More details have emerged about the active Paradise Square lawsuit, including a story about a non-binary crew member who permanently severed their pinky finger in an accident during a rehearsal for the show's pre-Broadway run.
The new Broadway musical, which closed July 17, is currently facing legal action filed by Equity and United Scenic Artists Local USA 829 seeking to collect nearly $350,000 in benefit contributions, wages, and payments owed to both unions and their members cumulatively—the result of a letter sent to the union collectively by the production's actors and stage managers, citing "outstanding payments and benefits, and a continued pattern of abuse and neglect that created an unsafe and toxic work environment." Read the full letter here.
Additionally, Actors' Equity has added the show's producer Garth Drabinsky to its "Do Not Work" list at the request of the production's actors and stage managers, rendering Drabinsky unable to hire members of Actors' Equity, effectively ending his ability to produce on Broadway and at many major theatrical venues across the country, many of which operate under contracts requiring the use of Equity performers.
Variety has also documented a string of accusations made against Drabinsky and the production. The outlet quoted former production stage manager Karyn Meek. “The show was never correctly budgeted. In my opinion, Garth felt by cutting back on labor, he could do the show more cheaply. But all that did was put more pressure on everyone else to make up for his failings. In my opinion, we had to do things in a speed and manner that were not healthy or safe.” Meek resigned due to concerns about wages.
Another commentator, Scott Mallalieu, who is suing the production for unpaid wages and a broken contract, shared that he was aware of Drabinsky's reputation, but accepted the position as he considered it "a great opportunity to expand his knowledge over a period and to be involved in a production that we hoped would run for a long time on the Great White Way." Drabinsky's attorney called Mallalieu's accusations "overly zealous."
Additionally, a non-binary crew member reportedly fell while climbing a ladder on set during rehearsals for the show's run at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, severing their pinky. The appendage could not be reattached, and the person received a "modest" payout. The victim later recalled that the incident was, in part, due to "how emotionally and physically unsafe that entire process was," adding that stage management was regularly yelled at by Drabinsky when communicating with one another.
The article also details the work history of general manager Jeffrey Chrzczon, who had previously been added to Equity's “Do Not Work” list due to unpaid debts related to Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard's 2018 Christmas show. However, because Chrzczon had been a producer on that production, the restriction did not apply to his work as an employee on Paradise Square.
"His optimism for how much it would cost to put on a show, and his desire to get the show on Broadway, outweighed the pragmatism of how much it was going to cost," Aiken told Variety in an interview, adding that he saw the Paradise Square closing as a repeat of his own situation.
Variety further reports that "Drabinsky stressed that the actors have received their salaries, which are bonded, and said the production has already consented to judgments for the other expenses."
This legal drama is not the first for Drabinsky. The Tony-winning Ragtime and Show Boat producer was convicted of fraud and forgery in 2009 following the dissolution of his production company Livent. Paradise Square marked Drabinsky's first Broadway outing since being granted parole and released from prison in 2014. Equity had put a stop work order on the production earlier this year following contract disputes, a move that lasted only one day.
Paradise Square, which opened April 3, was directed by Moisés Kaufman with choreography by Tony winner Bill T. Jones. It takes place during the Civil War and tells the rich story of Irish immigrants and Black Americans fighting for a similar cause. Star Joaquina Kalukango won a 2022 Tony Award for her performance in the work.
A national tour is reportedly in the works, eyeing the 2023-2024 season, along with a number of international productions. It remains unclear if Drabinsky's troubles could jeopardize those plans; Actors' Equity does not have jurisdiction over international productions.
Paradise Square was conceived by Black 47 frontman Larry Kirwan. Christina Anderson, Craig Lucas, and Kirwan penned the musical's book to a score with music by Jason Howland, lyrics by Nathan Tysen and Masi Asare, and additional music by Kirwan.
The production also had staging by Alex Sanchez; music supervision, direction, and orchestrations by Howland; scenic design by Allen Moyer; costume design by Toni-Leslie James; lighting design by Donald Holder; sound design by Jon Weston; and projection design by Wendall K. Harrington.