Abbott and Costello's heirs are crying foul after a Broadway play used a satanic sock puppet to perform part of the comedians' famed "Who's on First?" baseball routine.
The copyright holders sued "Hand to God" producers, promoters and playwright Robert Askins on Thursday in Manhattan federal court, demanding unspecified damages as they accused them of copyright infringement.
"Hand to God" will be up for five Tony Awards, including best play, on Sunday. It opened in early April to flattering reviews after previews that began in mid-March.
The play's lead producer, Kevin McCollum, said in an email that the filing of the lawsuit on the eve of the Tony Awards was "obviously nothing more than a stunt, and, frankly, we welcome the attention."
The production's spokesman, Rick Miramontez, added: "The lawsuit is baseless; the material in question is in the public domain, and the show's producer carefully vetted with the production's legal counsel."
The lawsuit claims the play "copied the very heart" of "Who's on First?" with a 1-minute, 7-second portion that was used so the play could more easily be promoted as a comedy as it confronts dark sides of human behavior.
It said the scene taking place 15 minutes into the production is "one of the lighter moments of the production, without which the much darker tone of the rest of the play would be very difficult for the audience to handle."
Nothing new, different or transformative happens during the "Who's on First?" segment of the play, the lawsuit said. Sometimes, courts have tossed out copyright lawsuits when it can be shown that copyrighted material was used in a new and transformative way.
The comedy duo Abbott and Costello first performed "Who's on First?" in March 1938 with Lou Costello trying to learn the names of players on a baseball team from William "Bud" Abbott. Laughs ensue when Costello was left perplexed as he grappled with the reality that the first baseman was named "Who," the second baseman, "What," and the third baseman, "I Don't Know."
Costello's daughter, Chris Costello, told The New York Post for its Friday editions: "The legacy of my father is important to me and my family, and we felt that this lawsuit was necessary to protect us."