Playwright Takes on Grinches at Seuss Headquarters

MANHATTAN (CN) – In a federal complaint against Dr. Seuss Enterprises, a New York playwright wants damages for shutting down his raunchy, off-Broadway parody of “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.”

“Who’s Holiday” is a 75-minute, one-woman play centered on Cindy-Lou Who four decades after she let the Grinch make off with her family’s Christmas tree in the 1957 children’s tale.

Recently paroled and living in a trailer, the Cindy-Lou Who of “Who’s Holiday” has traded roast beast for bong rips of “Who-hash.”

“Dr. Seuss this is not,” says the complaint, filed on Dec. 27 by playwright Matthew Lombardo and his company.

A character bio in play’s script, attached to the complaint as an exhibit, contrasts Cindy-Lou Who with “the bright-eyed character of her youth.”

“Having been dealt a tough hand in the game of life, she desperately attempts to remain cheery in all situations,” it says.

Lombardo says the character was a hit in a “play-let” he put on three years ago in Hartford, Conn. As he tried to get the expanded show off the ground this summer, Lombardo received cease-and-desist letters from attorneys for Dr. Seuss Enterprises at DLA Piper.

One letter went to the Schubert Organization, which owns the New World Stages where performances of “Who’s Holiday” were set to run for nine weeks beginning on Nov. 2.

“Due to defendant’s letter, the Shubert Organization gave notice that it was terminating the venue license agreement for the theater, and thereafter it returned 90% of the deposit for the theater,” the complaint states.

“Defendant’s cease and desist letters halted the further production, and the future performances, of the play.”

Lombardo says a letter his attorney received from counsel for Dr. Seuss Enterprises shows that they cried infringement before even conducting a detailed review of the play or studying precedent “to form a subjective good faith belief that the play was not permitted by law.”

California-based Dr. Seuss Enterprises has not returned a request for comment.

Lombardo calls his play “shockingly different from ‘Grinch,’” adding that it is “a comedic work with explicit language geared towards only adult audiences.”

“The highly transformative play contains original dialogue, a newly devised plot, and the structure, tone and themes of the play are materially different from that of ‘Grinch,’” the complaint states.

Insisting that “Who’s Holiday” is a parody protected by the First Amendment, Lombardo says imitating the style of children’s classic is done “for comic effect or ridicule, and reasonably can be perceived as commenting on ‘Grinch’ or criticizing it.”

Lomardo says the ordeal caused $55,861.92 worth of damage, including legal counsel, marketing, and a $10,000 author fee and advance for himself. He and Who’s Holiday LLC are represented by Jordan Greenberger in Brooklyn.

The complaint has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein.

Set on West 50th Street, the theater at New World Stages seats 499 people. Lombardo says the average ticket price at maximum capacity would have been approximately $92.31.

The Schubert Organization is not a party to the complaint, which specifies that Lombardo paid a $44,000 deposit.

Lombardo wrote Thursday on his personal Facebook page: “You will not stop my little show/You cannot do that, no, no, NO!/The use of parody is my legal right/I don’t know why you picked this fight./So let a judge decide the end/ Of WHO’S HOLIDAY! which I did pen. #freecindylou”

The copyright for the original Dr. Seuss was registered in 1957 and renewed in 1985.

A family-friendly, musical adaptation titled “Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical” debuted on Broadway in November 2006.