Firing off another volley in the Les Miserables skirmish, producer Cameron Mackintosh wrote a letter to Variety's editor, responding to coverage of his decision to terminate most of the current cast of Broadway's Les Miserables. In his letter, Mackintosh calls for changes in Actors' Equity contracts to make them more like agreements in London.
Here are excerpts from Mackintosh's missive. published in the issue dated Nov. 11-17:
"The root of all this unnecessary unpleasantness is, I am afraid, the archaic application of a chorus contract to the modern musical, which American Equity continually refuses to discuss. British Equity got rid of the chorus contract in the early `70's and also banished the manager's right to have an artist for "run of the play," considering 12 months for a play and 15 months for a musical quite long enough for any artist to be tied contractually to one show. We hve only one performer's contract in London, which covers principals, chorus and stage management.
"Les Miserables was conceived as an ensemble piece at the Royal Shakespeare Company. In America, all but three of the company are considered chorus and, consequently, are able to give us four weeks' notice at any time and never be asked to leave except through the just-cause buyout that Equity suggested I pursue when we met in September.
"In England, we are able to change at least half the cast once a year and properly rehearse the show en bloc for four weeks rather than putting them in in dribs and drabs. Hit musicals that run many years are extraordinarily rare, and yet every year many new talents emerge who are mostly Equity members and who deserve the opportunity of appearing [sic] in these exceptional shows. "The days of the anonymous chorus are long gone except for the odd revival. Whenever anyone puts a show together, you try to get the best talent available for every part. There should no longer be first and second-class artistic citizens. The current cast of Les Miserables in New York have been in the show for many years and have worked really hard, but...for most actors it is impossible to sustain the freshness of any role once they have been in a show for more than a year or two unless they have a decent break doing other work. I often have alumni back, as long as they are still right for the role." "In England, the contracts are geared toward the actor as an artist, in America they seem to be geared toward the actor as a commodity. I hope that in the end, as well as my getting Les Miserables Into the 21st century, this furor will get American Equity into the 21st century." For more background on the Les Miserables squabble between Mackintosh and Actor's Equity, please see the Playbill On-Line story, "Equity Meeting on Les Miz: Contracts Delayed, Eisenberg Backed."