Roberts landed on the front page of New York tabloids and on network news Jan. 27 with reports that he was staging a sick-out to protest Minnelli's repeated flubs in the show. She took over the title role(s) from vacationing Julie Andrews until Feb. 4.
Playbill On-Line checked with Helaine Feldman, spokesperson for Actors' Equity Association, the actors' union. She said that no complaint has been lodged by the show's producers against Roberts, which means the whole thing is currently a non-issue. "By contract he's allowed 10 sick days," Feldman said. "If he isn't sick, nobody is saying otherwise, and the Union knows nothing about it. For anything to happen, a complaint would have to be lodged. At that point, there might be a hearing, disciplinary action..."
Such actions seem highly unlikely because producer Tony Adams then told Playbill On-Line, "The timing is coincidental, but it's really a flu. He did the Wednesday (Jan. 22) matinee but was out in the evening. Eight people have been out; they've been dropping like flies. Greg Jbara just finished a movie, another actor had a hamstring pull, another one was throwing up between scenes."
But what about Minnelli's performance? "We had press in the house throughout the weekend watching. Sure, she went up on a couple of lines, but yesterday (Jan. 26) was the end of three weeks in the show -- that's how long most performers get in previews! And she's been phenomenally reliable, she's been doing a tremendous amount of press stuff, and the mood backstage is terrific." "It's all so laughable," Adams continued, "because if there ever was a pro who's been through everything, it's Tony. He's a consummate professional, so for him to do something over this...?"
Adams said that Roberts, who spent Sunday in the Hamptons watching the Super Bowl ("like any red-blooded American male") will return to Vic/Vic on Tuesday. He said Julie Andrews will return from her Switzerland vacation tomorrow (Jan. 28) in preparation for resuming the role of Victoria Feb. 4.
In other V/V news, the producers are preparing a national tour to begin in August 1997, but as of yet no cast members (Andrews won't be in it) have been selected.
Minnelli held an impromptu press conference Jan. 26 outside the Marquis Theatre to deny the New York Post report.
The story wound up competing with the Super Bowl on New York area TV news broadcasts. Quoting unnamed sources, the Post story said Roberts, 57, threw a "hissy fit" because of Minnelli's alleged inability to deliver her lines consistently, and is calling in "sick" until his original star in the role, Julie Andrews, returns on Feb. 4.
Initially, Roberts, who has starred on Broadway in Promises, Promises, Sugar and Don't Drink the Water, was unavailable for comment, but Minnelli told reporters waiting for her at the Marquis stage door at Sunday's matinee that Roberts "Two days ago stuck his head in the dressing room door and said 'this is the most exciting time I've every had in a musical' -- and there are lots of people who witnessed that."
Richard B. Schull, a supporting actor in the show, told CBS-TV news, "The whole cast gets along."
In a follow-up story, Jan. 27, the Post quoted producer Tony Adams as saying that Roberts may have changed his mind about taking a few days off: "Even if I'm on my deathbed, I'd better come back on Tuesday -- or the Post will have another front-page story about it." An unnamed cast member also told the Post that Minnelli and Roberts had "made up."
The Post story said, with unnamed attribution, that Roberts began his sick-out after Minnelli changed a line at the Jan. 23 matinee. Her line is "I'm a second-rate hoofer," but instead reportedly said, "I'm a second rate hooker." (Producer Adams later told Playbill On-Line that Roberts would, indeed, be back on Tuesday. See below)
Asked about such goofs, Adams told the Post, "She's only been in the show for two weeks, so of course, there are going to be lines flubbed."
Folks hoping to catch Liza's final week in Vic/Vic will have their best luck on Wednesday matinees. "Some tickets are available," said Tony Adams, "for most performances except weekend I believe. And Wednesday mats are a little soft."
Minnelli, 50, took over the role of Victoria Grant from Andrews Jan. 7. Reports that she skipped some rehearsals and was having a generally rocky time settling into the role have been almost daily fodder for New York tabloids.
Want to read what other Playbill On-Line members think of the controversy? Want to write your opinion? See Playbill Poll: Your Take on the Liza Controversey in Theatre News.