondheim‘s “Company”.
The cuts, which involved removal of key songs, scenes and dialogue, was characterized by some as a last-minute ‘hatchet job' to Sonheim's script in Wednesday night's performance at the Theatre Royal.
Upon learning of the changes, which were made after a key cast member called in sick, the author threatened to terminate the theatre's license to perform the show. It seems loyal Sondheim fans were unhappy at seeing the abridged production, and reported the situation to Sondheim's representatives. According to some sources, the cast and director also expressed their distaste for the changes.
The situation highlights the importance of faithfully rendering a show as the author envisioned it. It is a violation of both the “moral rights” of the author, and the terms of most license agreements to make even the most minor changes.
Although it is common for school, church, and community theatres to alter shows' content to suit their and their audiences' tastes, doing so is technically a violation. Although licensors sometimes look the other way, they're within their rights to withdraw permission and stop a production in its tracks. Obviously, this is a costly proposition for a theater company with tens- or even hundreds of thousands of dollars sunk into a production.
The bottom line is this: if changes are desired, ask permission from the licensor. Some authors are very flexible, while others, like Sondheim, view even the smallest change as an adulteration of their work, akin to censorship, or the removal or addition of elements from a classic painting.