Off-Stage Dispute at ‘Great Comet' Leads to Lawsuit

The Broadway transfer of Dave Malloy's electropop opera "Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812" only just began preview performances on Oct. 18 — but it's already making headlines for a controversial lawsuit filed over three words missing in the show's Playbill.

Ars Nova -- the off-Broadway theater that originally commissioned, developed it and staged the musical in 2012 -- has filed a lawsuit against the show's lead commercial producer, Howard Kagan, claiming he violated a signed agreement on how the small nonprofit would be credited in the show's program. 

The suit, filed in the New York State Supreme Court on Oct. 28., states that the musical was to be billed as "The Ars Nova production of…"

Instead, Ars Nova was listed last among the 38 other above-the title producers in the show. 

"It has truly taken a village to get "The Great Comet" to land on Broadway," Ars Nova representatives including artists director Jason Eagan and managing director Renee Blinkwolt told NBC 4 New York. "And yet with no explanation, the proper recognition of our contribution has been taken away." 

"That narrative -- that the show people are seeing on Broadway is, in it’s core, the show that started at Ars Nova -- is extremely valuable to Ars Nova’s past, present and future, and is communicated to the tens of thousands of people seeing 'The Great Comet' on Broadway each week only through our title page billing," the directors said.

Producers of the show, including Kagan, told The New York Times they were surprised by the suit and thought they were still in discussions with Ars Nova to determine the proper billing.

"We continue to work toward a swift resolution of this matter for the sake of everyone involved in the show, and we hope that those discussions can continue privately," they told the Times.

In addition to the lawsuit filed with New York's state court, The Times reports that Ars Nova had also filed a complaint with the American Arbitration Association accusing Kagan's company of breach of contract.

Kagan had been a member of the board of Ars Nova until the dispute arose. Though he resigned on Oct. 19, Ars Nova is saying Kagan violated his legal obligations as a board member.

"We are devastated that it has come to this, but steadfast in our belief that the billing we are owed is both valuable, and deserved," Eagan, Blinkwolt and "the Gang at Ars Nova" told NBC 4 New York.

"Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812" officially opens on Nov. 14 at the Imperial Theatre. The production -- directed by Rachel Chavkin and featuring a book, music and lyrics by Malloy -- marks star Josh Groban's Broadway debut.

The musical is adapted from a 70-page section of Tolstoy's epic novel "War and Peace." 

After its 2012 Ars Nova production, also directed by Chavkin, the show moved to spaces in the Meatpacking District and Times Square between 2013 and 2014. In 2015, it was workshopped at Boston’s American Repertory Theater.

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