B'way talks to resume as Disney lends a hand


Negotiators for the stagehands union and the League of American Theatres and Producers will resume contract talks this weekend and, according to several theater sources, Disney has helped nudge the two sides together.

Disney Theatricals is not part of the league and has a separate contract with the union, Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. As a result, its production of "Mary Poppins" at the New Amsterdam Theatre continues to run.

However, Disney's two other Broadway shows have been temporarily shut down: "The Lion King" and "The Little Mermaid" (which was in previews when the strike began Nov. 10). Each show runs at a theater owned by the Nederlander Organization (the Minskoff and Lunt-Fontanne, respectively), which locked out Local One when stagehands walked off the job. Like Disney, the Nederlanders are not members of the league.

"(Disney officials) have a lot at stake," said a source who is not involved in the negotiations. "The theatrical division is such that like any show, with any producer, their income is very dependent on ticket sales week-to-week."

In other words, a long-running show such as "The Lion King" needs the walk-up tourist trade much more than a show with a large advance sale, such as "Young Frankenstein," which had sold more than $30 million worth of tickets before opening, according to several published reports. ("Young Frankenstein" is unaffected by the strike, because it is playing at the Hilton Theatre, a non-league venue.)

"Lion King" could be in danger of closing without the large crowds normally associated with the holiday tourist season. Further, Disney is counting on "The Little Mermaid," scheduled to open Dec. 6, to be its next Broadway hit. It is playing at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, where "Beauty and the Beast" ran for more than half of its 5,461 performances.

A spokesman for Disney Theatricals did not return a call seeking comment.

Earlier in the day, officials for the league and Local One announced they would resume negotiations this weekend "at an undisclosed place and time." The contract between the union and the league expired July 31. Talks broke down Thursday, and the stagehands went on strike two days later.

Andrew Salomon is news editor at Back Stage.