Room for 'Chairs'?

NEW YORK – Are British actors hogging too many seats on Broadway? Actors’ Equity, supported at least in theory by a prominent American stage director, thinks so, and London’s acclaimed Royal Court/Theatre de Complicite production of Ionesco’s “The Chairs” is caught in the us-against-them contretemps.

Producers Bill Kenwright, Scott Rudin, Carole Shorenstein Hays and Stuart Thompson are eager to bring Simon McBurney’s smash London sell-out to Broadway this spring, along with original stars Geraldine McEwan and Richard Briers, but Equity isn’t so enthusiastic. “Chairs,” says Equity exec secretary Alan Eisenberg, “may be the latest example of (our) philosophy that says you have to start sending productions to the other side of the Atlantic as well as bringing them here.”

The quartet of producers disagree. “Instead of being congratulated for taking a risk,” Rudin says, “we’re being censored by Equity. To deny ‘The Chairs’ an opportunity to come here punishes nobody but the Broadway and theater communities.”

Equity’s kibosh on “The Chairs” came when it refused to grant Theatre de Complicite recognition as a “unit company.” The term refers to repertory organizations such as the Royal Shakespeare Co. and the British National Theater Union, and Equity rules demand that such companies perform at least two full productions in the U.S. for limited engagements of up to 20 weeks. That stipulation, however, rarely is invoked. British repertory companies such as the RSC or even Cheek-by-Jowl have typically been granted exceptions to the two-play rule, and in recent years Broadway has seen Ralph Fiennes in “Hamlet” and Diana Rigg in “Medea,” among other productions that Rudin calls “among the most exciting theater events of their seasons,” because Equity waived the rule.

So why no room for “The Chairs”? Equity officials are growing increasingly frustrated at the import-export ratio — more plays coming from, rather than going to, London — and are thought to be particularly exasperated at the little (if any) movement made by the League of American Theaters & Producers to establish a subsidy fund supporting the exporting of American productions.

Last week the industry was buzzing with speculation that the union had found an unlikely supporter in its opposition to the British invasion in Broadway’s Tony-winning director Gerald Gutierrez. When word circulated that the “Chairs” producers were eyeing, among other theaters, the Belasco, Gutierrez, the director of the upcoming Broadway play “Honour” starring Jane Alexander, is rumored to have made his feelings known.

Gutierrez says he does consider “the matter of immigration of great concern to all trade unions” and did contact Equity recently in reference to immigration policy, but he did so only in his capacity as an exec board member of the Society of Stage Directors & Choreographers union. “There’s a way of putting a spin on this that makes it look like a director with an agenda marching up to Equity,” Gutierrez says, “but that is not what happened at all.

“Absolutely never did I call up and say it was unfair about the fucking ‘Chairs.’ I have no opinion on ‘The Chairs.’ “

In any case, the Shubert Organization will go with Gutierrez’s “Honour” as the Belasco’s new tenant following the imminent departure of “Jackie.” (A transfer of the Atlantic Theater Co.’s upcoming Off Broadway production of “Beauty Queen of Leenane” actually was first in line for the Belasco, but that plan fell through when a potential commercial producer passed.)

As for “The Chairs,” Equity will rule on the producers’ appeal at a meeting Feb. 17. If a deal can be hashed out “Chairs” could end up at the Golden Theater, another Shubert house.

Competition for theaters, by the way, isn’t limited this year to plays. Now that “Side Show” is once again considering (at least at press time) resuming performances at the Richard Rodgers Theater this spring, the “Dreamgirls” revival will have to dance elsewhere.

Dan Klores, producer of “The Capeman,” has vowed not to give up the Marquis without a fight, and while the Neil Simon Theater loses “The King and I” Feb. 22, the Nederlander Organization is thought to be keen on landing a temporary tenant — the Roundabout Theater Co.’s “A View From the Bridge” has been mentioned — that would leave next fall when “Swan Lake” (yes, it’s British) comes in.

COMPLAINT DEPT.

Livent chairman Garth Drabinsky disputes a recent sourced item in this column indicat-ing that the widely reported $2.3 million first-day wrap for “Ragtime” included only $600,000 in actual hard-cash single ticket sales. Although he initially declined to specify how much of the $2.3 million Jan. 19 wrap was single-ticket sales (as opposed to group reservations) he now says the singles accounted for $964,800.

In a letter to Variety Drabinsky also proffers that “group sales figures are traditionally included in all reported daily wraps and rightly so.”

Tradition notwithstanding, Variety makes every effort to distinguish between group reservations and single sales for a number of reasons. For one thing, it makes no sense to com-pare one producer’s apples to another’s oranges: Disney’s first-day (and record-setting) wrap for “The Lion King” was $2.7 million in single ticket sales. That means no groups. Although other publications, which shall go unnamed, duly reported “Ragtime’s” close-second $2.3 million figure, the actual single sales tally (using Drabinsky’s $964,800) would put “Ragtime” no higher than the No. 3 spot on Broadway’s record books (Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” wrapped $1.2 million in one-day single sales).

What’s the difference between singles and groups? Groups can cancel their reservations at any time (just ask producers of “The Capeman”); singles are money in the bank. Group reservations also can be accumulated over a period of time, then put on the books in one big bulk. Single sales are recorded the day of, and so more accurately reflect public interest following favorable reviews, Tony nominations, etc.

So congratulations to “Ragtime,” “Lion King” and all of Broadway’s wrappers. Live long and prosper.

And more congrats: Lyricist Tim Rice both wrote and phoned to express his dismay that Variety’s recent special supplement on the 10th anniversary of “The Phantom of the Opera” made no mention of lyricist Charles Hart.

“So I say congratulations to Charles Hart for his magnificent words to ‘Phantom of the Opera,’ ” writes Rice. “This great show would not have been such a success without lyrics.” Indeed.

IN & OUT

Josephine Beddoe, a fixture of the London theater scene and former general manager of the Royal Court Theater, has taken over the managing director’s job at Off Broadway’s New York Theater Workshop. Beddoe steps into the spot vacated by the NYTW’s longtime managing director Nancy Kassak Diekman, who left the post last summer.

Meanwhile, David Esbjornson has announced his resignation after six years as artistic director of Off Broadway’s Classic Stage Co. He’ll pursue “new career goals” and the CSC will pursue a new leader.

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