Construction Accident Notwithstanding, Most B'way Shows Go On

News   Construction Accident Notwithstanding, Most B'way Shows Go On
 
It's hard to keep show folk down. Despite a July 21 construction accident which sent metal and debris tumbling down onto Times Square, paralyzing traffic and closing entire office buildings, theatre professionals from all parts of the industry have managed to raise the curtain on another day.

It's hard to keep show folk down. Despite a July 21 construction accident which sent metal and debris tumbling down onto Times Square, paralyzing traffic and closing entire office buildings, theatre professionals from all parts of the industry have managed to raise the curtain on another day.

Though the collapse of a construction elevator on the half-erected Conde Nast building closed two Broadway and two Off-Broadway shows for much of the week, many theatre-related businesses, shops and operations have adapted quickly. "I have to say, I haven't been affected at all," said Craig Coursey, manager of five Times Square theatre gift shops, including One Shubert Alley, Broadway New York and Theatre Circle. "It depends very much on the street you're on. Because 43rd Street is closed off, 44th Street [where Broadway New York is located] is more crowded than ever. If they don't go through one hole, they're going to go through another." Coursey reported little drop in business and speculated that Broadway attendance remained close to typical levels. "If you pay $75 for a ticket, you're going to go," he observed.

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Some local businesses even profited from the disruption. Sardi's, the famous theatre restaurant on W. 44th Street, experienced a surge in customers in the wake of the accident. "The lunch business suddenly boomed," said Sardi's spokesman Max Eisen. "People were driven out of their buildings. They had nowhere to go." Eisen said that some patrons were late for their reservations, but that otherwise the trade was holding steady. "It's the time of the year when business is not the great anyway."

Few office buildings were as affected by the accident as 1501 Broadway, located on Seventh Avenue between 43rd and 44th streets, kitty-corner to the disabled Conde Nast tower. Commonly known as the Paramount Building, the structure is chock full of theatrical agencies and organizations, including the Dramatists Guild and the Theatre Development Fund. Occupants are being allowed to enter the building only by way of a wooden construction tunnel which opens onto 44th Street. John Hammond of In Theater magazine, which has offices on the 26th floor, said workers have been instructed to stay clear of windows facing onto Times Square, in the event that debris from the Conde Nast building could somehow pierce the glass. Hammond said the periodical was able to meet its Tuesday deadline, though the printer was forced to pick up the materials at an eatery on Restaurant Row. David Rothenberg, a press agent who also has rooms in 1501, was forced to close up shop for a couple days, to the consternation of some of his colleagues. "Everybody thinks you can still be functioning without fax, phone and location," he said. "People you are working with are surprisingly perplexed when you can't be reached." During the last 48 hours, Rothenberg did much of his work from his home. He does not expect to lose any money to the calamity, unless a prolonged closure of the area causes his Off-Broadway client, Smoke on the Mountain, located at the Lamb's Theatre on W. 44th Street, to shutter indefinitely. "Remember that building that collapsed on Madison Avenue?" he stated, referring to a New York construction accident of earlier this year. "That went on for weeks."

Also closed for the past two days, the Theatre Development Fund, which runs the Times Square TKTS booth, is still operating on a skeleton crew. The offices are inaccessible to the public and the staff has been forbidden to use rooms facing Seventh Avenue and 43rd Street. "That's most of our offices," said Stacy Wilson, TDF development associate. The TKTS booth has remained open throughout, though business has fallen off. "Definitely, we've seen a decrease at TKTS," admitted Wilson. "We'll take losses, but we have no hard numbers right now."

As for the theatres of the Great White Way, the jury is out on the ultimate cost. At a noon press conference July 23, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani urged theatregoers to honor their tickets to Broadway's plays and musicals, assuring them the area was safe. Kylie Robertson of the League of American Theatres and Producers said the box office effect of the accident would not be known until numbers are tallied Tuesday, July 28.

One theatre certain to bear sizable losses is the Roundabout. The disaster effectively put three of its four running shows out of commission. How much the company stands to lose could not be learned. But whatever the losses, the Roundabout could conceivably recover them by petitioning the building's owner, the Durst Organization, and contractor, Tishman Construction. Mayor Giuliani has urged the two corporations to provide money to aid afflicted businesses. Durst and Tishman, in turn, have asked their insurer, Liberty Mutual Group, to begin handling "loss of business" claims, said The New York Times.

The week before the accident, Cabaret grossed some $279,000; Side Man took in nearly 162,000.

It could not be learned by press time whether the Roundabout planned to a file a claim or law suit, or the nature of the theatre's own insurance policy.

-- By Robert Simonson

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