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‘Fame’ casts sliding scale

Demands of tuner test prod'n pockets

NEW YORK — No fewer than 24 actors will appear onstage when the musical “Fame” comes to the Little Shubert Theater this fall. Yes, the Little Shubert.

A cast of two dozen is standard size for a Broadway musical, but economically prohibitive for one playing a 499-seater. How can “Fame” make the numbers work Off Broadway, where 10 people onstage is considered pushing it?

“Fame” producer Richard Martini has negotiated a “lower, sliding scale” with the thesp union.

“We’re bringing a Broadway show into an Off Broadway theater,” explained Martini, who also produced the “Fame” road tour, which ran from 1998 to 2001 in North America. An actor’s current weekly minimum in a 499-seat theater is $808. “With this size cast, we couldn’t make the economics work at that (salary), and pay benefits.”

On the plus side for the union, the “Fame” deal translates into employment for many of Equity’s members. “And depending on our grosses, the actors can end up making above the minimum,” said Martini, referring to the sliding-scale part of the equation.

Down in the pit, the show’s orchestra of eight musicians also is about double the average number for an Off Broadway musical. Martini is talking to Musicians Local 802 about a deal there. The standard Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees scale for stagehands, however, will remain in place.

In the past few seasons, most Off Broadway tuners have bit the economic dust, with shows like “Bat Boy,” “The Last Five Years” and “Reefer Madness” having lost all or most of their capitalization.

NBC tie-in

In addition to union concessions, the upcoming Gotham production of “Fame” has at least one other big plus. The NBC talent show of the same name gives the title new currency, as well as a major promotional hook: In true showbiz tradition, the winner of the telecast “Fame” will be offered a role in the Off Broadway show — at a salary to be determined.

Based on the 1980 film about students at Gotham’s High School of the Performing Arts, “Fame” had its world premiere at Florida’s Coconut Grove Playhouse in 1988. It has never been staged in Gotham, although a production is playing in London.

Creatives on the project are book writer Jose Fernandez, composer Steve Margoshes and lyricist Jacques Levy.

Martini put the capitalization of the New York production at $1.5 million. “And that includes the sets and costumes,” the producer said. When he closed the North American tour two years ago, Martini put everything in storage in Ann Arbor, Mich. “I always hoped the show would come home to New York,” he said.

Martini is producing with Alan Spivak and the Dodgers. Previews begin Oct. 7, with opening night to be announced.

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