‘Contact’ colliding with union, guessers over category, music

Dance play confounding critics, score could cause problems

John Weidman and Susan Stroman’s “Contact,” currently sold out for the length of its run at the Mitzi Newhouse Theater, has spawned the most popular guessing games in town.

For starters, is the so-called “dance play” moving to a big Broadway house from its tiny Off Broadway venue? How does the musicians’ union, Local 802, view the show’s taped score of golden oldies? Will 802 upset a Broadway transfer?

And come Tony time, does “Contact” fit into the musical or play category?

Said Weidman, the show’s author and co-creator: “When Susan Stroman and I were designing ‘Contact,’ we did not give a thought to what kind of label we should put on it.”

Poster child

Producer Lincoln Center Theater calls it a “dance play,” but the moniker wasn’t coined until LCT got around to designing the show’s poster. “(Artistic director) Andre Bishop and (executive producer) Bernie Gersten asked us, ‘What do you want to call it?’ Well, no one comes down front and sings, so it’s not a musical. And it’s not a pure dance piece, it’s full of talking. It’s not a play, it’s filled with music and movement. ‘Dance play’ seemed closest.”

As to its possible Tony status, American Theater Wing prez Roy Somlyo said, “It’s a Tony administrative committee decision. Nothing like ‘Contact’ has been before the committee. It will be interesting to see how they’d view it.” But he added, “The matter will only be germane if ‘Contact’ plays in an eligible theater.”

Most biz watchers agree that “Contact” will transfer to qualify for the Tonys. The Neil Simon Theater has been mentioned as a possibility, if a couple of “ifs” play to the show’s advantage: if the Neil Simon’s current occupant, “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” closes in time, and if “Contact” doesn’t get into a battle with the Weidman/Stephen Sondheim musical “Wise Guys,” which has also been mentioned as a possibility for the space.

A spokesman for LCT had no comment.

Musical radar

There is also much speculation swirling around the concerns of musicians Local 802 over the show’s use of taped music, which includes everything from Tchaikovsky and Puccini to Robert Palmer and Dion.

William Moriarty, president of 802, hasn’t seen the show. But he said there is always union concern when recordings replace musicians.

“Did it get in (the Mitzi Newhouse Theater) under our radar? I think it did,” Moriarty said of the show. “I don’t like what ‘Contact’ is doing, but I’d like to know if it is an anomaly or if it will inspire other people to do this.”

Twyla Tharp’s 1980s dance piece “The Sinatra Tapes” provides something of a precedent for the use of recorded music in a show like “Contact.” Local 802 protested Tharp’s Broadway presentation, which used Frank Sinatra recordings. “But you have to be careful,” said Moriarty. “You don’t want to freeze these art forms in place. You can’t circle wagons around art forms.”

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