2003 marked by tiffs, turmoil onstage and off
It’s the time of year usually associated with brotherly love and good cheer, even on Broadway, as tourists throng theaters, grosses climb and those fabulously inflated New Year’s Eve ticket prices loom.But there’s not likely to be a lot of kissing under the mistletoe this season, at least in legit circles. The fact is, it’s been an unusually acrimonious year on the Great White Way, and players are more likely to be licking their wounds than burying hatchets. The year more or less began with a threatened strike, and ended with the theater’s most popular playwright locking horns with a beloved TV icon. In between, there were all sorts of headline-grabbing examples of nasty behavior. Overall, there was a lot more drama offstage than on this year. Herewith, a recap of the bigger dramas:
- The name-calling kicked off with the spectacle of the musicians showing the producers how to be showmen. Accusing producers of wanting to gut orchestras, musicians pulled out all the stops for a PR campaign that put them in prime position when it came time tonegotiate. Shubert topper Gerald Schoenfeld believes the campaign succeeded in smearing the producers. Referring to the sticking point in negotiations — the minimum number of musicians to be hired at each theater — Schoenfeld says: “The union was able to characterize Broadway as eliminating live music. It was hardly the case, but it was an effective public relationships campaign.”
- The industry was rocked when longtime William Morris legit topper George Lane abruptly defected to Creative Artists Agency. William Morris hired two uber-agents, Peter Franklin and Jack Tantleff, both with deep connections to the musical theater. The client jockeying between the two tenpercenteries was livelier than most of the dramas on Broadway this fall.
- Over the summer, “Little Shop of Horrors” canceled its August opening and axed much of its cast as well as its director. But things really heated up in the fall, as one Broadway show after another opened to slaughterhouse reviews — or, in one case, didn’t open at all.
- Grabbing most of the headlines was Rosie O’Donnell. While the neophyte Broadway producer’s “Taboo” was in previews, she was in court with her former publishing company. As opening night neared, word spread that the director’s job was in jeopardy, and a new choreographer was brought on board. Other reports involved O’Donnell’s run-in with star Raul Esparza. And once the show opened, to dismal reviews, O’Donnell ceremoniously gave critics the finger (no, two fingers). Oddly enough, for all her bark, Rosie has so far failed to fire anybody associated with “Taboo.” She did, however, mention her admiration for David Merrick.
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