December 28, 2016 / 6:21 PM / 7 months ago

Dr. Seuss company is a grinch, NY playwright says in lawsuit

A Dr. Seuss The Grinch balloon appears in the 84th Annual Hollywood Christmas Parade in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles, California, November 29, 2015.David McNew/File Photo

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York playwright has sued the owner of copyrights in Dr. Seuss' works, saying his new play does not infringe the children's author's classic "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!"

In a complaint filed on Tuesday night in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Matthew Lombardo said he was forced to scrap performances of "Who's Holiday!" set to begin Off Broadway on Nov. 2 after Dr. Seuss Enterprises LP complained to the theater's owner, The Shubert Organization.

But while "Who's Holiday!" and "Grinch," published by Random House Inc, both feature the character Cindy Lou Who, Lombardo said his 75-minute, one-woman play is "highly transformative," and therefore constitutes fair use.

Lombardo wants a court order that his play does not infringe the defendant's copyright in "Grinch," plus more than $130,000 of damages, including costs for the cancellation.

Dr. Seuss Enterprises and its law firm did not immediately respond on Wednesday to requests for comment. Lombardo's lawyer did not immediately respond to similar requests. Random House and Shubert are not defendants.

"Grinch" tells the story of a grouchy, cave-dwelling monster who decides to end Christmas, and is briefly interrupted by Cindy Lou, a little girl, before having a change of heart.

In contrast, Lombardo's Cindy Lou is a profane 45-year-old woman housed in a trailer in the snowy hills of Mount Crumpit.

She is depressed because no one will attend her first Christmas party since her release from prison for murdering the Grinch, who was her husband and fathered her daughter, Patti.

But Cindy Lou comes to realize the theater audience is still there, and brightens further when Patti, who had abandoned her, shows up at the door, ending the play.

"Dr. Seuss this is not," the complaint said.

"Who's Holiday!" was to star Jennifer Simard, who received a 2016 Tony nomination as best featured actress in a musical, for her work in "Disaster!"

Dr. Seuss was the pen name of Theodor Geisel. He died in 1991.

The case is Lombardo et al v Dr. Seuss Enterprises LP, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 16-09974.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Frances Kerry

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