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Rudin Counterclaims

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Producer Scott Rudin--under court injunction not to hinder Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's efforts to produce their new musical "Gold!"--has sued the musical dramatists for $8 million, challenging their rights to the work.

Rudin filed his counterclaims last week in Manhattan's New York Supreme Court following a court ruling limiting his efforts to halt the production. Rudin's suit lists four causes of action against Sondheim and Weidman, and states the composer and writer don't have the right to commercially produce the play.

Sondheim and Weidman originally entitled the work "Wise Guys." The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in September 1997 contracted and paid the artists a $100,000 commission to write the musical. The commission agreement also let the Kennedy Center enter into a commercial production contract with Rudin, Roger Berlind, and David Strong Warner Inc.--under the partnership name of Wise Guys LP.

However, Rudin and his partners didn't reach an agreement with the creators. Sondheim and Weidman went on to rework the play, changing the name to "Gold!" and agreeing with Harold Prince to have Prince direct the musical at Chicago's Goodman Theatre in September 2002.

Rudin's suit claims Sondheim and Weidman were obligated under the Kennedy contract "to deliver a completed play...no later than Oct. 1, 1998." But in "willful breach" of the pact, the artists "not only failed to deliver a completed play by Oct. 1...they failed to deliver a completed work at any time before the start of the workshop production" which was a part of the contract, Rudin states.

He further alleges that the artists breached the portions of the contract dealing with their relationship with Rudin and his partners "by rendering it impossible for the producers to negotiate a final production agreement with them within the six-month period after the workshop," as the contract required. He adds that the composer and writer "intentionally and willfully" misled the producers by stating that they intended to complete negotiation on a production pact, and that final negotiations could take place after the artists had completed the play.

The suit further accuses Sondheim and Weidman of attempting to deceive the producers so they'd continue funding "Wise Guys"'s development, and pay the artists' expenses associated with "revising and re-writing" the production. Also, the artists "were further motivated to deceive Rudin in order to keep his prominent name associated with the project and thereby increase its value," Rudin alleges, adding that the artists "in fact did deceive" him and the other producers.

In his fourth cause of action, Rudin charges that the artists "were each personally and substantially enriched by the significant contributions Rudin made" to the project, including suggestions for script improvement, at least a dozen meetings with Weidman and contributing "more than $150,000 of his own money" to pay for development expenses.

"Rudin also assisted the show through the workshop production and made key decisions and recommendations regarding the casting of the show and the selection of other persons key to the show's development. In addition, because of Rudin's renown, his association with the show has increased its profile and value significantly," the lawsuit states.

Rudin is asking the court for "an exclusive six-month period" so he and other producers can negotiate a final production agreement for "Wise Guys." Interestingly, Rudin's causes of action never refer to the new title, "Gold!," but only to the original title.

He also asks for not less than $3 million in compensatory damages from the artists and $5 million in punitive damages.

Rudin also denied nearly all of Sondheim and Weidman's claims in their own lawsuit against him.

Rudin's attorney, in last week's hearing on Sondheim and Weidman's suit, and before filing Rudin's counterclaims, heard the judge state concerns about Rudin's position. Justice Ira Gammerman, in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, according to The New York Times, stated, "I don't think he [Rudin] has any rights. I'm looking for a piece of paper. I'm looking for an agreement between Rudin and Sondheim, and I don't see it."

Rudin may look to offset that concern with the list of exhibits being filed with his counterclaims. Those exhibits include memos of cash requirements, i.e. bills to Rudin and the other producers through May 2000 for both a workshop and production of "Wise Guys" costing $614,000; and a Feb. 1, 2000 personal note from Sondheim on his stationery referring to plans for final revisions "over the next few months" for "Wise Guys," and referring to Rudin and Berlind as "our producers."

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