Grease's Warrior Princess Survives Another Close Call

News   Grease's Warrior Princess Survives Another Close Call Nearly as fast as it went up, the closing notice for the 4-year-old Broadway revival of Grease!, posted July 22, came down July 23. Producers Fran and Barry Weissler were apparently ready to close the show July 27, not because of flagging box office receipts, but over a dispute with Actors Equity Association, the actors' union.
This ad ran in the New York Times earlier this summer
This ad ran in the New York Times earlier this summer

Nearly as fast as it went up, the closing notice for the 4-year-old Broadway revival of Grease!, posted July 22, came down July 23. Producers Fran and Barry Weissler were apparently ready to close the show July 27, not because of flagging box office receipts, but over a dispute with Actors Equity Association, the actors' union.

New Zealander Lucy Lawless, who stars as a sword-toting Amazon heroine in the syndicated TV adventure show, "Xena: Warrior Princess," was scheduled to step into the role of Rizzo Sept. 2. Equity rules allow foreigners to take roles in Equity productions provided they possess sufficient star status. Production spokesperson Pete Sanders told Playbill On-Line the closing notice was posted by producers Fran and Barry Weissler "because of the decision by Actors Equity denying [Lawless'] star status."

But Lawless' appearance in Grease! had been heralded in New York newspapers ads for at least a month. Appearing in the musical while her swashbuckling TV show is on hiatus, she was to have been the latest in a series of celebrities from other media who have made Broadway debuts or appearances in the show. (Rosie O'Donnell originated the role of Rizzo in this revival.)

Helaine Feldman of Dick Moore & Associates, spokerspersons for Actors' Equity, told Playbill On-Line (July 23) the issue had been resolved and that Lawless would be coming over in a "star" contract. Asked why the casting became a problem, Feldman said, "I guess they thought she wasn't a star, but the further documentation came in today or yesterday, and now she's approved. I believe she's allowed to stay for six months."

After the closing notice came down the afternoon of July 23, Sanders told Playbill On-Line, "I don't know what made [Equity] change its mind. We supplied them with salary information and material on [Lawless], including covers of "TV Guide" and "People Magazine." We've had press out on her for a while, so if there was a problem, why didn't they say so when they had the first break on her coming in?" Asked why the Weisslers would threaten to close the show in late July when Xena wasn't due on Broadway until early September, Sanders replied, "Well, she would have been in town to start rehearsing next week."

Other casting information on Grease! in September isn't yet set, but Sanders said Lawless would be the only name performer in the show at that point.

Grease! employs 40 union employees. Tonight, July 23, the show will play its 1290th performance. It's the second-longest running revival in Broadway history, after Oh! Calcutta.

What, in your opinion, constitutes a star? Please post your ideas under the Playbill Poll subject in Playbill On-Line's Message Boards.

-- By Robert Viagas and David Lefkowitz

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