Abbott and Costello Estate Files Lawsuit Against Hand to God Use of Famed Comedy Routine

News   Abbott and Costello Estate Files Lawsuit Against Hand to God Use of Famed Comedy Routine The estate of the late, famed comedy team Bud Abbott and Lou Costello filed a lawsuit June 4 against Hand to God — Robert Askins' new play, which has been nominated for five 2015 Tony Awards, including Best Play — for its use of a segment of Abbott and Costello's famous "Who’s on First?" routine, according to the New York Times.

Kevin McCollum, the lead producer of the new play at the Booth Theatre, said in an email to the Times, "Filing a lawsuit on the eve of the Tony awards is obviously nothing more than a stunt…Frankly, we welcome the attention."

The lawsuit claims copyright infringement against playwright Askins as well as the producers and promoters of the critically acclaimed production, which began its life Off-Broadway before opening on Broadway in April. Cease and desist requests were sent, and the estate is also seeking both lawyers' fees and damages.

Mark Rachman, a lawyer for the Abbott and Costello heirs, said in a statement, "Hand to God is using ‘Who’s on First’ not just to get laughs from the audience but also to get people to buy tickets."

Rick Miramontez, a spokesperson for Hand to God, said that the lawsuit is baseless, adding, "The material in question is in the public domain, and the show’s producer carefully vetted [it with lawyers for the production]."

Producer McCollum's three years of development on this play include its previous acclaimed productions at the Ensemble Studio Theatre (EST) in 2011 and its more recent Off-Broadway debut at MCC Theater in 2014. The provocative play features the complete cast of the 2014 MCC Theater production. Steven Boyer ("The Wolf of Wall Street," King Lear) stars as Jason/Tyrone with Geneva Carr (Broadway debut) as Margery, Tony Award nominee Marc Kudisch (9 to 5) as Pastor Greg, Sarah Stiles (Into the Woods, Avenue Q) as Jessica and Michael Oberholtzer (Broadway debut) as Timmy.

Hand to God, according to production notes, "centers on shy, inquisitive student Jason, who finds an outlet for his burgeoning creativity at the Christian Puppet Ministry in the devoutly religious, relatively quiet small town of Cypress, Texas. Jason's complicated relationships with the town pastor, the school bully, the girl next door and — most especially — his mother are thrown into further upheaval when Jason’s hand puppet Tyrone — once soft-spoken — takes on a shocking and dangerously irreverent personality all its own. As Tyrone’s influence over Jason steadily grows, Hand to God explores the startlingly fragile nature of faith, morality, and the ties that bind us."

The design team for Hand to God includes scenic design by Beowulf Boritt, costumes by Sydney Maresca, lighting by Jason Lyons, sound by Jill BC Du Boff, puppet design by Marte Johanne Ekhougen and fight direction by Robert Westley. Casting is by Telsey + Company. 

The Booth Theatre is located at 222 West 45th Street. Visit HandToGodBroadway.com.

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