Producers to return coin as B’way bounces back

Paybacks voluntary; negotiations didn't require return of salaries or royalties

NEW YORK — As Broadway B.O. rebounds, several producers are ready to return some or all of the coin they saved, thanks to labor concessions granted seven endangered Broadway musicals.

At a Tuesday meeting, producers and general managers met with the fact-finding committee made up of union and guild execs. On the table were paybacks on the 25% salary cuts taken by actors and below-the-line employees on “Chicago,” “The Full Monty,” “Kiss Me, Kate,” “Les Miserables,” “The Music Man,” “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Rent.” Also discussed was the 100% waiver on royalties due above-the-line talent such as writers, composers, directors and choreographers.

The four-week concession period began Sept. 24 and ends Sunday. The pending paybacks are voluntary on the part of the producers. When the unions and guilds negotiated the concessions during the week of Sept. 17-23, they did not require that producers return any salaries or royalties if their respective shows should break even or make a profit.

Several productions appear to have done just that.

According to union sources, the producers of “Chicago,” “The Full Monty” and “Rent” will return all labor salary concessions as well as all royalties waived. Cameron Mackintosh, producer of “Les Miserables” and “The Phantom of the Opera,” reportedly has agreed to pay back at least 50% of the concessions, if not more. “The Music Man,” which operates at a high $500,000 nut, will not return any monies.

“Barring any unforeseen tragedies, we plan to pay back 100% of amounts waived,” “Rent” producer Kevin McCollum commented. “If there is this crisis again, perhaps we now have the mechanism and trust with the unions and guilds to enter into an agreement quickly.”

McCollum added that when the concessions were originally negotiated, he and other producers initially wanted “deeper cuts with a payback provision should business improve.” The “Rent” producer refused to discuss other shows’ payback plans. “Each production has its own financial situation,” he said.

In a written statement, “Chicago” producers Barry and Fran Weissler commented, “The producers have been encouraged by the public support, and hopefully it will continue through the difficult winter months.” The “Chicago” company will be apprised of the returned concessions this Sunday.

Barbara Hauptman, executive director of the Society for Stage Directors & Choreographers, attended the Tuesday meeting and said ticket sales during January and February were of “major concern, especially if the tourist business does not return to the city.”

Several producers had commented that while B.O. remained high, an unusually significant number of ticket sales were same-day and that several shows’ advances had declined.

Of the seven endangered shows, “Kiss Me, Kate” has had the most unusual financial situation vis-a-vis its cast and company. Prior to Sept. 11, the show had posted a closing notice for Dec. 30. To stay open in the wake of the terrorist attacks, the musical needed a 50% reduction in union salaries.

When the union execs agreed only to the standard 25%, the company took another 25% of its salary for two weeks and purchased tickets that were donated to Broadway Cares for distribution among police, firemen and rescue workers. According to Chris Boneau, a spokesman for “Kiss Me, Kate,” those monies cannot be returned. However, the first two weeks of the 25% labor concessions will be paid back and weeks three and four were never deducted.

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