The Los Angeles trial over the authorship of the Michael Jackson-produced musical Sisterella has been delayed temporarily by the arrival on June 24 of 2,500 documents. According to an official at Los Angeles Supreme Court, the papers came from the former lawyer of defendant Larry Hart, star, director and nominal author of the Australian production. On June 29, they were delivered to plaintiff Vaughn Kinsey's attorney Frank Sandelman, who asked for a continuance in order to examine the materials.
Apparently, the documents had been sought for some time but only turned up last week. The name of Hart's former counsel or the nature of the evidence could not be learned. The actor-director's current lawyer, R. Ryan Oxman, did not return a call for comment. A call to Sandelman was also not returned. The case is expected to reconvene on July 1 at 8:15 AM.
Lawyers on either side presented pre-trial motions before Judge Kenneth Freeman June 29. In the suit, Kinsey asserts that Hart did not write the show, but rather that Kinsey came up with the idea for the show and wrote its book.
Sisterella is a $6.5 million (Australian dollars), modern take on the Cinderella tale. The musical debuted at the Pasadena Playhouse in 1996 and then, under the wing of co-producer Kevin Jacobsen, opened at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne, Australia, on March 7, 1998. Jacobson had been planning to bring the show to Sydney and then put together two new companies to open in the United States and Europe in early 1999. But in May, he abruptly announced that the show would not open at Sydney's Capital Theatre on June 27 as planned. He also revealed his wish to bring in Australian director Richard Wherrett to rework the production, replacing Hart. Hart's business manager Susan Joseph told Playbill On line that such an action was be in breach of the performer's contract.
Released in 1996, a concept CD of the score lists Hart as writer. Hart was requested to attend a hearing of the Kinsey case on May 8, but refused, citing his contractual obligation in Australia and a respiratory problem which led to the last-minute cancellation of two performances. Another court date for June 12 was subsequently delayed due to the judge's continued involvement in another trial.
Sisterella's current misfortunes raise curiosity about another Jackson-Hart project, PanJam, a stage musical loosely based on the Peter Pan story. Playbill On-Line reported in April that the two artists would partner of the show, with Hart writing most of the show's songs, and Jackson contributing a few compositions of his own.
-- By Robert Simonson