Producers of the short-lived Broadway musical Shuffle Along, Or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed reportedly have filed suit against the insurance company Lloyd’s of London for refusing to cover their losses which they say were caused by the pregnancy of the show’s co-star, Audra McDonald.
Forbes.com reported that the Broadway producers took out two insurance policies, worth a total of $14 million to protect them from losses that might be caused by McDonald‘s ”illness or accident.”
The ambitious production, a mix of Broadway history and lavish entertainment that boasted a cast of 34, opened April 28, 2016 to mixed reviews. Read reviews here. On May 10, McDonald announced that she was expecting, but would remain with the production for the time being. One June 24, producer Scott Rudin announced that the show would close. In a press statement he said at the time, ”The need for Audra to take a prolonged and unexpected hiatus from the show has determined the unfortunate inevitability of our running at a loss for significantly longer than the show can responsibly absorb and we have decided to close the show when she leaves on July 24.″
The show closed on that date, after an even 100 performances.
Forbes quoted Peter Shoemaker, who manages the entertainment division at insurance broker DeWitt Stern, as saying, “The policies for non-appearance and abandonment are very prevalent these days, as there are many shows that have big name stars.”
The insurance policy reportedly states that the producers will be reimbursed for their losses in the event that the show needs to be abandoned due to the “death, accident, or illness” of Audra McDonald. The dispute centers on whether her pregnancy qualifies as an accident, since the courts long ago determined that a pregnancy itself does not qualify as an illness.
However, the producers reportedly are arguing that a pregnancy for a 45-year-old woman in the midst of what McDonald herself described as “perimenopause” constitutes “an accident, and her associated medical conditions constitute an illness.”
In any case, Lloyd‘s also argued that six-time Tony Award winner McDonald‘s absence was not a satisfactory reason to close the show, especially in light of the fact that the cast also featured Tony winners Brian Stokes Mitchell and Billy Porter, and other acclaimed stage stars. “Ms. McDonald is also only one of a number of stars performing in the show,” the insurer was quoted as saying. “By virtue of the all-star cast, Ms. McDonald’s temporary absence does not appear fatal to the show’s continued success.”
The producers respond that Lloyd’s wrote the policy specifically to cover just that eventuality.
Lloyd‘s has several weeks to respond to the suit.
Grammy Award-winning singer Rhiannon Giddens was announced to succeed McDonald in the role of Lottie Gee.
Heralded by many as a landmark artistic achievement, Shuffle Along, Or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed was nominated for 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, but did not win in any of its categories. The new show took the unusual step of opening ”cold” in New York, without an out-of-town tryout. After two workshops in fall 2015, the show began a six-week preview period that included a scheduled four-day hiatus for rewrites.
The backstage story recounted the making of Shuffle Along, one of the first successful all-black Broadway musical hits that was also written by African-Americans. It opened the door for black performers and writers on the stage during the 1920s Harlem Renaissance.
Director George C. Wolfe also wrote the show’s book with Savion Glover creating the choreography. The new musical used the original Eubie Blake/Noble Sissle music with an original libretto by Wolfe. The show represented the first collaboration between Wolfe and tap master Glover since their Tony-winning Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk in 1996.