'Tootsie' Musical Hit By Lawsuit From Songwriters

A dispute has erupted over the forthcoming Broadway musical adaptation of the classic comedy Tootsie. A lyricist and composer on the project claim in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in New York Supreme Court that the producer is trying to cut them out of the project.

The Tootsie musical has a working title, Dollface, and is currently being developed by Scott Sanders Prods, the producer behind such musicals as The Color Purple and a coming revival of Evita.

According to the lawsuit, Scott Sanders Prods acquired the rights from the film's original writers, Larry Gelbart and the estate of Don McGuire. The project is said to have been brought to the producer by Gelbart and David Zippel, who formulated the idea together and intended to continue working on it.

Zippel agreed to write the lyrics. Another individual, Walter Afanasieff, agreed to be the musical composer.

Now the two are suing Scott Sanders Prods claiming that the project was based on two competoraneously negotiated contracts: an Underlying Rights Agreement and a Theatrical Production Agreement. The first gave SSP the right to produce the musical, to be written by the plaintiffs. The second assigned those rights to the plaintiffs to develop the project. In turn, SSP got the option to acquire the right to present that work product.

It's somewhat confusing, but the two contracts were set to be effective at the same time, allegedly so that all the parties could work on the project and share in its success.

But in September 2009, shortly after a dinner took place to celebrate the completion of the contract work, Gelbart, who was to be the bookwriter on the musical, passed away. SSP began to look for a replacement but the lawsuit says that because of the death, the Underlying Rights Agreement also needed to be renegotiated.

In January 2010, Zippel and Afanasieff say they were terminated without prior notice. SSP allegedly claimed to be terminating the Theatrical Production Agreement because the death "raised great concerns and many questions about how to best capture the voice of this classic work [Tootsie]," and because it was the "best interest of the project to begin fresh with an entirely new creative team."

The plaintiffs now claim $100,000 in payments, expenses and royalties they would have earned had their work gone forward. Additionally, Zippel and Afanasieff claim the termination was improper and want an order declaring they have a right to continue work on the project.

SSP couldn't be reached for comment immediately.