The Drury Lane Oak Brook Theater, owner Tony DeSantis and artistic director Gary Griffin appear to have been spared a long and costly legal battle over Griffin’s controversial Drury Lane production last summer of Frank Loesser’s “The Most Happy Fella.” DeSantis’ attorney Scott Petersen said last week that an out-of-court settlement of a lawsuit filed in late March in New York City by director Gerald Gutierrez seems imminent.
The suit, filed after a period of fruitless negotiations, alleged that Griffin had re-created various aspects of Gutierrez’s copyrighted 1992 Broadway staging of “The Most Happy Fella” in his Drury Lane production without giving Gutierrez proper acknowledgement. The suit also stated Griffin’s actions caused “irreparable damage” to Gutierrez, who won a Tony Award last week for his staging of Lincoln Center Theater’s “The Heiress.”
Gutierrez’s attorney, Ronald Shechtman, said that the tentative settlement calls for Drury Lane to place an ad in Variety acknowledging Gutierrez’s contribution to the Drury Lane production. The settlement also includes a cash payout to Gutierrez of an undisclosed amount. Gutierrez had asked for compensation in excess of $500,000, to be determined by the court.
Griffin said he was relieved that a settlement seemed at hand. “This has been a real learning experience,” said Griffin, who predicted it would make other producers and directors considerably more cautious about how they approached works recently seen on Broadway.
The settlement also leaves unresolved the legality of copyrighting stage directions, as Gutierrez had done. According to both Shechtman and Petersen, no lawsuit involving this copyright issue has ever been tried.