Crisis? What crisis? Broadway actors, stagehands and other theatrical types must have been asking themselves that question as they gazed out on relatively full houses during the last days of September. Only a week or so before, many of them accepted 25 percent pay cuts, an emergency measure without which, so said producers, their shows would fold. It seemed a solid argument at the time. After all, several shows had closed, and, following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on lower Manhattan, Times Square became a ghost town overnight.
Unions agreed to concessions for seven shows over a four week period, ending Oct. 21, while producers wondered if that would afford shows enough time to recover. But, on Oct. 1, Broadway clocked box office numbers which looked a lot like, well, the numbers from last year. Overall, the Rialto took in $9,046,125—less than a million off last year's mark at this time, and roughly a $1.25 million leap over last week's take. Apparently, the theatre and theatregoers are a lot more resilient than was thought.
Well, producers must have sensed the mood among the rank and file. They met with casts and crew on Tuesday. Cameron Mackintosh has already decided to roll back the cuts for both The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables. Instead of a 25 percent cut last week, labor will take only a 12.5 percent. The same will apply for the current week if sales hold. Rent is taking a "wait and see" approach, examining the musical's fortunes at the end of the four weeks. And Chicago producers Barry and Fran Weissler intend to review the situation again next week. But it's a fair bet that, barring any future disasters, every union member will be getting all or most of his or her money back by the end of the month.
The prize for bad timing goes to Beauty and the Beast. Last week, Disney came sniffing around for the same cuts won by other shows. Sagely, labor asked Disney to table its bid for a week. Disney obliged. And then, Beauty and the Beast took in $436,954 at the box office for the week ending Sept. 30, a jump of more than $188,000. Don't expect that bid to come of the table.
The worst box office performance was that of Hedda Gabler, the acclaiming Ibsen revival starring Kate Burton, which saw only 49 percent of its seats occupied. Those figures ought to change following the rousing reviews which followed the play's Oct. 4 opening. Broadway's fortunes should also be bolstered by the arrival—two and one half years after its London bow—of the ABBA musical, Mamma Mia!, which began previews Oct. 5. Randall Wreghitt has shown his devotion to British playwright Martin McDonagh in spades. Wreghitt was behind the Broadway engagements of The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Lonesome West. Now he is bringing the same author's The Cripple of Inishmaan to the Great White Way-this, despite the fact that play was already produced in New York, at the Public Theater in 1998. What's more, the Off-Broadway mounting wasn't a tremendous critical success. The new production will be piloted by Garry Hynes (the woman behind Beauty Queen) and play Broadway in March 2002.
Raul Esparza had planned to spend this fall as one of the stars of the Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim's Assassins. The Roundabout Theatre Company production was suddenly canceled, however, in the wake of the World Trade Center catastrophe, leaving Esparza—who had already planned his exit from Off-Broadway's tick, tick...Boom!—without an autumn job. Well, the Rocky Horror Show alum he didn't remain out of work for long, and it is the Roundabout who saved him from the unemployment line. Esparza has been tapped as the new Emcee in the long-running Broadway revival of Cabaret. He will begin his stay on Oct. 26.
Finally, the towering performer Gloria Foster died on Sept. 29. New York theatre audiences of the past 20 years probably don't know the African-American actress very well. But during the '60s and '70s, she was close to an icon among the black theatre community. She was New York's first black Medea, and went on to play Mother Courage, Madame Ranevskaya, Mary Tyrone, Clytemnestra, Volumnia and Titania—until then, unheard of achievements for an African-American actress in America. Foster was always picky when it came to roles. She demanded the dramatic classical roles suited to her titanic talent, even while knowing that such selectiveness would often land her on the unemployment line. Her last New York stage appearance was in Having Our Say in 1995.
—By Robert Simonson