'Grinch' open for Thanksgiving

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NEW YORK -- There is joy in Whoville. "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" will open its doors Thanksgiving weekend.

The announcement came Wednesday after a quick legal battle in which the show's producer sued the owner of the theater for refusing to allow the musical to resume performances during the ongoing Broadway stagehands' strike.

The producer, James Sanna, reached a deal Sunday night with James J. Claffey Jr., president of Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, to remove the picket line in front of the St. James Theatre, one of 27 houses that have been closed by the strike. Sanna, who is not a member of the League of American Theatres and Producers, has a separate contract with Local One. But the St. James, where "Grinch" is running, is owned by the Jujamcyn Amusement Corp., a league member.

After word leaked Monday morning that "Grinch" would reopen, Paul Libin, producing director of Jujamcyn, issued a statement that afternoon saying the show "would not reopen until the union signs agreements and ends the strike at all theaters."

It was then that Sanna decided to sue, which he announced at a news conference at the Hilton Theatre, a nonleague venue unaffected by the strike. "We appreciate that Local One has recognized our pre-existing agreement and has lifted the strike on 'The Grinch' in spite of their differences with the league," Sanna said. "We are going to court to seek an injunction to require Jujamcyn to open the doors."

An injunction was filed and a hearing was held in state Supreme Court in Manhattan on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Judge Helen E. Freedman granted the injunction and the show will resume performances on Friday at 11 a.m. A spokeswoman for Libin did not return a call seeking comment, and league spokesman Alan Cohen said the organization of theater owners and producers also would have no comment.

In another legal development, the Nederlander Producing Co., owner of nine of the theatres struck, filed suit against the stagehands' union in U.S. District Court on Tuesday. Claiming the strike against its theaters is illegal, the company is seeking $35 million in damages. The producers of seven shows in Nederlander theaters have joined in the suit.

The Nederlander company is a member of the league but has a separate agreement with Local One. The company did notify the union that it would lock out the stagehands if the other league theaters were struck. However, the stagehands included Nederlander theaters in their walkout.

The stagehands' contract with the league expired July 31. Producers and theater owners want to change the rules that require them to hire a fixed number of stagehands for fixed amounts of time regardless of the amount of work to be done. Local One has said that reducing the minimums would result in wage cuts and job losses. Before the strike, the league declared an impasse and implemented some new rules unilaterally.

The two sides returned to the table Nov. 17 and 18, but talks broke down for the third time in five weeks, and all 27 shows affected have been canceled through the week of Thanksgiving, traditionally the second most lucrative of the Broadway season. Local One offered to return to the negotiating table Sunday and, as of press time, the league was still considering the offer, Cohen said.

As for Local One relenting for "Grinch," a producer and league member who requested anonymity said, "Why should this show be given special treatment? 'Cyrano' is a limited engagement. 'The Seafarer' is a limited engagement."

"Because of the unique nature of this limited engagement, particularly its inability to extend beyond the holiday season, Local One supports 'The Grinch' in its efforts to open its doors," Claffey said. "Our members are ready and willing to go back to work at the St. James."

Asked why the union struck 'Grinch' at all, Local One spokesman Bruce Cohen said, "We had instructions to strike Nederlander, Jujamcyn and Shubert theatres. After the recent round of negotiations, we came to the conclusion that producers of 'The Grinch' are not part of the $20 million fund used to attack the stagehands. They did not implement horrendous work rules when they could have."

The league has a $20 million strike fund, but Sanna said he and his partners were not receiving any money from it. He said his losses so far were significant, but he did not provide details.

Andrew Salomon is news editor at Back Stage.
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