After the close of trial business on Tuesday, July 22, Orin Snyder, an attorney with the firm of Parcher, Hayes & Libeman who represents the family of the late playwright and composer Jonathan Larson, could hardly contain his excitement.
He exclaimed to Playbill On-Line, "Tomorrow it's over. And the court has indicated there could be a ruling from the bench."
Proceedings for the fourth day in suit brought by dramaturg Lynn M. Thompson against the Jonathan Larson estate begin at approximately 9:15 AM Wednesday, July 23, in District Court, New York, before Judge Lewis A. Kaplan.
Thomson is claiming she was underpaid for her work with Larson on the musical that helped turn Rent into not only an Off-Broadway hit but also a long-running Broadway blockbuster and cash cow.
Snyder reported that on the stand Tuesday, July 22, Thompson "could supply no notes of lyrics she contends she wrote and couldn't recite lyrics from the songs." He added, "It's gone very well from our standpoint, but you never know until it's over and that in all probability will be tomorrow (July 23)." Wednesday morning testimony will begin with Rent director Michael Grief, who will be followed by Larson's father Alan. "Then," said Snyder, "Peter Parcher (a partner in the firm) will begin summation. After the other side is heard, Judge Kaplan has indicated that he might render a ruling right from the bench." On Monday, July 21, defense attorney Peter Parcher queried Thomson on the stand, "Have you any written documentation of just how much you contributed to the show?"
Thompson answered, "In exact words, [Larson] never said, `you are co-author,' and I never asked him. But we knew what we were doing...Money is not part of what this is about. In terms of storytelling, character development, Jon needed my help." According to reports, Thomson later told the court she collaborated with Larson on 9 percent of the lyrics and 48 percent of the recitative-style libretto.
The New York Times reported on July 22 that Thomson was paid more than $10,000 for her contributions to Rent. Her initial contract with New York Theatre Workshop, where the musical originated before it's Tony-winning move to Broadway, was for only $2,000. It's understood that Larson had a similiar contract.
In her suit, Thomson is claiming she wrote more than a third of the musical's book and rewrote many of Larson's lyrics to give the overall show a more uplifting, energetic spirit.
Snyder, speaking for the Larson estate, stated, "There is absolutely no evidence that Jonathan Larson ever intended to treat any human being as his co-author. That includes plantiff Thompson, whom he regarded solely as a dramaturg."
Snyder said that in contracts and in computer documents that Larson gave to NYTW "Jonathan is always referred to and refers to himself as sole author."
At all times, Synder went on, "Jonathan acted as if this was his play. It was his life, his baby. He gave it seven years of his life. The idea that in his final moments he would give it over to someone else is simply impossible."
Asked if there were any surprises in Thompson's testimony and theatre luminaries who came forward to speak on her behalf, Synder said, "Not really. We knew what the evidence was in advance, so we were prepared."
Tony Kushner, who wrote the Tony and Pulitzer-winning Angels In America and Craig Lucas, author of Prelude To A Kiss were among those who testified that Thomson "transformed" Rent. Robert Brustein, head of the American Repertory Theatre, and Bernard Gersten of Lincoln Center Theatre have come forward for the defense (Larson estate).
The New York Post reported earlier that the Larson family offered a sum reported to be $100,000 to settle out of court, but Thomson refused and then made a counter-offer that was turned down by the family.
Parcher has argued that Thomson's contributions were fully covered in her contract with Larson.
The trial has led many in and out of theatre to wonder what exactly does a dramaturg do. Typically, they work with writers, suggesting ideas and solutions to perceived problems, and editing the work. Thomson is referred to in Rent's official billing as dramaturg, not co-author.
Larson attorney Jay Harris told Playbill On-Line in Dec. 1996 that Thomson was paid $10,000 for her work and continues to get a $50 per week royalty for the run of the show.
Thompson's attorney Russell Smith said, "Everyone else that was involved at her level is receiving large compensation. Lynn Thomson can't even pay her rent with the amount of money she received."
-- By Ellis Nassour