URINETOWN Broadway Team Accuses Two Regional Productions of Plagiarism
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
November 15, 2006
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 — one produced by Blue Dog Entertainment at the Mercury Theater in Chicago and the other at the Carousel Dinner Theatre in Akron, OH — stating 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.So, the Broadway choreographer saw a picture of the Chicago production online and was shocked by the blatant similarities. Maybe...just maybe...it was this picture:
Geez, Stephen. What's so similar about that? I mean, the three characters on the upper level are CLEARLY closer together in the picture from the Broadway production. Sure, the group at bottom center looks like "URINETOWN: The Clone Wars," but keep looking at the upper level. The upper level cop is stage LEFT in the Broadway pic and stage RIGHT in the Chicago pic. Duh!
Yeah, yeah, yeah...the rest of the cast is in the same exact stage picture...blah, blah, blah...but when one cop is stage right and one cop is stage left, that clearly shows this wasn't just a carbon copy stolen from Broadway. This Chicago production was completely original.
Who directed Chicago's production of URINETOWN? James Frey?!?!?!?