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IATSE’s Local #1, the stagehands union, has followed the Theatrical Wardrobe Union Local 764 and formally retracted its initial objection to “The Spirit of Broadway” production, tentatively skedded to open at the Lyceum Theater in fall 2000.

In a letter dated Sept. 27, Local #1 president Edward McConway wrote to city-planning chairman Joseph B. Rose, “I had been misinformed about the context and scope of the project and led to believe that the Lyceum … would no longer be utilized as a venue for live performances. I had been told that the theater would be turned into something more akin to a museum or visitors’ center. I now know that ‘The Spirit of Broadway’ would be a live theatrical production that would offer to the public more than eight performances a week. This could supply jobs for members of Local #1 as well as the other Broadway trade unions.”

Actors Equity is reportedly also issuing a letter to the department of city planning that retracts or qualifies the thesp union’s initial objections to “The Spirit of Broadway,” which is being produced by a consortium including Richard Frankel, Steve Baruch, Marc Routh, David Singer and Tom Viertel.

Legitimacy at stake

According to several sources, the various unions’ original objections to the Lyceum project stemmed from a meeting on May 28 between the unions and chairman Gerald Schoenfeld of the Shubert Organization, which owns the Lyceum at 149 W. 45 St. Schoenfeld had claimed that “The Spirit of Broadway” would not be legitimate theater, thereby breaking an agreement with the city that linked the Lyceum’s future usage to the sale of its air rights. The Shuberts sold those air rights to Bertelsmann for the German media company’s new American headquarters on West 45th Street, and Bertelsmann has the option to purchase the Lyceum outright.

Even city planning’s involvement with the project has become embroiled in controversy. “Do we really want a government agency involved in determining what is legitimate theater and what is not?” asked one legit exec of the department’s impending assessment of the situation.

Bertelsmann buying in

The five “Spirit” producers are currently raising the projected $22 million dollars needed to stage “Spirit,” with Bertelsmann making a substantial investment. Although a Bertelsmann spokesman would not comment, many in the industry assume that the company is waiting to assess the potential success of “The Spirit of Broadway” before exercising its option to purchase the Lyceum from the Shuberts.

Producers of “The Spirit of Broadway” are expected to offer six performances daily of the hourlong show, which will carry a $25 top ticket price — about a third of Broadway’s current high. To insure such relatively cheap seats, the “Spirit” producers need cooperation from the unions, who could easily derail such a project.

Union jobs

The Assn. of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers had never formally expressed an opinion to the department of city planning regarding the “Spirit” production’s qualifications as legitimate theater. ATPAM’s prexy Maria Somma said, “We’ve taken the role of fact-finding, and are hearing from everybody.” However, at approximately 36 perfs a week, the show will require more union workers than an ordinary Broadway production. The big question remains, how many more?

“It’s anybody’s guess how many ATPAM publicists they would need,” said Somma. “I guess they would need at least two company managers and two house managers.” At present, one of each is required contractually for Broadway productions performing eight times a week.

Apparently, the “Spirit” production’s multi-shows-a-day sked would necessitate a totally new contract with all the unions.

William Moriarty, president of the Assn. of Musicians Local 802, disagreed: “I claim it is already covered. Our contract says that for eight shows a week you get paid x dollars. We are going to claim that applies whether your shows are 2-1/2 hours or 60 minutes long. Our position is that eight shows, under our contract, pays the base wages.” Obviously, wages for performances beyond the usual eight are very much up for negotiation.

“We have every intention of working out arrangements for employment of their members,” producer David Singer said of the unions. “We expect those negotiations to proceed shortly.”

Phone calls to Gerald Schoenfeld and Philip B. Rose were not returned.