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A legal challenge for 'Whisper House' creators

January 27, 2010 |  2:50 pm

Whisper 

Two of the creators of the new stage musical "Whisper House" at the Old Globe are being challenged by a New York-based actor-director who says that he was slated to direct the production.

Keith Powell said today that his lawyers are in discussion with lawyers for Duncan Sheik, who wrote the music and lyrics for "Whisper House," and Kyle Jarrow, who wrote the book and co-wrote the lyrics for the show.

Sheik Powell claims that he had an agreement with Sheik and Jarrow to direct the musical but that the pair reneged on it. He added that he has e-mails that prove that there was an agreement to direct the show, which was not recognized.

Powell said that at one point before the musical opened at the Old Globe, Sheik and Jarrow sat down with him and said that Powell's work on the show could not continue unless he relinquished his rights to the project.

"I didn't sign those rights away. When I found out they had placed the call to the Old Globe about getting a new director, I didn't sign anything," said Powell in an interview Wednesday from New York. Peter Askin eventually took over as director on the project.

Powell declined to elaborate further on the nature of the talks between the legal teams, except to say that part of the discussion involves the rights he has on the project.

A manager for Duncan Sheik said he had no comment on the matter. Jarrow did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Both Sheik and Jarrow are clients of Creative Artists Agency.

A spokesman for the Old Globe also declined to comment on the legal issues.

Powell said that he hasn't made a decision as to whether he will pursue a lawsuit against Sheik and Jarrow.

"We'll see what happens after [the lawyers] have their conversation. It's an unfortunate option so I'm hoping it doesn't come to that," said Powell.

An experienced theater director, Powell is the former artistic director of the Contemporary Stage Company in Wilmington, Del.

More recently, Powell has been concentrating on his screen acting career. He currently has a supporting role on NBC's "30 Rock," on which he plays the role of Toofer, a writer on the show-within-the-show, "TGS."

Powell said that he brought the idea for "Whisper House" to Sheik around the time the songwriter's "Spring Awakening" was getting off the ground. Later, Jarrow came aboard the project to write the book. 

Set in 1942, "Whisper House" tells the story of a young boy who is sent to live with his aunt, who works as the keeper of a lighthouse. The boy begins to hear ghostly presences that warn him about potential danger ahead.

In other "Whisper House" news, the Old Globe confirmed Wednesday that Mare Winningham, who plays the aunt, will leave the production early due to "scheduling reasons." Winningham's last performance of the show will be Feb. 7. "Whisper House" is set to continue its run through Feb. 21.

During previews, producers replaced actor Eric Brent Zutty, who was cast in the lead role of the boy, with his understudy, A.J. Foggiano. The theater said that the replacement was due to artistic reasons.

-- David Ng

Photo (top): a scene from "Whisper House" at the Old Globe in San Diego. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Photo (bottom): Duncan Sheik. Credit: Jemal Countess / Getty Images

Related stories

Theater review: 'Whisper House' at San Diego's Old Globe

'Whisper House': Ghosts in the machine

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