Chicago Urinetown Lawsuit Settled

By Andrew Gans
and Zachary Pincus-Roth
November 29, 2007

Not only has the stagehands strike been resolved, but the lawsuit involving a Chicago production of Urinetown has also been settled.

The controversy began when the creative team of Chicago's Mercury Theater production of Urinetown in May 2006 was accused of using "significant aspects of the Broadway team's original, creative work." The Chicago team later filed a countersuit. The Chicago team's suit asked for declaratory judgments stating it did not violate the Copyright Act or the Lanham Act (which contains federal trademark law).

Those accused of plagiarizing the work of the original Urinetown Broadway creative team include 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).

A statement released Nov. 29 by the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers — an independent national labor union — says that the two sides have "resolved their differences and settled the case pending before the federal court in the Northern District of Illinois."

Both parties have acknowledged that the work of the original Urinetown creative team — including John Rando (director), John Carrafa (choreographer), Brian MacDevitt (lighting designer), Scott Pask (set designer) and Gregory Gale (costume designer) — were incorporated into the Chicago mounting, but the "Chicago production [also] included original and creative works of Tom Mullen, Jen Kules, John Rotonda, Brian Loeffler, Matt Gunnells and William Morey."

The statement also says, "The parties desire to settle their differences and mutually regret any embarrassment or negative inferences caused by or resulting from this dispute. . . It was not the intent of anyone involved in either production to suggest that anyone associated with such productions acted maliciously."

To resolve the controversy, the Chicago production will pay an undisclosed sum to the Broadway team.

An interesting side note: The Dramatists Guild of America issued its own statement regarding the settlement, explaining that "the Department of Justice intervened in the Mullen case on behalf of the U.S. Copyright Office, asserting that 'the Register (of Copyright) denies that stage direction, as presented to the Copyright Office for registration, is copyrightable subject matter' and asking the court to 'hold that the Register properly refused copyright registration for Mr. Rando's claim concerning stage direction.'"

The Carousel Dinner Theatre in Akron, OH, had also been accused of plagiarism by members of the show's Broadway creative team for its production of Urinetown. The statement does not mention the Ohio production.