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Theater unions negotiating

Producer, stagehand talks to last some time

Negotiations have begun between the League of American Theaters and Producers and stagehands’ union Local One. But even though the existing work contract expired at the end of July, don’t expect talks to be over anytime soon.

The previous two rounds of renegotiation between the groups, which occurred at about the same time of year in 1999 and 2004, dragged on till around Thanksgiving.

The industry is braced for a rough patch. It’s said the League has amassed a fund of $20 million to sustain productions in the event of a work stoppage, while the stagehands have their own fund and a back-up plan for finding work in other media for their Broadway membership (which makes up between 350 and 500 of its workforce of 2,200).

So far, talks have been characterized as “frank and businesslike” by a rep for Local One.

“We expect negotiations to be complex,” says Charlotte St. Martin, prexy of the League.

The contract is a complicated one, hammered out in multiple rounds of give-and-take over the years. Producers wish to change rules governing manpower and work hours they consider costly and outmoded, while stagehands want to hold on to requirements they believe protect their livelihoods in an uncertain industry.

The Rialto, of course, has logged strong box office numbers over the past few years, with the 2006-07 season tallying a record $938.5 million.

But those on the side of the League claim such big bucks don’t often make their way into producers’ pockets, citing a one-in-five recoupment rate and the growing time it takes on average for productions to make their money back.

Stagehands argue in return that there are plenty of areas for flexibility, including in the relationship between theater owners and independent producers, two groups who are part of the League. Stagehands feel they should not be the only ones expected to compromise in the face of escalating production costs.

Negotiations will continue after Labor Day, with the clock ticking down to the holidays. A work stoppage then, if it happens, could paralyze the Rialto in its most profitable season.

The West Side has been going global lately.

A commercial production of “West Side Story,” which has played two stints in Germany and toured Asia, is gearing up to play four weeks at Paris’ Theatre du Chatelet beginning Nov. 20. The show — directed by Joey McKneely, choreographer of “The Boy From Oz” and the Public’s “Wild Party” — also will visit Vienna, Zurich, and two cities in Germany before a stint at Sadler’s Wells in London in the summer of 2008.

It probably won’t make it to Broadway, however. That claim has been staked by a brewing “West Side Story” production from the Nederlander org and “Rent” and “In the Heights” duo Kevin McCollum and Jeffrey Seller.

The Stateside “West Side” will be helmed by book writer Arthur Laurents, fresh off his well-received Encores! production of “Gypsy,” starring Patti LuPone. Word is the production likely wouldn’t make it to the Rialto before the 2008-09 season.

 

Bolstered by strong reviews, “Xanadu” is taking its skates on the road, and possibly to London.

Producer Rob Ahrens says the national tour will kick off the subscription season at the Curran Theater in San Francisco in August 2008. A West End incarnation also is aiming to roll forth next year.

Capitalized between $4 million and $5 million, the musical, an adaptation of the famous 1980 movie flop updated with a cheeky new book by Douglas Carter Beane, was branded a stinker before previews began. But the show won over most critics, and box office has been steadily climbing since the July 10 opening, with sales tallying $356,752 and audience at 90% capacity for the week ending Aug. 5.

Encouraged by advance sales, Ahrens is optimistic “Xanadu” will continue to rise even into September, one of the slowest months on the Rialto. “Of course, we haven’t gotten to September yet,” he says. “But from a numerical point of view, the initial story looks good.”

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