Dancers Union Files Labor Charges Against Come Fly Away Producers

News   Dancers Union Files Labor Charges Against Come Fly Away Producers The American Guild of Musical Artists, the union which represents professional opera performers, dancers and concert musicians in the U.S., has filed federal unfair labor practice charges against the producers of the Twyla Tharp musical Come Fly Away, which is set to begin performances on Broadway March 1.

Under the original title Come Fly With Me, the new Tharp dance musical played its world-premiere engagement at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta this past September, where it was under AGMA representation. AGMA and Troika Entertainment, LLC (acting under the operating title His Way Entertainment) is producing the Broadway production along with James L. Nederlander, and had been negotiating the terms of the Broadway contract since the musical's Atlanta debut.

According to AGMA, the dancers union sought a "superior" contract to the standard Actors' Equity Contract, including creative royalty compensation for characters created by each cast member, as well as salary raises for the cast if Come Fly Away earned the Best Musical Tony Award. In addition, the contract provided for pay increases for any cast member who earned a Tony Award or nomination. Salary increases for Tony honors are typically negotiated between a performer's agent and the producers. AGMA also states that the terms of their agreement were tailored to the specific health, safety and career longevity of dancers.

On Dec. 28, when AGMA and the producers of Come Fly Away could not come to terms (including creative royalties, Tony Award salary increases and limitation of rehearsal hours), the dancers union informed Troika that its members could not report to work for the start of rehearsals on Jan. 4. AGMA alleges that producers then approached AEA to represent the cast. Rehearsals are currently underway, though an official announcement of union representation has not been made.

In a statement, AGMA executive director Alan Gordon said, "Equity is paranoid about any other union trying to improve upon its Production Agreement and thereby lessen Equity's grip on Broadway. The cast of Come Fly Away is exceptionally superb and deserves better than Equity has allowed the producers to get away with. The Broadway presentation will be spectacular and the dancers deserve creative recognition and working conditions that better protect them. Equity’s contract is geared to actors and, under it, dancers are treated as second class. In allowing the producers to do Come Fly Away under the Production Agreement, Equity has done a tremendous disservice to the cast and to dancers everywhere."

A representative for Actors Equity called Gordon's comments regarding AEA's treatment of dancers as an "incendiary sound bite, which he knows has no basis." In response to the allegations, AEA acting executive director Carol Waaser issued the following statement: "James L. Nederlander, the lead producing partner for the Broadway production of Come Fly Away, is a member of the Broadway League and as such has every right to expect that the terms of the Broadway Production contract to which he is a signatory shall apply to this production. Accordingly, Mr. Nederlander shall abide by that contract for this production."

In regards to Come Fly Away, AGMA has also filed a complaint with the "Four A's" (Associated Actors and Artists of America), which determines union jurisdiction. Previously, AGMA and AEA had locked horns over production contracts for Tharp's Billy Joel musical Movin' Out. The "Four A's" ultimately awarded AGMA jurisdiction over Movin' Out and AEA handled the production contracts, with both parties sharing union dues. Tharp's short-lived The Times They Are A Changin' was represented by AEA initially and later came under AGMA jurisdiction.

Though the majority of Broadway productions have AEA representation, recent shows like Burn the Floor and Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy employed performers who had no union affiliation. Soul of Shaolin, which was co-presented by Nederlander Worldwide Productions, LLC, had AGVA (American Guild of Variety Artists) representation, and Baz Lurhman's 2002 Broadway production of La Boheme was under AGMA jurisdiction.

According to an AGMA press release, the Broadway production of Come Fly Away will feature numerous Movin' Out veterans, including Tony nominees Keith Roberts and John Selya, as well as Karine Plantadit, Ashley Tuttle, Charlie Neshyba-Hodges and Holley Farmer. The original Alliance cast also featured Laura Mead, Matthew Dibble and Rika Okamoto. An official casting announcement has not been made.

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With the blessing of Frank Sinatra Enterprises and the Sinatra family, Come Fly Away features original masters of Sinatra's voice, which are backed by a live on-stage band. The show includes original arrangements by Nelson Riddle, Billy May and Quincy Jones, as well as newly created arrangements for the production.

Come Fly Away, according to press notes, "follows four couples as they fall in and out of love during one song and dance filled evening at a crowded nightclub. Blending the legendary vocals of Frank Sinatra with a live on stage 19-piece big band and 15 of the world’s finest dancers, Come Fly Away weaves an unparalleled hit parade of classics, including 'Fly Me To The Moon,' 'My Way' and 'That's Life' into a soaring musical fantasy of romance and seduction."

The Broadway production will reunite Alliance design team members including set designer James Youmans, lighting designer Donald Holder, costume designer Katherine Roth, as well as music supervisor Patrick Vacciarello (assuming duties for the late Sam Lutfiyya), sound designer Peter McBoyle and orchestrators Dave Pierce and Don Sebesky.

Tickets are now available by phoning (212) 307-4100, or by visiting Ticketmaster.

The Marquis Theatre is located at 1535 Broadway.

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