Tommy Tune won a major legal victory Tuesday when an arbitrator dismissed a novice producer’s claim that he’d breached an agreement to star in her production of a new Broadway musical.
The decision, coming nearly four years to the day after Tune signed on for the show, ends one of the more bizarre and drawn-out grievance proceedings Broadway has seen in years.
Prominent in the hearings that began May 26, 1992, were, on one side, theyoung producer, Kim Poster, and her highly regarded general manager, Peter Neufeld; and on the other side, ICM powerhouse agents Sam Cohn (who represents Tune) and Bridget Aschenberg. Adding to the controversy was a mysterious, unknown investor in the show who tried, unsuccessfully, to pass himself off as Aschenberg’s cousin.
Along the way, some of Broadway’s most powerful denizens — including the heads of the Shubert and Jujamcyn theater organizations — were called in to testify.
At the conclusion of Poster’s presentation last December, a letter from the arbitrator to the two sides suggested a leaning toward her side. In the end, however, Daniel G. Collins, a law professor who rules on disputes between the League of American Theaters & Producers and Actors’ Equity Assn., decided forcefully in favor of Tune.
At issue, according to a copy of the decision obtained by Daily Variety, was Poster’s claim that on Aug. 1, 1991, Tune broke a signed production contract to star in “Busker Alley,” a musical by A.J. Carothers and Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman based on the 1938 Charles Laughton movie “St. Martin’s Lane.”
That day, Cohn had informed Poster that Tune would not honor the contract because she’d failed to satisfy a key clause requiring her to come up with 60% of the show’s $ 4.5 million capitalization by that date, which was 10 months before its slated Broadway opening of May 1, 1992.
Cohn and ICM lawyer Victoria Traube claimed that one of Poster’s key investors, identified in the decision as “EA” and believed to be Eric Aschenberg , was unknown; moreover, they asserted that “EA” was a fraud who had several times previously claimed a relationship to Bridget Aschenberg.
As a result of their contention, Tune continued starring in a national tour of “Bye Bye Birdie.”
The right to produce “Busker Alley” has since reverted to the authors. Tune and director/choreographer Jeff Calhoun hope to stage “Busker Alley” under different auspices next fall.
The decision is particularly damaging to Poster, an entertainment attorney with connections in Hollywood and New York currently involved in several proposed film and theater projects. Collins ruled that reliable negative information about “EA””constituted a reasonable basis for insecurity on Tune’s part concerning Poster’s ability to realize the financing to which ‘EA’ had committed.”
Moreover, in the decision, which denies her breach-of-contract claim, Collins accuses Poster of giving “false assurance” to Cohn and Traube about the money “EA” had supposedly raised, essentially accusing her of lying to Tune and Cohn.
“I just don’t get it,” an obviously stunned Poster said. “I just don’t get how this industry can work.”
None of the other parties would comment. The case divided the theater community: Some insisted to the end that Poster was treated harshly and unfairly by an entrenched establishment unwelcoming to newcomers, especially women; others said Poster blew the chance to make her producing debut in a Tommy Tune vehicle.
“I feel sorry for Kim,” one person connected with “Busker Alley” said Tuesday. “She had numerous opportunities to make this dream come true. It was the opportunity of a lifetime.”
Reached at his home in Los Angeles, book writer Carothers expressed relief that “the air is clearing. It’s been frustrating to have things on the shelf so long. We hope it will now move forward with dispatch.”