The “Urinetown” dispute is getting uglier.
Joseph P. McDonnell, who directed the original 1999 production of “Urinetown” at the New York Intl. Fringe Fest, is accusing the team that staged the Broadway version of the musical of plagiarizing some of his contributions to the show.
The claim comes as the Rialto team is embroiled in a controversy over two regional productions of “Urinetown,” one in Chicago and one in Akron, Ohio, which the New York creatives claim were direct copies of the Broadway staging.
“They’re trying to protect something that they stole and passed off as their own,” McDonnell said of the Rialto team, which includes director John Rando and choreographer John Carrafa. “They recast the show, but they didn’t change much about it.”
The lawyer for the Broadway side, Ronald H. Shechtman, responded on Rando’s behalf, saying Rando never saw the Fringe staging.
“We believe the claim has no merit because John didn’t even have access to the Fringe version,” Shechtman said. “He had no means by which to copy it.”
Carrafa also denied any plagiarism. “I never saw the Fringe production,” he said. “I was really careful not to even look at it when I was working on the show.”
McDonnell, who said he also played the villain Caldwell B. Cladwell in an early reading and recording of the show, said he helped influence the development of the piece, and recognized some of his staging in the version that went to Broadway.
He added that he did not come forward before now because “I figured there wasn’t anything I could do about it.” It was the current situation, he added, that prodded him to go public.
He also said he had contacted a lawyer. “I’m now having to pull out everything I ever did with the show, to protect myself,” he said.
The Broadway team of “Urinetown” issued the public accusations against the two regional productions Nov. 13. One of the theater companies, Akron’s Carousel Dinner Theater, responded with a lawsuit Nov. 22 asking the court to decide if any elements of the production had been copied. The Broadway side Monday asked producers of the two regional versions if they would voluntarily share documentation of their shows in order to help determine similarities and differences with the original.
After “Urinetown” preemed in the 1999 Fringe Fest, the show was picked up for a commercial Off Broadway run that was staged by Rando and Carrafa in 2001. Later that year the production transferred to Broadway, where the tuner won three Tonys in 2002. It spawned a national tour and closed on Broadway in 2004.