We're Not Sorry: Chicago Urinetown Sues Broadway Team

News   We're Not Sorry: Chicago Urinetown Sues Broadway Team A lawyer for a Chicago production of Urinetown filed a lawsuit on Dec. 11 against the musical's original Broadway director, choreographer and design team in response to recent accusations that the production — which closed at the Mercury Theater in May — plagiarized the Broadway production.
The Chicago production of Urinetown.
The Chicago production of Urinetown.

The Chicago suit follows a similar suit filed Nov. 22 by the Akron, OH, Carousel Dinner Theatre, which has also been accused of plagiarism by members of the show's Broadway creative team.

The Chicago team's lawyer, David M. Adler, originally sent a letter to the Broadway team on Nov. 28 denying the charges. He proceeded with a lawsuit after talking with the Broadway team's lawyer, Ronald H. Shechtman.

"My client's feeling was that they really hadn't done anything wrong and they really wanted to be proactive in protecting their rights," says Adler.

Shechtman was not immediately available for comment. (For previous comments from the Broadway team, view a previous Playbill.com story.)

The Chicago team's suit asks for declaratory judgments stating it did not violate the Copyright Act or the Lanham Act (which contains federal trademark law). Shechtman accused both productions of those violations in a Nov. 13 letter that set off the controversy. Both the Chicago and Akron suits name Urinetown's Broadway director John Rando, choreographer John Carrafa, set designer Scott Pask, lighting designer Brian MacDevitt and costume designer Gregory Gale.

The Chicago suit goes one step further by naming Barbara Hauptman, executive director of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers (SSDC), who has supported the Broadway team.

Adler says his suit also seeks a retraction of and possible monetary damages for "defamatory statements" made by the Broadway team at a press conference, held at the SSDC offices on Nov. 15, two days after the letter was sent.

"My clients were very, very nervous about the posture of the situation and that they needed to be vindicated," says Adler. "It's certainly not about money for my clients. It's about their reputation."

The plaintiffs are Tom Mullen (director of the Chicago production), Brian Loeffler (choreographer), Jennifer Kules (lighting designer), Jon Rotonda (scenic designer), William Morey (costume and wig designer) and Matthew Gunnels (assistant director).

The Chicago production, which closed in May, won a Joseph Jefferson Award for Choreography. The Broadway team's letter asked Loeffler to give up the award.

The controversy began with Shechtman's Nov. 13 letter to the regional productions accusing them of using "significant aspects of the Broadway Team's original, creative work." The letter said that while the productions had the license to the Urinetown script and songs, that license does not permit them to use the Broadway direction, choreography and design. The letter asked for the productions' accounting figures to "determine an appropriate license fee and damages."

Shechtman said on Dec. 1 that he had received approved copyrights for the Broadway choreography, lighting design and set design and that applications for copyrights for the direction and costume design, filed in late summer, were still pending.