PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 29-June 4: More Union Doings!

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 29-June 4: More Union Doings!
 
You know it's a lag time in the theatre when, two weeks running, the most interesting goings-on in town are union stories.

Last week, the newly tough Dramatists' Guild emerged triumphant in a tussle with the Public Theater. Under a new contract, the nonprofit theatre forewent any subsidiary royalties from a production until the playwright has earned a minimum of $75,000 in licensing fees.

More money for writers! Woo-hoo! That's a switch.

Flexing its muscles again this week, the Guild laid into the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF). The issue was a similar one. The Festival — a high-profile annual showcase of new musical talent which gave the world [title of show], Next to Normal and Yank! — has a new proviso in its contract in which writers sign over "2 percent of the Author's gross on all income received from the play in excess of $20,000 over ten years."

Now, the Guild hates those kind of clauses when big producing giants like the Public slip them in. But it's livid when a mere presenting organization like NYMF does it. (The shows in NYMF are self-produced by the authors or by producers committed to those authors.) The Festival argued it needed to claim a bit of future rights to keep its operations going, and that it laid out a big chunk of change in support of each show it presents. The Guild countered the Festival shouldn't live by grabbing bread out of the mouths of the writers it purports to support.

It's more than three months until the 2010 Festival begins and you can bet we haven't heard the last of this. Meanwhile, the Broadway Leauge lost a battle with the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers (SDC), the union which represents professional directors and choreographers. Broadway directors and choreographers will now receive a cut of the Broadway League's $1-per-ticket TKTS surcharge on discounted Broadway tickets.

An arbitrator ruled that the $1 surcharge, implemented by the Broadway League in 2008, must be taken into account when calculating royalty payments to members of the SDC. Until now, the $1 charge (which can generate upwards of $10,000 a week) had not been tallied as part of the total box office gross. Typically SDC members receive a royalty based on a percentage of the box office gross of their shows.

According to the ruling made by arbitrator Marlene Gold, the royalty adjustment would be retroactive through the League's 2008 implementation of the fee. According to a League spokesperson, the fee is used for educational and marketing purposes.

Essentially, the core message of the ruling is the same one being debated in the Guild-NYMF flap — that is, if producing or presenting entities need money to pay expenses, they should find the cash in some other way than sticking their hand in the artists' pocket.

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Eric Schneider and Will Chase
photo by Carol Rosegg

Will Chase, Adam Heller, Jeffrey Schechter, Eric Schneider, Amy Spanger and Kelly Sullivan have been cast in the world premiere stage musical Robin and the 7 Hoods – A New Musical at The Old Globe this summer. The show is inspired by what is probably the worst, and most slapdash, of the "Rat Pack" movies of the 1960s, in which Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr and their pals got together to have a good time and maybe actually act for a few minutes at a time. The musical will have a book by Tony Award winner Rupert Holmes and songs by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, a duo that often wrote songs for Sinatra. It will be directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw.

Schneider will play the Sinatra role of Robbo. Good luck to you, Eric.

Key line in the press materials: "Robin and the 7 Hoods takes the Robin Hood legend and gives it an early-'60s spin. Set in Chicago [at a time] when 'Mad Men' reigned supreme and martinis flowed freely." People — tread lightly on that "Mad Men" angle. It didn't help Promises, Promises one bit.

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Sometimes, reality and fiction don't mix well.

For years, Avenue Q made good natured fun of former child star Gary Coleman, casting him as the superintendent of a derelict block on fictitious Avenue Q, and having the character played by a woman.

But following the death of 42-year-old, hard-luck actor last week, lines such as "I'm Gary Coleman form TV's 'Different Strokes'/Made a lot of money that got stolen by my folks," just weren't as funny anymore.

After Coleman's death, the show's creators issued a heartfelt statement about the actor. And Danielle K. Thomas, who currently portrays Coleman in the musical at Off-Broadway's New World Stages, paid a tribute to the late actor from the stage following the May 28 performance.

But that apparently wasn't enough. The Tony-winning musical will alter some of its script, according to a production spokesperson. Which lines will be changed for the character of Gary Coleman, depicted as a knowledgeable, but down-on-his-luck superintendent, have yet to be announced. Guess you have to go see the show to find out.

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