Surely the union and the League of American Theatres and Producers would reach an agreement at the eleventh hour, knowing parties had preached. There was too much money to be lost on either side, pundits had argued. The New York Post's Michael Riedel even went so far as to detail, on March 5, exactly what the compromise would look like. But when the two sides faced off in the wee hours on Thursday about the hot button topic of minimums—the number of musicians the union mandates producers must use for Broadway musicals—their eyes still did not meet. The League said they'd accept the number of 14 and the union said they'd go no lower than 24. That was as close as they got. And Broadway had its first musicians strike in more than 27 years.
There were casualties almost immediately. Flower Drum Song, the hapless musical revival that was quietly waiting out its run until a scheduled closing date of March 16, canceled its Friday night performance. Whether it would ever reopen was an open question. La Bohème, which boasts perhaps the most complex and subtle music now on Broadway, did the same.
As the evening's 8 PM curtains approached, the Broadway community held its breath while waiting the official word from Actors' Equity. The AFL CIO had asked Equity to support the strike. To decide the matter, the actors union called an emergency March 7 meeting. The repercussions were huge either way. If Equity sided with Local 802, musical Broadway was sunk; all the tuners would be forced to shutter. If they opted to cross the picket line, audiences were in for a singularly tinny evening of canned, potentially snafu-filled music.
And their decision: to honor the strike. The same went for Local One of the stagehands union. Even the most stubborn and industrious producer can't put on a show without actors and stagehands. And so labor negotiations did what the Blizzard of 2003 couldn't: Shut down half of Broadway.
The bright side? Well, if you feel your theatregoing habits have unfairly neglected Broadway's many fine plays, here's your chance to make up the difference.