Hunter Foster Defends Jennifer Cody's Akron Production of Urinetown

By Zachary Pincus-Roth
November 16, 2006

Hunter Foster, in an email message and subsequent phone interview with Playbill.com, defended his wife Jennifer Cody's Akron, OH, production of Urinetown, which has been accused of plagiarizing the original Broadway production in which Foster and Cody co-starred.

Foster, who saw the Akron production, said by phone, "I didn't think it was copied. I think they kept it in the spirit of the show" on Broadway. And, in his e-mail, he said, "The Urinetown experience on and off Broadway was just that, an experience. There was a certain tone that was set and then supported by the choreography, the lighting and the costume design. I know that the production team in Ohio was trying to bring the Urinetown experience to their audiences."

On Nov. 13 the Broadway production's director John Rando, choreographer John Carrafa and design team sent letters, via a lawyer, to representatives of the productions at Akron's Carousel Dinner Theatre and Chicago's Mercury Theater saying that "significant aspects of the Broadway Team's original creative work were used" in those productions. The letters accused the productions of violating laws prohibiting unfair competition and sought accounting figures in order to "determine an appropriate license fee and damages." The Broadway team held a press conference Nov. 15 to explain its position. A law suit has not yet been filed.

At the press conference, Carrafa said that 90 percent of the dance moves in the Akron production, which he attended, were exactly the same as those in the Broadway production.

In response, Foster said, "A lot of the movement, a lot of the choreography, from what I saw, was different. 'Mr. Cladwell,' I thought, was completely different."

Carrafa, when reached by phone and asked to respond, said that only "ten percent" of "Mr. Cladwell" was different from the Broadway production. Carrafa also said, "Look at their 'Run Freedom Run' and our 'Run Freedom Run,' and you couldn't tell the difference."

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.

In his email, Foster pointed out that "there are parts of the original production of Urinetown that will always be a part of the show no matter who directs and choreographs them. A dinner theatre audience might start throwing their food at the stage if the bottle dance in Fiddler wasn’t done in the same spirit as the original or in West Side Story we didn’t see the Jets snapping their fingers during 'Cool,' and who can imagine a production of Grease without some version of Pat Birch’s 'hand jive?'"

"They didn’t do 'some version'" Carrafa responds. "In 90 percent of the show they did exactly the same thing."

Foster also wrote, "And isn’t Urinetown a parody of musical theatre itself? Didn’t Carrafa and Rando borrow from [Jerome] Robbins and [Bob] Fosse anyway?" Over the phone, Foster points out specifically, "'Snuff That Girl' has the West Side Story section, and it has the Fosse section."

Carrafa feels that this contention confuses the issue, and says that satire is considered legal. "They can satirize our production of Urinetown, and that would be perfectly legal," he said.

Despite the controversy, Foster said, "I have the utmost respect for John Rando and John Carrafa. My experience with the show was fantastic, and their work for the show was excellent."

Foster played the lead role of Bobby Strong in Urinetown and Cody played Little Becky Two Shoes. Foster subsequently received a Tony nomination for his appearance in the Broadway revival of Little Shop of Horrors. Carrafa received Tony nominations for his choreography for Urinetown and Into the Woods.

Executives at the Mercury Theatre and the Carousel Dinner Theatre and Tom Mullen (the Chicago production's director) and Brian Loeffler (the choreographer of both productions) have not returned calls seeking comment.