Urinetown Broadway Team Accuses Two Regional Productions of Plagiarism
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
The creators and designers of the Broadway production of Urinetown, along with their unions, are accusing two 2006 regional productions of the show of plagiarizing their direction, choreography and design.
A lawyer for the Broadway team, Ronald H. Shechtman, sent a letter on Nov. 13 to representatives of the regional productions — which went up at the Mercury Theater in Chicago (produced by Blue Dog Entertainment) and at the Carousel Dinner Theatre in Akron, OH — states that "significant aspects of the Broadway Team's original, creative work were used in your recent production of Urinetown."
The letter states that while the productions did license the musical, the license only entitles them to use the script and the music, and not the Broadway direction, choreography or design. A law suit has not yet been filed.
The Chicago production closed in May, and the Akron production closed Nov. 4. As of the posting time for this article, Playbill.com was not able to reach representatives from either production.
At a press conference held Nov. 15 at the offices of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers (SSDC), Urinetown's Broadway choreographer John Carrafa said that he saw a picture of the Chicago production online, which prompted him to attend the production with the show's Broadway director, John Rando.
"It was replicated in great, phenomenal detail," said Rando, speaking at the press conference via phone, of the Chicago production.
Carrafa attended the Akron production, which was directed by Jennifer Cody, who was in Urinetown's original Broadway cast as Little Becky Two Shoes.
Brian Loeffler was the choreographer of both productions and won a Joseph Jefferson Award for Choreography for the Chicago production. That production also received Jefferson Award nominations for Production - Musical; Director - Musical for Tom Mullen; and three acting categories. Barbara Hauptman, the executive director of the SSDC, sent a letter to the Awards requesting that they conduct a formal investigation.
Though Broadway theatregoers are familiar with Urinetown's spare design elements and Brechtian milieu, Rando said that the show can be interpreted in different ways. "It is basically a playground for any director, choreographer or design team to use their creative imagination," he said.
The press conference also included representatives from the SSDC and the United Scenic Artists Local USA829, along with lighting designer Brian MacDevitt, set designer Scott Pask and costume designer Gregory Gale.
The letters give the recipients ten days to respond and submit "a detailed accounting of all revenues" from the productions so that an "appropriate license fee and damages" can be determined. The letter to the Chicago team called for Loeffler to decline his Jefferson Award.
The Broadway team is also seeking an apology. Hauptman noted that, primarily, "This is not an issue about money. It is about recognizing the creativity that originated with these members."
Hauptman said that in the future, she would like to create "a mechanism by which if people really want to do the Urinetown they saw on Broadway, they can, by licensing the work from the creators and giving them credit."
Similar past controversies involved a Florida production of Love! Valour! Compassion! and an Illinois production of The Most Happy Fella, both in the 1990s.
The Broadway production of Urinetown ran for 25 previews and 965 performances at Henry Miller's Theatre and won three 2002 Tony Awards, for Best Direction of a musical, Best Book and Best Score. The musical has music by Mark Hollmann, lyrics by Hollmann and Greg Kotis, and book by Kotis.
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