The show producers of Jailhouse Rock are facing a potential legal battle care of the American songwriters who wrote the music, including the title song, for the classic 1957 Elvis Presley film upon which the new stage musical is based (See News, 9 Jan 2004 & 2 Dec 2003).

Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller – authors of “Jailhouse Rock” and the film’s six other songs as well as Elvis hits such as “Hound Dog” and other classics of the era such as “Stand By Me”, “Love Potion #9”, “Yakety Yak” and “On Broadway” – have blocked the UK producers Alan Janes and Jonathan Alver from using any of their material in the new show.

Further, they have denounced the use of the title Jailhouse Rock as offensive and misleading, and have threatened legal action, including blocking any potential American transfers. "We feel that using the title of our song for their show is intentionally misleading the public,“ said Mike Stoller. “This use of a title that we created is not only misleading, it is, in effect, preventing us from using our own title for a possible future, legitimate production."

Stoller continued, "We are not the owners of the copyright outside of the US. We don't know what the legal options are in the UK, but we will fight any attempt to bring this production to the United States where we do own the copyright."

Janes and Alver hold a different view. They maintain that they have exclusive worldwide rights to produce a musical based on the MGM film, which they obtained from MGM successor Turner Entertainment Co. In addition, they say, in a statement responding to the songwriters’ charge, that they approached Elvis Presley Enterprises, Leiber and Stoller’s publishers, on several occasions in an attempt to licence the title song.

“And they repeatedly declined on the basis that they were creating their own Elvis compilation musical. We cannot imagine why they would now want to complain about their title not being in our show as they refused our repeated approaches.”

Not that it’s any great loss, say the bullish British producers since, “Jailhouse Rock” aside, most of the film’s songs “have been ignored by history and would not stand up in a West End production”. Janes and Alver maintain that the stage musical, rather than simply rejigging the film, explores the story of the origins of rock ‘n’ roll. And “the history of rock ‘n’ roll goes far beyond one song – no matter how good Leiber and Stoller think their title is.”

Jailhouse Rock - the latest creative collaboration from Janes and Rob Bettinson, best known for their long-running Buddy Holly bio-musical Buddy - features 22 songs in total, amongst them Elvis hits such as “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Burnin’ Love”, “Suspicious Minds”, “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” and “Always on My Mind”.

Released a year after his Love Me Tender screen debut, the 1957 film helped shoot a young Elvis to superstar status. In it, Presley played Vince Everett, a troubled young man who, while serving a year in prison, discovers gospel and R&B. Once out, Vince decides to reinvent himself as a rock 'n' roll singer and, while fame comes quickly, he nearly loses his friends and his voice along the way.

The young cast of the new musical is led by newcomer Mario Kombou as Vince Everett (See News, 9 Jan 2004), who’s joined by Lisa Peace (as Peggy van Aulden), Roger Alborough (Hawk Houghton) and Gilz Terrera (Quickly Robinson). Jailhouse Rock opens at the West End’s Piccadilly Theatre on 19 April 2004 (previews from 26 March), following initial dates in Plymouth and Manchester.

- by Terri Paddock