Bullets over Broadway

Factions' frictions cause rift in union leadership

And then in the second week, cracks started to show.

After talks between striking stagehands and Broadway producers broke down unexpectedly Nov. 17, producers canceled the 27 productions shuttered by the Nov. 10 walkout at least through Thanksgiving weekend — and the closed ranks on either side of the dispute began to appear a little less close.

Behind-the-scenes chatter contends that the breakdown in negotiations was spurred by a rift in union leadership, with prexy of the Gotham chapter Local One, James J. Claffey, disagreeing with Thomas C. Short, head of umbrella union the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, about what repped an acceptable deal for Local One members. With negotiations approaching agreement on hiring requirements for load-in but further apart on the work rules for running a show, Short was ready to strike a deal, but Claffey refused to budge.

Then early last week, the public perception of producer unity took a blow when James Sanna of Running Subway, the producing org behind holiday tuner “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical,” announced he’d go to court against the management side of the labor dispute, the League of American Theaters and Producers, to get his show open.

“Grinch” producers aren’t members of the League, and the musical has a separate contract with the stagehands owing to its unusually heavy performance sked. But the show performs in the St. James, a house owned by League members Jujamcyn Theaters — so while Local One agreed to take down the picket line from the St. James sidewalk, the Jujamcyns, out of unity with the League, refused to allow the stagehands back in to work.

On Wednesday, however, New York Supreme Court Justice Helen Freedman granted Running Subway an injunction against the Jujamcyns, effectively allowing the tuner to return to the stage. “Grinch” producers made plans to hit the boards almost immediately, lining up an astonishing 11-perf weekend schedule beginning Friday morning.

Because the seasonal tuner was skedded for only a limited run, the producers argued that the lockout would irreparably damage their chances of recouping. They now seem to be looking to make up for lost time.

More strike-related legal strife came from the Nederlander Producing Company, owner of nine of the 27 Broadway theaters shuttered by the strike. The powerhouse org announced midweek it was suing Local One for $35 million in damages, claiming the strike against its theaters is illegal. Meanwhile, grumbling legiters juggled their skeds, with “The Little Mermaid” postponing its Dec. 6 opening and the limited engagement of “August: Osage County” extending its planned run by three weeks to make up for lost perfs.

Three of the four Rialto tuners selected before the strike to perform on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade (“Young Frankenstein,” “Xanadu,” “Mary Poppins”) were, coincidentally, unaffected by the shutdown. “Legally Blonde” made plans to perform on the parade broadcast in costumes other than the ones locked in the theater, and while inspired TV viewers couldn’t rush out to see “Blonde” onstage that weekend, they could watch it on MTV Thanksgiving night.

As for the contract negotiations: By midweek, there was speculation about talks resuming, but no definite plans, sending the Rialto into the normally lucrative Thanksgiving weekend braced for sales that would leave few shows feeling thankful.

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