Larry Hart has won the Los Angeles trial over the authorship of the Michael Jackson-produced musical Sisterella. The decision was handed down by Judge Kenneth Freeman after three weeks of testimony. Frank Sandelman, attorney for the plaintiff, Vaughn Kinsey, said his client was considering an appeal.
"We are extremely pleased with the verdict," R. Ryan Oxman, Hart's lawyer, told Playbill On-Line. "It was one of the most fascinating trials we have ever done. It was filled with song and music and people singing for the jury. In that respect, it was as entertaining as a jury trial can be."
Oxman said Kinsey was someone Hart became acquainted with several years ago and to whom he had described the storyline of Sisterella, a modern musical take on the Cinderella tale. "Essentially, the fact that Michael Jackson was producing the play in what made [Kinsey] make a claim on the show," said Oxman. "For the years before that he made no action."
Hart produced many witnesses, said Oxman, including people to whom Hart had sung songs from Sisterella years before the composer had met Kinsey. In contrast, Kinsey called no witnesses and his claim was based solely upon his own testimony, said Oxman. The attorney said Kinsey testified he had spent 50 hours working on the musical, whereas Hart said he had devoted 15,000 hours to the project. "Nobody would go into a partnership with a person who contributed 50 hours, when you contributed 15,000 hours," Oxman observed.
Lawyers on either side presented pre-trial motions before Judge Freeman June 29. In the suit, Kinsey asserted that Hart did not write the show, but rather that Kinsey came up with the idea for the show and wrote its book. The musical debuted at the Pasadena Playhouse in 1996 and then, under the wing of co-producer Kevin Jacobsen, opened at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne, Australia, on March 7, 1998. Jacobson had been planning to bring the show to Sydney and then put together two new companies to open in the United States and Europe in early 1999. But in May, he abruptly announced that the show would not open at Sydney's Capital Theatre on June 27 as planned. He also revealed his wish to bring in Australian director Richard Wherrett to rework the production, replacing Hart. Hart's business manager Susan Joseph told Playbill On-Line that such an action was be in breach of the performer's contract.
Sisterella's current misfortunes raise curiosity about another Jackson-Hart project, PanJam, a stage musical loosely based on the Peter Pan story. Playbill On-Line reported in April that the two artists would partner of the show, with Hart writing most of the show's songs, and Jackson contributing a few compositions of his own.
-- By Robert Simonson