A U.S. district court has ruled in favor of playwright Matthew Lombardo, who has been in a yearlong legal battle with Dr. Seuss Enterprises after the estate attempted to shut down his holiday parody, Who’s Holiday!, last year.
Who’s Holiday! was to star Jennifer Simard as a 45-year-old Cindy Lou Who, the fictional character from Dr. Seuss’ classic Christmas tale The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, who now lives in a beaten-up trailer on the side of Mount Crumpet.
Directed by Carl Andress, the production was originally announced for a 2016 holiday run Off-Broadway at New World Stages, but was postponed after Dr. Seuss Enterprises sent Lombardo cease and desist letters, citing copyright infringement.
Lombardo, whose plays include Looped, Tea at 5, and High, filed suit, claiming that references to the Seuss original were permissible under fair use.
Judge Hellerstein, a United States District Court Judge in the Southern District of New York, agreed with Lombardo in a September 20 ruling, stating, “The Play recontextualizes Grinch’s easily-recognizable plot and rhyming style by placing Cindy Lou Who - a symbol of childhood innocence and naivete - in outlandish, profanity-laden, adult-themed scenarios involving topics such as poverty, teenage pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, prison culture, and murder. In so doing, the Play subverts the expectations of the Seussian genre, and lampoons the Grinch by making Cindy Lou's naivete, Who-Ville's endlessly-smiling, problem-free citizens, and Dr. Seuss' rhyming innocence, all appear ridiculous.”
Hellerstein added that “public interest in free expression clearly outweighs any interest in avoiding consumer confusion,” and dismissed counterclaims of copyright infringement, trademark dilution, and unfair competition.
The show’s producers are hoping to move forward with the Off-Broadway production this fall, pending theatre availability. Simard is currently appearing in the Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly!