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'Chicago' creators say Disney and Miramax broke contract to the tune of $12 million-plus

April 29, 2010 |  4:16 pm

GereZeta-Jones The misadventures of theater folk in Hollywood have been fodder for the stage at least since Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman sent "Once in a Lifetime" to Broadway in 1930.

Now comes a doozy: John Kander, Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, creators of the stage hit "Chicago" (actually Kander plus the heirs of the deceased others) vs. Miramax Film Corp. and Walt Disney Pictures is headed to a courtroom near us in a fight over proceeds from the 2002 hit film version of the musical. The original stage version opened on Broadway in 1975.

The legal sequel opened Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court with the filing of a suit that alleges the film companies engaged in "financial theatrics" by understating the film's revenues and overstating its expenses to the tune of nearly $200 million -- resulting in Kander and the Ebb and Fosse heirs being shortchanged more than $12 million in contractual royalties by the end of 2006.

In a somewhat whimsical touch, the "Chicago" creators' attorneys charge that by handing over "grossly understated profit participation statements," the film companies followed the script of "Chicago" by taking an "approach espoused in the film by shyster Billy Flynn. 'Razzle dazzle them,' he sings, 'and they'll never catch wise.'"

According to the suit, the "Chicago" creators -- Kander wrote the music, Ebb the lyrics, and Ebb and Fosse, who directed the original production, collaborated on the book -- decided to wise up in 2005 by demanding the audit permitted under their contract. But what followed was an alleged 2 1/2 year delay, followed by the withholding of some requested documents.

As an aside, the suit notes that, "Indeed, as has become typical with most Hollywood studios who intentionally understaff their Participant Affairs Departments to force [audit-seekers] to await their turn in a lenthy queue," the audit was stalled by Disney, which the suit says was responsible for fulfilling the audit request.

Because the audit couldn't be properly completed, the suit alleges, the "Chicago" creators "suspect that defendants' deception runs much deeper -- and consequently, their damages are much greater" than what's specified in the lawsuit.

Besides seeking monetary damages for the alleged contractual violations, the "Chicago" creators want the court to order the film companies to turn over documents they suspect will reveal additional shortages from contracted payments.

We'll let you know what Miramax and Disney have to say about this as soon as we can contact them.

-- Mike Boehm

Photo: Richard Gere as crooked lawyer Billy Flynn and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Velma Kelly in the 2002 film "Chicago." Credit: David James, via AFP