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April 27, 2004

Non-Equity Shows, Drab Lineup Hurt Series

By Jan Sjostrom, Palm Beach Daily News Arts Editor Friday, March 26, 2004

Another season, another Broadway series announced.

On deck for the 2004-05 Broadway in Palm Beach series are: Oklahoma!, The King & I featuring Sandy Duncan, Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance, Oliver!, Chicago and a non-subscription special, Cats. Pardon my yawn.

Not one is a straight play, probably because of the expiration of supplier Clear Channel Entertainment's lease on the Royal Poinciana Playhouse in October and the dearth of touring plays in a market dominated by big halls and big-budget musicals.

A Clear Channel spokesman said the loss of the playhouse doesn't mean the series will never include a straight play again, but it's difficult to imagine many plays, which generally don't work well in large halls, coming to the 2,200-seat Kravis. It may be a long time before we get another Wit, Art or Proof.

Of the six productions, only Chicago has played on Broadway. Some might say it's misleading to refer to them as a "Broadway" series.

Aside from Chicago, the productions were created to tour. That doesn't always mean they're not as good as what you'd see in New York, but it usually does. Sets, costumes and other trappings generally are less polished and direction less sure-handed.

The new season also continues the disturbing trend toward non-Equity productions - shows using non-union actors.

Three of the shows are non-Equity, and a fourth, Lord of the Dance, has no actors, so doesn't qualify.

Why should this matter?

Let's set aside the question of whether non-Equity performers are inadequately reimbursed, overworked and taking work away from Equity performers - complaints Actors' Equity Association steadily makes - and look at the issue from the audience's point of view. Typically, Actors' Equity members are more experienced and better performers than those without union cards.

The Clear Channel spokesman said that the expense of touring shows has grown so steep that many wouldn't tour at all if not for non-Equity productions. That doesn't bode well for the future.

Another problem is that the season is full of old shows. There are newer shows touring, notably Movin' Out and Urinetown: The Musical, but they're not coming to the Kravis.

The Palm Beach series usually is less adventuresome than those the company presents in Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach. The audience is more conservative, and smaller, making it riskier for Clear Channel to program newer material.

The shows are old in another way, too. Cats has been to the Kravis twice, in 1993 and 1999. The King & I visited the center in 1998, and Chicago in 1999.

Broadway series shows don't cost as much as seats on the real Broadway. Single-ticket prices this season ranged between $31 and $80. But they're not cheap either.

Theaters nationwide are lamenting the decline at the box office. Clear Channel doesn't seem to realize that programming inferior product is likely to thin what audience there is.

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