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Ray Charles musical appears stuck in limbo following producer’s lawsuit

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A Broadway-bound stage musical inspired by the life and career of Ray Charles appears stuck in legal limbo, with its chances of opening in New York in the near future looking unlikely. ‘Unchain My Heart,’ which was scheduled to open on Broadway this season, was first produced at the Pasadena Playhouse in 2007 under the title ‘Ray Charles Live! A New Musical.’

It’s being reported that producer Stuart Benjamin is suing his primary investor, Maurice Grant, for fraud, and is demanding $20 million in damages. The Hollywood Reporter cited a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in which Benjamin said that Grant promised him $9 million in several installments to get the musical to Broadway and that Grant failed to invest funds as agreed.

Benjamin served as a producer on the Oscar-winning 2004 film ‘Ray,’ starring Jamie Foxx and directed by Taylor Hackford.

The people behind ‘Unchain My Heart’ had first aimed to start performances at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in New York in November. More recent reports suggested that the show was aiming to open in spring 2011.

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The stage musical debuted at the Pasadena Playhouse in November 2007 under the direction of Sheldon Epps, the artistic director of the company. Epps was also expected to direct the Broadway production of the show. Suzan-Lori Parks, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, wrote the book for the musical.

Times theater critic Charles McNulty panned the Pasadena production, writing in his review that the show makes the music of Ray Charles ‘seem square, dull and suburban, like one of those embarrassing PBS specials celebrating the groovy sounds of yesteryear.’

-- David Ng

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