NEW YORK – The drama was on the streets and not on stage for disappointed theatergoers as striking stagehands picketed behind barricades in the Times Square area.
From "Wicked" to "The Phantom of the Opera," from "Mamma Mia!" to "Rent," most shows did not go on Saturday as Broadway stagehands walked off the job, shutting down more than two dozen plays and musicals.
The Local One union had no official comment on the walkout and no new negotiations have been scheduled with the League of American Theatres and Producers. So the outlook for a quick settlement looks murky.
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The two sides have been in contentious negotiations for more than three months. Much of their disagreements involve work rules and staffing requirements, particularly rules governing the expensive process of loading in and setting up a show. The producers want more flexibility in hiring; the stagehands don't want to give up what they say are hard-won benefits without something in return.
"We must remain committed to achieving a fair contract," Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the league, said. "Our goal is simple: to pay for workers we need and for work that is actually performed."
City officials said Saturday that it was too early to estimate the economic impact of the strike. Mayor Michael Bloomberg expressed disappointment that the two sides couldn't settle their differences without a strike, but reiterated, "The city continues to stand ready to help in any way we can."
The work stoppage first affected "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical," a holiday attraction for families that had an early 11 a.m. matinee.
School counselor Vicki Michel, with teacher husband Pat, came to New York from their home in Puyallup, Wash., for a weekend of Broadway shows. The three shows they intended to see were all canceled: "Grinch," "Hairspray" and "Mamma Mia!" They managed to nab tickets to "Young Frankenstein" (which was not affected by the walkout) and the "Radio City Christmas Spectacular," and were headed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Saturday instead of the "Grinch."
Outside the Gershwin Theatre where "Wicked" plays, Wanda Antonetti, of DuBois, Pa., and her daughter, Sherry Antonetti, of Dover, Del., contemplated where to shop. They arrived Saturday morning to celebrate Wanda Antonetti's 70th birthday and did not know about the strike until they arrived at the theater. "We came a long way for lunch," Wanda Antonetti said.
Patrons will be able to get refunds for tickets to canceled shows or exchange the tickets for the next available date, the league said. At "Wicked," several received pamphlets for "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," which was playing next door and was open for business.
On West 52nd Street, where Tony Award-winning musicals "Jersey Boys" and "Hairspray" play on either side of the street, pickets stood behind police barricades as theatergoers received directions on how to get their refunds. The stagehands carried signs reading, "Our families are No. 1."