NEW YORK — Kathleen Marshall made a remarkable announcement at the recent group-sales preview for “Wonderful Town.”
“I want to thank our producers for giving us 24 musicians,” the director-choreographer said.
Yes, that’s 10 more than the required minimum of 14 at the Hirschfeld Theater, where “Wonderful Town” opens Nov. 23. The minimum in that 1,437-seat house had been only 16 before last spring’s musicians strike.
Marshall’s munificent producers are Roger Berlind and — yes! — Fran and Barry Weissler.
But they aren’t alone. Despite musicians’ suspicion that producers would always employ the minimum number of musicians, a survey of this fall’s new tuners on Broadway shows “Wonderful Town” is no anomaly.
A band of six plays for “Avenue Q,” even though the new and old minimum at the Golden is only three.
Nineteen will be in the “Never Gonna Dance” pit, up four and seven, respectively, from the new and old numbers at the Broadhurst.
“Wicked” goes into the Gershwin with 24 musicians, the same as the old minimum and six more than the new. Those are the same stats for “The Boy From Oz” at the Imperial.
There are exceptions: “Taboo” sticks to the union requirement of nine at the Plymouth.
And “Little Shop of Horrors” exercised the “special situations” clause of the new contract, putting in 10 instead of 12 at the Virginia. Even so, that’s up six from the original Off Broadway orchestrations by composer Alan Menken.
“It pleases me that the shows are coming in at or above the old minimums,” says Local 802 prexy William Moriarity.
He gives his org some credit for the good news.
“The campaign we raised during negotiations has worked to bring forward the voice of the conductors, music directors and orchestrators,” Moriarity notes, “and they are having a greater say in these decisions.”
How long some of these musicals keep their above-minimum orchestras remains to be seen. The union prexy cautions that some musicians hired have been put on a “cut list,” meaning they could be let go on two weeks’ notice after performing for only 10 weeks.
THE BIG LEAGUES
Manhattan Theater Club’s newly renovated Biltmore Theater opens this season with a trio of productions, beginning with Richard Greenberg‘s “The Violet Hour.”
But does the new venue allow for the possibility of transfers from either of MTC’s Off Broadway spaces at City Center? And if a play at the Biltmore turns into a major hit, can the next production in line be bumped to another Broadway theater?
“We will create shows for the Biltmore, and if they have commercial possibility we will transfer them out of the Biltmore,” artistic director Lynn Meadow says.
She doesn’t expect to put a City Center entry into the Biltmore. “It would probably go from City Center to (another Broadway house) or Off Broadway,” she says.
Exec director Barry Grove points out that the Biltmore’s 650 seats make it commercially not viable. “If a show warrants an open-ended run,” he says, “then it belongs in a bigger space where it can sit for an extended period.”
What do commercial producers think of the increased nonprofit exposure on their turf?
“On one hand, I’m glad nonprofit theaters are thriving. Even I have capitalized on that situation,” says Roger Berlind, who joined with MTC to produce “Proof” on Broadway.
“On the other hand, they have an unfair advantage with LORT contracts, advertising breaks and the ability to sign actors for short periods of time. We need at least nine months. It creates a tremendous competitive problem.”
Daryl Roth partnered with MTC on “Proof” as well as “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife” when those shows went to Broadway.
“If MTC wants to transfer, they still have to put together commercial partners,” she says. The real competition, in her opinion, comes earlier.
“Finding the plays initially, that is true competition,” says Roth.
The producer had been in talks with Donald Margulies to possibly revive “Sight Unseen,” but the scribe ultimately went with MTC at the Biltmore for its first season.
Berlind and Roth have joined to give Nilo Cruz‘s “Anna in the Tropics” a commercial production on Broadway. It will not only be in competition with the Greenberg drama for theatergoers this fall but, possibly, the 2004 Tony for best play.
But as both Berlind and Roth point out, their “Anna” production started at the McCarter Theater, a nonprofit org.
Zachary Pincus-Roth contributed to this report.