Troublesome issues regarding non-Equity tours of Broadway shows keep popping up. You'll remember that Barry Williams (once known as Greg of TV's The Brady Bunch) created quite a brouhaha when he chose to star in a non-Equity Sound of Music last year. Though Williams maintained that he had already expressed his intention to resign from the union when he took the job, Equity fined him. Now, the union is promising similar sanctions against any of its members who would dare to go "scabbing" in Big League Theatricals' upcoming, non-Equity tour of The Music Man based on Susan Stroman's Broadway production of Meredith Willson's beloved musical.
According to a statement by Alan Eisenberg, executive director of Equity, "Big League Theatricals has rejected our offers for a contract and will produce the show with non-union actors. Consequently, the public will pay 'Broadway' prices for a non-professional production in which none of the actors has ever appeared on Broadway. To call this Music Man a 'Broadway National Tour' is a sham. A Broadway show would be exactly that--a BROADWAY show, using professional actors who earn a decent wage."
Non-equity tours of Broadway fare are not a new phenomenon. The difference, according to Equity, is that, in recent years, non-union tours have begun to "compete" with Equity tours in "major markets." Equity maintains that, in the past, non-union tours were normally confined to shows that had already played in big cities under Equity contracts for several years. In contrast, this non-Equity Music Man follows directly on the heels of the Broadway production, which opened at the Neil Simon Theatre in April 2000 starring Craig Bierko in the leading role of hustler Harold Hill and which has continued its run with, first, Eric McCormack and, now, Robert Sean Leonard succeeding Bierko.
Eisenberg complains that actors hired for the Music Man tour "will be paid very low salaries and per diems, with inadequate health benefits and no pension." He goes on to express the opinion that "young, inexperienced actors, eager to work, are ripe for exploitation by a greedy producer who will be charging as much as $50 per ticket on the road."
TheaterMania's phone calls to the Big League office elicited no comment on the controversy. The Music Man is set to open in Des Moines, Iowa, in October, and Equity is planning protests along the tour route. It seems clear that, this time around, trouble for Harold Hill and company will not be confined to River City.