Broadway producers sue strikers

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Several Broadway producers sued striking stagehands for $35 million and a New York judge on Wednesday separately ordered a theater to allow “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical” to reopen.

Producers of nine shows sued members of Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and its president James Claffey Jr. in Manhattan federal court seeking to recover damages for lost revenues.

The League of American Theaters and Producers has said the strike that has darkened some 25 productions since November 10 is costing a total of about $17 million for every day it lasts.

The producers in the lawsuit, which was filed late on Tuesday, are part of the long-running shows “Wicked,” “Hairspray,” “The Drowsy Chaperone,” “Rent,” and “The Lion King” and newer shows “Grease,” “Legally Blonde,” “Cyrano De Bergerac” and “The Little Mermaid.”

The producers said in the lawsuit that to date their nine shows have lost $35 million in gross revenues from ticket sales, concessions, merchandise and other related items.

The strike follows three months of negotiations which bogged down over a new set of work rules for stagehands and the specific duties they perform. Producers have complained that they now have to pay for long stretches of idle time.

Talks between owners and producers and striking stagehands broke down late on Sunday, keeping some 25 productions dark until at least November 25.

But the producer of “The Grinch,” who is not a member of the League, and a union spokesman said the stagehands wanted the special limited engagement holiday show to go on at the St. James Theater so he could avoid financial ruin.

However, the theater’s owner halted the production, scheduled to run from November 1 to January 6., saying it would not reopen until the stagehands signed a new contract and returned to work on all Broadway productions.

But State Court Justice Helen Freedman said on Wednesday that “the show must go on” after the musical’s producers filed for an injunction against the theater, seeking to force the theater to open.

“I think that one Grinch in this city is enough,” Freedman told a packed courtroom following a lengthy hearing. Children who are part of the cast filled the front row of the courtroom and shrieked with joy as she announced her ruling.

“The interests of the public are overwhelming. For the sake of our city, I’m granting an injunction,” Freedman said.

The last strike to hit Broadway was in 2003 when musicians walked out for four days. Before that it had been nearly two decades since Broadway was affected by a labor dispute.

Editing by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Cynthia Osterman