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Posted December 8, 2005

Equity on the Strip: Work Weeks Soar in Las Vegas

Council Approves New Casino Contracts for

AVENUE Q, HAIRSPRAY, MAMMA MIA! THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

It’s been dubbed “Broadway West” or “Broadway on Ritalin.” Either way, the lights of the Great White Way are shining on the Vegas strip, and that is great news for Equity Actors and Stage Managers. Fueled by long-running shows and new imports, work- weeks under the Casino Contract have soared, going from 2200 workweeks in 2003-2004, to 5400 work weeks in 2004-2005 (a/o 5/29/05). With the recently opened production of AVENUE Q, and upcoming productions of HAIRSPRAY, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (2006) and MONTY PYTHON’S SPAMALOT (2007), that figure will undoubtedly reach a jackpot of 10,000 workweeks.

Recognizing the importance of the burgeoning Las Vegas scene (and Atlantic City, on a smaller scale), the Council promulgated its first Casino Contract in 2001 and renewed the contract again in 2003. The latest contract took effect retroactively on May 30, 2005, and runs through May 27, 2007. Salary minimums are tiered, based on the number of seats in the theatre (from 300 to 1800, and 1800+) and the performance configuration: 8 performances per week for full-length productions, or 10 performances for “tab” 90-minute versions. Producers are required to pay a premium for additional performances, and are also required to provide free housing for out-of-town performers.

On July 19, 2005, the Council appointed a special Casino Contract negotiating team, chaired by Western Regional Vice President Doug Carfrae, consisting of two Principals, two Chorus and two Stage Managers and three members of the Production Contract Committee. Equity’s Western Regional Director, John Holly, served as Chief Negotiator; assisted by Eastern Regional Director Carol Waaser and Senior Business Representative Ken Greenwood. Negotiations took place in Los Angeles from September 12 – 16 with producers’ representatives from the long-running MAMMA MIA! and WE WILL ROCK YOU, as well as upcoming productions of HAIRSPRAY and PHANTOM. Due to the time element, the Council approved a contract for AVENUE Q on July 7, based on the recommendations of the Casino Contract Committee (Q started previews on August 27th at Steve Wynn’s Broadway Theatre).

According to Holly, Equity had several goals: to raise salaries and achieve higher health rates, while recognizing the modality of the casino-hotel-theatre relationship. “Producing in Las Vegas has different considerations,” he said. “The hotel and/or casino operator, not the producer, is really in the drivers’ seat.” Holly noted that the team achieved salary increases of 4% per year; and health rates of $167 of $183 (including Supplemental Workers Comp) in year one and two, retroactive to May 30, 2005. In exchange, Equity allowed the producers increased flexibility in publicity, to allow them to generate word-of-mouth and take advantage of short-notice media opportunities.

Tab Versions
The key difference between the Casino Contract and other Equity agreements is the ten-show, tab option. The show must be performed in 90 minutes or less, presumably encouraging patrons to get back to the casino.

Opinions – both artistic and financial - about a truncated version of a Broadway musical are wide-ranging. AVENUE Q is performing a full-length, two-hour version (with intermission) and has added a 9th and 10th performance (the show is double-cast, and features original Broadway stars Rick Lyon and John Tartaglia). MAMMA MIA! which opened on February 3, 2003, clocks in at 2 hours/30 minutes seven times a week at the Mandalay Bay Theatre. WE WILL ROCK YOU, the QUEEN songbook musical, opened on August 16, 2004 at the Paris Las Vegas as a 120-minute show, but shaved 30 minutes off the running time as it wound down, closing on November 27th.

Harvey Fierstein and Dick Latessa

Harvey Fierstein and Dick Latessa
Photo by Paul Kolnik

HAIRSPRAY will be spritzed up and slimmed down to a 90-minute, ten-show version for its Vegas debut at the Luxor Hotel, starting previews on February 6, 2006. Harvey Fierstein and Dick Latessa and are set to reprise their Tony-Award winning roles as Edna and Wilbur Turnblad.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, to become the longest running musical on Broadway on January 9, 2006, will be retuned in a new, 90-minute version by Director Hal Prince and Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. The newly conceived PHANTOM will boast a cast of 36, with spectacular series of state-of-the-art special effects, including an onstage lake and an exploding replica of the Paris Opera House chandelier. The blockbuster opens in the spring of 2006 as a “permanent theatrical installation” at the Venetian Resort Hotel and Casino.

MONTY PYTHON'S SPAMALOT is will take up residence at a Wynn custom-built venue in 2007.





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