The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical axed after Netflix legal pressure

·3 min read
Emily Bear and Abigail Barlow - Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images
Emily Bear and Abigail Barlow - Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

No doubt Lady Whistledown could summon up a poisonous barb or two on receiving word that a musical version of the Bridgerton screen drama at the Royal Albert Hall has been scrapped.

The creators of The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical have been forced to cancel the UK premier of the show after being sued by Netflix, the drama’s original producers.

Netflix has accused TikTok stars Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear of a “blatant infringement” of copyright for their musical version of the colour-blind Regency costume drama set in an imagined 18th century London.

Ms Barlow, 33, and Ms Bear, 20, were already being sued by Netflix over their sold-out US production of the show at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC.

That will raise questions as to why the Royal Albert Hall proceeded with its own version of the musical, publicising the production – due to have been staged on September 20 – and selling tickets that will now have to be refunded.

A statement posted online by the venue on Thursday said: “Sadly Barlow and Bear have cancelled their performance of The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical, Live in Concert at the Royal Albert Hall”.

Netflix lodged its claim against Ms Barlow and Ms Bear three days after a sold-out performance at the Kennedy Center on July 26, where tickets sold for up to $149.

The streaming giant said that following the first series of Bridgerton in 2020 – based on the novels of Julia Quinn – the pair started posting video clips on TikTok, including songs based on its characters, scenes, dialogue and plot twists.

One of the claims is that the musical’s opening track, “Tis the Season”, uses dialogue similar to that spoken by Lady Whistledown, the town’s gossip writer, in the drama series.

Netflix also claimed the track “If I Were a Man” mirrors the character Eloise Bridgerton’s desire to escape the cage of marriage.

The streaming company claimed that it repeatedly warned the two performers to stop, but that they went on to create their Grammy-winning album The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical and musical of the same name.

It said: “Netflix supports fan-generated content, but Barlow and Bear have taken this many steps further, seeking to create multiple revenue streams for themselves without formal permission to utilise the Bridgerton IP.”

The statement added: “The creators, cast, writers and crew have poured their hearts and souls into Bridgerton, and we’re taking action to protect their rights.”

Ms Quinn herself said that she was “flattered and delighted” when Barlow and Bear began composing Bridgerton songs and sharing with other fans on TikTok.

She added: “There is a difference, however, between composing on TikTok and recording and performing for commercial gain. I would hope that Barlow and Bear, who share my position as independent creative professionals, understand the need to protect other professionals’ intellectual property, including the characters and stories I created in the Bridgerton novels over twenty years ago.”

‘A whole new Broadway audience’

According to Netflix, Barlow and Bear’s musical attracted Bridgerton fans who would otherwise have attended a Bridgerton experience in Washington hosted by the streaming company.

Netflix is seeking unspecified damages over the alleged breach of copyright. A judgment in the US case has not yet been issued.

Ms Barlow and Ms Bear – who wrote at least 13 songs for the show – have been contacted for comment.

They earlier said TikTok musicals were “a great example” of how to bring “a whole new audience to Broadway, which we could never have reached before.”

LA-based Ms Barlow said: “I think TikTok is a really great medium for new music, especially because the people who use TikTok heavily are teenagers and young people who love pop culture – and when they find something they love, they stick to it.”

In an interview with The Stage last year Ms Bear added: “Musical theatre is a living, breathing thing that should be changing all the time.”