There was a firestorm in October 1996 when the producers of Broadway's Les Miserables announced that a substantial part of the cast would be laid off all at once, and replaced with a national touring company until a complete new cast could be rehearsed.
But things are expected to be cool and quiet at the Imperial Theatre Sunday, Jan. 26, when that Broadway cast plays its last performance. The national touring company will play its first performance at the Imperial Jan. 28.
What happened in between?
According to a report on page one of the December 1996 Equity News, the newsletter for Actors' Equity Association, a settlement has been reached between the union and the Cameron Mackintosh office, producers of Les Miserables who has announced that most of the cast was being terminated as of Jan. 26.
On top of the $25,000 payment originally offered by Cameron Mackintosh to the fired cast-members of Les Miz, a performer will get an extra $1,150 per year for each year the member has been employed in any production of Les Miz in excess of 75 weeks. The newsletter offered this example: An actor in Les Miz for 200 weeks gets $25,000 basic severance, plus (125 X $1,150)/52 = $2,764.42. That comes to $27,764.42, as opposed to the $17,250 maximum an actor would get if he fought, and won, a suit lodged against a producer who terminates him without Just Cause. Asked about the agreement, Marc Thibodeau of the Publicity Office (which represents Mackintosh) said, "The matter's been settled," but would not comment further on details. He did say the agreement had nothing to do with other Mackintosh shows. "This is just about Les Miserables."
Included in the agreement are 15 weeks of health insurance, as well as Pension Fund contributions and an agreement by the producer to interview and audition terminated actors for possible employment in future productions. Also, the producer must give a fired actor a written explanation for his termination.
Asked how this settlement would affect future long-running shows, Equity spokesperson Helaine Feldman told Playbill On-Line that long-term discussions were still underway between Equity and Mackintosh, as well as with Livent and Disney, who are poised to have their own marathon running productions. "We needed to settle with Mackintosh first, and now we'll take it one step at a time."
The current Broadway company of Les Miserables will have its last performance Jan. 26, the third national touring company of the show will play on Broadway from Jan. 27 to March 1, followed by the new Broadway company beginning previews March 3 for a gala reopening March 12 -- the show's tenth anniversary on Broadway.
Here's the back-story According to a story in Variety, Cameron Mackintosh visited Les Miserables Sept. 21 and told Equity Executive Secretary Eisenberg a number of actors looked too old for their roles. Nevertheless, it came as a shock to Eisenberg when Alan Wasser, general manager of the Broadway and U.S. Touring productions of Les Miserables, announced on Oct. 24 that 11 performers would be laid off.
Rather than go through hearings to prove he had "just cause" for firing these performers, Mackintosh instead decided to pay them more than they'd get even if they fought and won.
Although Equity President Ron Silver considered calling for a strike, the board chose instead to negotiate. After their Nov. 5 meeting, the Council of Actors' Equity voted to delay the process of ratification for the new Equity contract. The Council had approved the new contract for sending to those members who've worked under the old contract, for ratification. The newsletter also carries an announcement that the Council has voted unanimously to recomment the new production contract negotiated with the League Of American Theatres & Producers. On Jan. 6, Feldman told Playbill On-Line the contract had been sent out to the membership for ratification.