Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman have won the first round in legal battle over their musical project Gold, securing an injunction against producer Scott Rudin, who recently took action against the composers in order to prevent a planned regional production, claiming he owned the rights to the material. The victory possibly re-opens the door to a 2002 staging of the long-aborning musical.
The ruling was delivered by Justice Ira Gammerman in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, reported the New York Times Dec. 5. "I don't think he has any rights," said Gammerman of Rudin. "I'm looking for a piece of paper. I'm looking for an agreement between Rudin and Sondheim, and I don't see it."
The fight appears to be far from over, however. Rudin's lawyer, Jonathan Zavin, told Playbill On-Line he would file an $8 million countersuit today on behalf of his client, claiming breach of contract and fraud. Rudin's claim to rights to the show remain part of the suit, said Zavin, though the court's injuction prevent him from claiming "exclusive" rights to Gold! for the time being.
Zavin added that either side had until Jan. 30 to file a motion for dismissal.
Following Rudin's initial interference, Sondheim and Weidman filed a $5 million lawsuit against producer Scott Rudin on Nov. 20, citing "intentional malicious and wrongful interference." The suit said Rudin claimed he held the rights to the show, all in a deliberate attempt to scuttle the project. Rudin was originally on board to produce the musical but had a change of heart upon seeing a workshop. "Rudin saw it and hated it," said the court papers, reported AP. "He openly and repeatedly disparaged the play." The show was once called Wise Guys and a hot prospect for Broadway a couple seasons back. It had a much-publicized and highly scrutinized month-long workshop at the New York Theatre Workshop in the fall of 1999. Sam Mendes directed a cast led by Nathan Lane and Victor Garber, playing the eccentric, real-life brothers, Addison and Wilson. The Mizners were regarded as risk-taking gamblers who ended up as real estate developers in Florida. Settings in the musical included Alaska, California, New York City and Boca Raton, FL, which the brothers helped found.
At the time, many expected the venture — the first new Sondheim musical since Passion — to jump straight to Broadway. But the workshop proved problematic (Sondheim later called it "a waste of time") and plans for a move were scrapped. Observers of the Wise Guys workshop, which was open only to New York Theatre Workshop subscribers and special guests, said that at some performances only the first act was performed, and that other nights also had parts of the second act. The show's style included presentational, vaudeville pastiche numbers.
In the months that followed, Mendes dropped out, and old Sondheim collaborator Harold Prince climbed aboard as director. Later, the title was changed to Gold.
Rudin's lawyer used the provisional state of the script during the NYTW workshop toward an argument that Rudin was never given the opportunity to fully exercise his rights. Without a finished work, the defense went, Rudin could not move forward to production. Thus, he felt he still owned the rights to the project. Rudin and his other partners pours $600,000 into the project and paid the composers' expenses, the Times reported.
Sondheim and Weidman protest that the rights to the work have reverted back to them.
Sondheim and Weidman had recently lined up a production at Chicago's Goodman Theatre when Rudin stepped in, claiming he owned the rights to the work and sending the composers a "cease and desist" letter, said the New York Post. The composers said these letters scared the Goodman and Prince off the project. Whether this most recent development would result in the Goodman and Prince climbing back on board could not be immediately ascertained. According to a spokesperson at the Goodman, the ruling will have to be studied. a production is also now a matter of timing and availability.
Rudin has produced Sondheim productions in the past, including Passion and the recent Broadway revival of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. His other theatrical credits include The Blue Room.
Wise Guys, first conceived by Sondheim some four decades ago, was commissioned by the Kennedy Center in D.C. and was originally scheduled to open in fall 1996. Since then, it has been repeatedly postponed.