Broadway waits out talks

Shows still dark as negotiations resume

The two sides in Broadway’s crippling labor dispute went back to the table Sunday morning for the first time since talks broke off suddenly last week between striking stagehands union Local One and the League of American Theaters and Producers.

By late Sunday, optimistic rumors about the end of the two-week-old work stoppage were making the rounds on the Rialto, but no developments had been confirmed.

Twenty-six Broadway productions remained dark throughout the Thanksgiving weekend, one of Broadway’s most lucrative frames. Tuner “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical” managed to evade the shutdown, reopening Friday after the show’s producers took the owners of the “Grinch” venue to court last week.

Local One has been on strike since Nov. 10 after several weeks of tense contract renegotiations and brinkmanship with Broadway producers. An agreement was believed to have been within reach last weekend, when Local One and the League were joined by Thomas Short, head of umbrella union the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, and Disney labor exec Robert W. Johnson in an attempt to broker a deal.

But producers walked out of those talks after two long days of meetings and canceled all perfs affected by the strike through Sunday. League did not officially agree to the most recent meeting until Saturday.

As has been the case throughout the negotiations, the central sticking point remains contractual hiring requirements for the load-in and running of Broadway productions. The issue of running requirements was said to be the stumbling block in last week’s bargaining.

Meanwhile, “Grinch” took advantage of holiday crowds over the weekend, although it was unclear exactly how long perfs would continue. An appeal by theater owner Jujamcyn Theaters was tabled last week until Tuesday.

Due to an unusually heavy performance schedule, “Grinch” has a separate agreement with Local One, and therefore, producers argued in court, should not have been darkened by the strike. But league member Jujamcyn owns the “Grinch” theater and initially would not allow union members to return to work after the picket line was removed from the production.

On Wednesday, New York Supreme Court Justice Helen Freedman granted “Grinch” producers an injunction against Jujamcyn, allowing the show to return to Broadway’s St. James Theater.

The resurrection of “Grinch” brought the tally of performing Broadway shows up to nine — but only temporarily. The Manhattan Theater Club production of “Mauritius” played the final perf of its limited run Sunday as skedded.

Even with the strong family draw of “Grinch,” box office cume for the week will be greatly diminished compared with prior years. In 2006, the Thanksgiving frame brought in more than $23 million in Rialto ticket sales.

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