One day after the League of American Theatres and Producers and Actors' Equity agreed to a plea by the New York City Police Department not to run any Broadway shows on New Year's Eve, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani derided the request.
The NYPD wanted to cancel the shows as a way to ease congestion in midtown Manhattan on the night of Dec. 31. Traditionally, tens of thousands gather in Times Square to watch the ball drop at midnight, and crowds are expected to be especially huge in this pre-2000 event.
The Daily News reports Giuliani heard about the Police Department request and responded that several times over the years he enjoyed attending Broadway shows on New Year's Eve and saw no reason to shut them down this time. The Mayor told reporters, "There was a period in my life where I used to celebrate New Year's Eve by going to a Broadway play. It was like a tradition... there are a lot of people who do that." Giuliani added that businesses should be allowed "to thrive and grow and to exist," and the point of having police is to tailor security to the situation, rather than the other way around. He did suggest limiting the size of the Times Square crowd as a solution to the expected mob scene.
Producer Alexander Cohen told the News his production of Waiting In The Wings would go on as scheduled that night. That said, a Theatre League spokesperson told Playbill On-Line the Mayor's words, though seemingly contradicting the police department's request, simply put the same decision in different terms. "It always was in the producers' hands," said the spokesperson. "And they decided as a body, along with Actors' Equity, that it would be best not to have shows running that night. Nothing's changed."
A Pete Sanders Group spokesperson for Chicago and Annie Get Your Gun confirmed that those shows would not play on New Year's. A National Artists spokesperson added the League had sent its request to producers "awhile ago," so a decision was made weeks ago not to put tickets for those two shows on sale in the first place. For Annie, a special Monday night, Dec. 27, performance will be given, allowing the show to do eight performances that week. Chicago and Gun producer Barry Weissler had told Newsday (July 7) he was upset about the decision to cancel. "We were the first ones to sell Millennium New Year's tickets nearly two years ago, and we will close very reluctantly." He anticipated lost grosses for the shows to be $150,000 for Annie and roughly $100,000 for Chicago.
Inspector Michael Collins from the Police Department press office told Playbill On-Line (July 7) the initial request for New Year's cancellations was made because, "There are going to be large crowds in the area... we'll need to restrict certain streets to vehicles, and getting in and out of theatres would be difficult. We asked they [the theatres] cooperate in easing crowd problems." Collins couldn't give an estimate on the size of the anticipated Times Square crowd.
A Theatre League spokesperson told Playbill On-Line (July 7) Actors' Equity was "fine" with the request, though other theatrical unions aren't being so compliant, fearing economic difficulties.
Equity spokesperson Helaine Feldman confirmed that an agreement was reached to cancel shows Dec. 31. "It's already allowed in the rule book that you can run seven performances one week and nine performances the next," said Feldman. "Both Equity and the League are fine with this, but there is some problem with the other unions, which means it goes to a `factfinding committee' of all the unions, scheduled to meet in August and hopefully work it out." Neither Feldman nor the League spokesperson would specify which unions were not fully on board with the agreement.
A spokesperson for Local B183, the Legitimate Theatre Employees' Union (better known as the Usher's, Doormen and Ticket Takers Union) told Playbill On-Line their trouble with the agreement had to do with -- what else? -- money. "While I don't see a problem with the schedule change, particularly, in that one week you have seven, the next you have nine," said the spokesperson, "there's a clause in our contract with an `eight performance guarantee,' so there's extra money involved in this. We were asked to waive it. Our guarantee means that even if seven shows run during the week, the producers still have to pay for the eighth. Here, they were asking the unions to waive the extra money, and our Executive Board has declined to give them the waiver."
No official reason has been given for the declination, nor could the spokesperson explain why the ninth show, added the following week, wouldn't be considered sufficient compensation for the missing show on the 31st. A source close to the union elaborated, however, saying that relationships between the union and the League have not been good, and that this was simply a way for the shoe of stubbornness to be on the other foot. "You come up against a brick wall again and again," said the source, who declined to give a name for publication, "so when they come asking you for a favor, even if it's reasonable, you don't want to give an inch, because they're always expecting inches from you."
The Local B183 spokesperson did say about the crowd issue, "We work every New Year's Eve and deal with the same problems. People do have trouble parking and getting their cars out, or they can't get down the blocks to gain entry. We've been asking about matinees for ages and ages, but nothing happens. We deal with it."
Musicians' union Local 802 was also unhappy with the waiver situation. A spokesperson told Playbill On-Line he doesn't understand why the producers can't reposition their eight shows to fit within the same week, as has been occasionally done on previews Christmas and New Year's holidays. "We've submitted three sample schedules which can be used to solve the problem."
-- By David Lefkowitz