Actors' Equity Association is urging a boycott and protest of the upcoming non-Equity national tour of The Music Man, saying the show, produced by Big League Theatricals, is trying to pass itself off as Broadway caliber.
The staging, which is directed and choreographed by associates of Susan Stroman, who helmed the current Broadway production, appears on 2001-2002 touring schedules around the country, side by side with Equity-sanctioned tours of such shows as Proof, Kiss Me, Kate, Cinderella, South Pacific and more.
Alan Eisenberg, Equity's executive director, said in a statement: "Big League Theatricals has rejected our offers for a contract and will produce the show with non-union actors. Consequently, the public will pay 'Broadway' prices for a non-professional production, in which none of the actors has ever appeared on Broadway. To call this Music Man a 'Broadway National Tour' is a sham."
A representative of Big League told Playbill On-Line Aug. 15 that a statement from the Music Man executive producer would be forthcoming.
Although the advertising and promotion art for the tour is the same as the Broadway staging (and credits "direction and choreography by Stroman"), the touring-house websites examined by Playbill On-Line did not indicate the words "Broadway National Tour," but some sites do say the show is part of the "Broadway Series." Stroman agreed to the tour billing, according to a Big League spokesperson and the tour does indeed reflect her work. Liam Burke dance captain of the Broadway cast recreates Stroman's choreography and Ray Roderick, associate director of the Broadway staging, recreates Stroman's direction. In general, observers say regional audiences are not aware if the tours coming to their town are Equity or non-Equity. In many resident theatre communities, such as Chicago, "Equity" does not equal "professional." Non-union and union work are routinely reviewed as part of a rich, whole community in some U.S. cities.
The 40-week national tour of The Music Man begins is Des Moines, IA, Oct. 2. Equity is asking for a public boycott and planning protests in various cities along the tour route. Equity said its sister unions, SAG (Screen Actors' Guild) and AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) have "lent their support."
Equity points out that in recent years non-Equity tours have begun to compete with Equity tours in major markets. "While non-Equity tours are hardly unknown quantities on the road, they are usually shows likes Annie or Cats that have played major cities for several years under Equity contracts," according to the Aug. 13 Equity statement about the Music Man tour.
The apparent future concern is that producers of national tours will immediately go the less costly non-Equity route — ultimately, denying work to union actors — despite productions' roots as Equity Broadway shows.
There is talk in the New York theatre community that Big League Theatricals will send out a non-Equity national tour of the Tony Award-winning revival of 42nd Street in the next year. Big League is the non-Equity producing arm of Dodger Theatricals, which mounted both The Music Man and 42nd Street.
"In response to needs of the touring market, Equity recently granted concessions for the upcoming national tours of Guys and Dolls and Seussical," according to an Equity statement. "Big League has rejected similar terms."
Equity expressed concern that "greedy producers" are engaging in "exploitation" of "inexperienced [non-Equity] actors" who will be paid low salaries and per diems with "inadequate health benefits and no pension." Equity says ticket prices for the touring Music Man will be a top of $50.
A non-Equity tour of Ragtime begins this fall, with the participation of its original creative team, but Equity is not asking for boycotts or protests, apparently because the musical had a full Equity life in its various incarnations: in Toronto, in spinoff productions in the West Coast, on Broadway and in its post-Broadway tour.