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Broadway hurries back to work

Shutdown could result in chilly winter box office

With the Broadway strike over as abruptly as it started, legiters scrambled to take the Rialto from zero to 60 after the work stoppage that darkened more than 25 productions for 19 days. And many expressed concerns that the Thanksgiving shutdown could potentially result in an unusually chilly January and February.

Productions instantly mobilized to get auds back into seats, with public and press events organized swiftly to keep the reopened Rialto in the news.

“This is a real P.T. Barnum moment for Broadway,” said Scott Sanders, producer of “The Color Purple.” “Everyone is figuring out how to get people to Broadway Thursday and Friday night.”

Six productions reskedded their opening nights — with Disney pushing back the Dec. 6 opening of its megatuner “The Little Mermaid” all the way to Jan. 10, due to the logistics of a technologically demanding show and the foolhardiness of trying to schedule press perfs during the holidays.

The TKTS booth midtown opened early to accommodate pre-strike level crowds, who, thanks to sales sapped by the protracted shutdown, had discounted access to better seat locations than usual.

And non-tuners, highly reliant on word-of-mouth momentum to drive sales, found themselves in an even tougher bind.

“It’s so hard for the straight plays,” said Jeffrey Richards, producer of “August: Osage County” and “The Homecoming,” along with musical “Spring Awakening.” “Both ‘August’ and ‘Homecoming’ were substantially sold during previews, but our advances have been slashed by close to two thirds during the strike.”

Usually a production’s marketing muscle is steered toward selling tickets during the traditionally fallow months of January and February. But as of Thursday shows were working overtime to attract instant auds.

Long-running revival “Chicago,” for instance, dangled a $40 gasoline gift card to bait audiences.

However, some in the industry worried the necessary push for a quick recovery might drain sales early in the New Year, given that the advertising focus usually reserved for that period has been shifted to help with post-strike bounceback.

“Now people have to put that energy into shoring up December,” said David Schrader, managing director and CFO of Disney Theatrical Prods.

“We need to hope now that people will still be buying into the winter — the Christmas gift buying,” said “A Chorus Line” producer John Breglio.

Despite the possibility of a grim winter, the overall mood on the Rialto was upbeat.

Both sides of the labor dispute, stagehands’ union Local One and and the League of American Theaters and Producers, seemed pleased by the compromise struck in the agreement, although union supporters came off as a bit more celebratory than management.

No details of the tentative deal, which still must be ratified by union membership next week, were released, although it’s said to include the reduction of the minimum number of stagehands required for set load-in to 17 employees (from 22), along with the extension from one hour to two of the “continuity call,” the period during which a stagehand may perform duties without requiring another four-hour shift.

It also was expected that, in the wake of the agreement, theater owners the Nederlander Org would not move forward with their earlier threat to sue Local One for damages of $35 million.

However, Actors’ Equity still planned to go through with its contractual grievance and arbitration procedures to obtain wages missed by thesps because of the strike.

Even before the start of office hours Thursday, publicists — who observed picket-line protocol and did not work during the strike — had kicked into high gear getting word out that Broadway was back to full-steam operations.

In a bid to alert the public that shows were back on the boards, the League of American Theaters and Producers announced a free concert today at noon at the Marriot Marquis, featuring Angela Lansbury, Bernadette Peters and cast members from every Broadway show.

News crews were invited to film the cast of “Chicago,” including “The Sopranos” alums Aida Turturro and Vincent Pastore, during an afternoon rehearsal before the return performance Thursday night; while the cast of “A Chorus Line” assembled in their gold finale costumes for a post-strike photo op in Times Square.

Stage door photo, interview and autograph opportunities also were announced with the cast of shows including “Jersey Boys,” “The Color Purple,” “Legally Blonde,” “Mamma Mia!” and “The Little Mermaid.” Rafiki did a special “We’re back!” chant from the stage door of Disney’s “The Lion King,” which missed its 10th anniversary perf on Broadway during the strike, while the cast of “Monty Python’s Spamalot” sang “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” accompanied by coconuts.

While box office behemoth “Wicked” is expected to be one of the fastest shows to bounce back after the work stoppage, Glinda’s opening line as she descends in a bubble, “It’s good to see me, isn’t it?,” provided a particularly appropriate soundbite for invited press during Thursday’s tech run-through.

Most legiters agreed it would take some time to see just how quickly Broadway would bounce back.

“It’s hard to tell so far,” said Bob Boyett, whose current Rialto credits include “The Seafarer,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “Spamalot” and “Is He Dead?” “I don’t think we’ll really know for two or three days at least.”

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