'Paradise Square' faces new complaints over payments

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'Paradise Square' faces new complaints over payments
A scene from the Broadway musical “Paradise Square” at the Barrymore Theater in New York, March 14, 2022. The shuttered show is facing legal action from the actors, stage managers and designers who worked on the production. Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.

by Marc Tracy

NEW YORK, NY.- A union representing the director and choreographers who worked on the recently closed Broadway musical “Paradise Square” is asking a federal court to enforce an arbitration award that was agreed upon in May, according to a lawsuit filed late last month.

The Stage Directors and Choreographers Society asked the U.S. District Court in Manhattan to confirm and compel payment of nearly $150,000 that is owed to the union; the show’s director, Moisés Kaufman; the choreographer Bill T. Jones; and a few others who worked on the production.

The suit, filed July 22, said the production company still had not “satisfied its obligations under the award.”

The lawsuit names as defendants the limited partnership that produced “Paradise Square,” a musical set amid the racial strife of Civil War-era New York City, as well as Bernard Abrams, a producer who is a member of the Broadway League.

The show, however, has been most closely associated with producer Garth H. Drabinsky, who had a successful run as a theatrical impresario in the 1990s until he was charged with misconduct and fraud in the United States and in his native Canada, where he eventually served prison time.

Drabinsky had hoped that “Paradise Square,” which ran at the Ethel Barrymore Theater from mid-March until July 17, would be his comeback. The show originated a decade ago as a musical called “Hard Times,” written by Larry Kirwan of the band Black 47 and leaning on the music of Stephen Foster, who wrote “Oh! Susanna” among other American standards. Delayed two years because of the coronavirus pandemic, it made its way to Broadway after out-of-town productions in Berkeley, California, and Chicago. The show received 10 Tony nominations but took home only one award, for actress Joaquina Kalukango, whose performance was a signature of this year’s Tony Awards ceremony. The show struggled at the box office throughout its run, and it did not recover the $15 million for which it was capitalized.

Richard Roth, a lawyer for the “Paradise Square” partnership, said Monday, “My understanding is that everyone is going to be fully paid.”

Abrams did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

Through Roth — who pointed out that Drabinsky is not a member of the limited partnership — Drabinsky released a lengthy statement arguing that COVID-19 had proved an insurmountable roadblock to the show’s sales and finances. He added that bonds worth nearly $450,000 that were put up by the producers should cover most of what the actors were owed.

“Equity holds this bond security,” Drabinsky said, and “the lawsuits that have been filed by unions are simply to evidence the collection of amounts for which the partnership has previously consented. In this regard, I have never been a signing officer of the production, nor do I have any authority with respect to the signing of any bank instruments. Any delay in benefit payments was simply a function of available cash flow.”

The Hollywood Reporter first reported the existence of the legal filing Monday.

The unions representing actors and designers who appeared in or worked on the musical have also received arbitration awards for hundreds of thousands of dollars. In July, the United Scenic Artists’ local also went to federal court to seek confirmation and enforcement of its award. In the spring, the Actors’ Equity fund trustees went to court to enforce an arbitration award.

The unions have also placed Drabinsky on their “do not work” lists. The directors and choreographers union automatically placed the producers on a similar list until the outstanding arbitration award is paid, according to a union official.

The president of the local union of the American Federation of Musicians, Tino Gagliardi, said through a spokesperson that “Local 802 and the musicians’ benefit funds are taking every legal action needed to recover wages and benefits that are due to the musicians.”

Al Vincent Jr., executive director of Equity, added in an email statement that the dispute was not over, saying, “Our process of getting our members appropriately paid for ‘Paradise Square’ continues with a number of outstanding grievances moving into arbitration.”

Local 829, the scenic artists’ union, put Drabinsky on its “boycott list” because of “continued inaction and lack of communication regarding the significant payments and benefits,” said Carl Mulert, the local’s national business agent. “It is unfortunate that the legacy of this Broadway production, which includes the indelible contributions of our colleagues and kin on and off the stage, has been marred by a story of exploitation of and injustice for the many artists that have brought ‘Paradise Square’ to life.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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