Five months after announcing that he would “step back from active participation” on his Broadway shows, producer Scott Rudin is still negotiating the terms of his exit from his biggest hit, The Book of Mormon, a person familiar with the situation told Broadway Journal.
Rudin is battling his former partners, the South Park creative team of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who with their business associate Anne Garefino are the remaining lead producers of The Book of Mormon. (London-based producer Sonia Friedman is also heavily involved in the U.K edition of the musical, which Parker and Stone wrote with composer-lyricist Bobby Lopez.)
In the wake of multiple reports of Rudin abusing staff, Stone and Garefino had given the producer an ultimatum before he stepped aside. “I said, ‘Your actions have made it impossible for us to keep working together,'” Stone recalled in an April 24 New York Times report.
At issue now is valuing past producing work when distributing ongoing profits. Should Rudin be entitled to the same share of profits he had pre-scandal, or no profits, or somewhere in between? The blockbuster hit has generated plenty of cash to divvy up, but details of how the lead producers previously shared net adjusted profit among themselves is unclear.
Under the guidance of Rudin and Mormon‘s first general manager, Stuart Thompson (who died in 2017), the musical boasted relatively low production costs ($9.4 million), low operating expenses and generally buoyant grosses. It paid out $81 million of adjusted net profit to its producers and investors over its first four years on Broadway, according to papers filed with the state. On top of that, the producing team profited from tours and other productions in the U.S. and abroad. The show would’ve celebrated its 10th birthday at Broadway’s Eugene O’Neill Theatre in March.
Like Wicked and The Lion King, Mormon could continue running for years. Or not. Its sales were declining before Broadway shuttered, in March 2020. And its own cast raised questions about its retrograde racial humor as the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum last year. After new and original cast members wrote to Garefino and shared their thoughts in a video call she organized, the authors promised to address everyone’s concerns before the show resumes performances — on Broadway on Nov. 5 and on the West End on Nov. 15.
One informed observer deemed it unlikely that either Rudin or Team South Park would file a lawsuit, given the potential for bad press and embarrassing revelations. And for what it’s worth, everyone involved is wealthy.
In one of the richest deals in TV history, ViacomCBS Inc. will pay Parker and Stone some $900 million over the next six years to continue making South Park episodes and spin-off movies, Bloomberg News’ Lucas Shaw reported last month. (The movies will run on the Paramount+ streaming service, which airs the Tony Awards on Sunday.) Citing an interview with Stone, Shaw also reported that as part of their plan to fund sundry entrepreneurial projects, the duo may seek to sell their stakes in South Park and Book of Mormon.
A Mormon spokesman declined to comment and Rudin didn’t reply to an email. The production previously announced that he’s “not involved in the management of the show, has no decision-making role, and will receive no financial compensation moving forward.” The last clause may be more a negotiating position than statement of fact.
A spokesman for To Kill a Mockingbird on Broadway, also a Rudin production, referred me to an interview with executive producer Orin Wolf in the Times, that the company won’t pay Rudin as a producer and he’ll no longer have a management role. Rudin continues to have “a small investment position, which is passive,” Wolf said, without elaborating on the size of the position. Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of the Harper Lee novel resumes performances on Oct. 5 at the Shubert Theatre.
It’s unclear where Rudin’s talks stand with David Geffen and Rudin mentor Barry Diller regarding The Music Man, starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster. Both Diller — the lead producer of Mockingbird — and Geffen have made supportive comments about Rudin in the press. No one would deny Rudin’s central role assembling the elements of both productions.
A disincentive for other producers to step into Rudin’s shows: a year-old lawsuit that ad agency SpotCo filed against the producer and various limited liability companies he controlled, to recover more than $6 million in allegedly unpaid fees and expenses. The defendants include the LLCs behind West Side Story — which has since been scrapped in New York — and The Music Man, which is scheduled to begin previews on Dec. 20 at the Winter Garden.
A trial in the case would start in mid-2022 at the earliest, according to court papers. There’s also a countersuit by 11 production LLCs previously controlled by Rudin that accuse SpotCo of overcharging and billing for advertising that the productions never authorized, and failing to disburse funds to outlets such as the Times for advertising that the LLCs previously paid for.
West Side Story and Music Man also figure into a new suit that general manager Joey Parnes filed against former employees Sue Wagner and John Johnson. Parnes accused Wagner and Johnson of sabotaging his relationship with Rudin and failing to share revenue from Rudin’s shows, as promised, when Wagner and Johnson set up their own shop. Parnes, who is also a producer, is seeking $4 million in damages, even though he estimates that Wagner Johnson Productions earned just $1 million in revenue in the five and a half months it was in operation before Broadway shuttered for the pandemic.
In August 2020, less than a year after Rudin fired Parnes, he fired Wagner Johnson, according to Parnes’ lawsuit. At about the same time, Rudin also fired SpotCo. According to yet another lawsuit, SpotCo then informed Portland, Oregon-based Billups Inc., which specializes in placing “out of home” advertising, that SpotCo “was ceasing to be the agency of record for SRP [Scott Rudin Productions]” and cancelled a Mormon ad campaign outside 2 Times Square for the first nine months of 2020.
Billups sued SpotCo this past May, claiming that it owes Billups $283,262 in unpaid bills for securing the video display. Among its defenses, SpotCo said in court papers that the claims are “barred” because it “acted on behalf of a disclosed principal” — Scott Rudin.