NEW YORK – Theatergoers lined up for tickets Thursday as Broadway returned to business following a crippling 19-day strike that cost producers and the city millions of dollars.
Tickets sold at a discounted $26.50 in a special promotion as people lined up for the musical "Chicago."
"I never thought I'd have the opportunity to see a Broadway show! And the price is right," said Susie Biamonte as she waited for tickets. The play was re-opening with a new cast -- Aida Turturro and Vincent Pastore of "Sopranos" fame.
The stagehands and theater producers reached a tentative agreement late Wednesday, ending a strike that kept more than two dozen shows dark for nearly three weeks. The strike took an economic bite out of New York, with businesses like restaurants, stores, hotels -- even hot dog vendors -- losing an estimated $2 million a day.
But Biamonte and her friends from Canada said they'd help fix the damage during their weekend in the city.
"We're going to make sure they'll be successful again, because we'll leave money behind," Rosemary Girardo said as the "Chicago" line moved ahead.
The end of the dispute was a big relief for playwright Tracy Letts, whose critically acclaimed play "August: Osage County" was to have opened on Nov. 20. It is now scheduled to open in previews Thursday night.
"I'm delighted. I'm ecstatic!" he said as he headed for a rehearsal with actor Jeff Perry. "We felt so vulnerable."
Perry said the walkout allowed him to spend time with family and friends over the Thanksgiving holiday. But then, "There was that dead pit of your stomach feeling of, 'Don't tell me this play will never be seen by a wider audience."'
Most plays and musicals that were shut during the walkout, which began Nov. 10, were expected to be up and running Thursday evening.
"The contract is a good compromise that serves our industry," said Charlotte St. Martin, the League of American Theatres and Producers' executive director. "What is most important is that Broadway's lights will once again shine brightly, with a diversity of productions that will delight all theatergoers during this holiday time."
Local 1 President James J. Claffey Jr. was equally effusive in signing off on the agreement, saying, "The people of Broadway are looking forward to returning to work, giving the theatergoing public the joy of Broadway, the greatest entertainment in the world."
Details of the five-year contract, which must be approved by the union membership, were not disclosed.
But negotiations, which began last summer, were difficult, right up to the last day, as both sides struggled with what apparently was the final hang-up: wages. It concerned how much to pay stagehands in return for a reduction in what the producers say were onerous work rules that required them to hire more stagehands than are needed.
Until then, the talks had focused on how many stagehands are required to open a Broadway show and keep it running. That means moving scenery, lights, sound systems and props into the theater; installing the set and making sure it works; and keeping everything functioning well for the life of the production.
The strike couldn't have happened at a worse time for Broadway. Such popular shows as "Wicked," "Jersey Boys," "Mamma Mia!" and "The Lion King" were shut during the lucrative Thanksgiving holiday week. It's normally one of the best times of the year for Broadway, when the city is filled with tourists and Christmas shoppers.
City Comptroller William Thompson estimated the economic impact of the strike at $2 million a day, based on survey data that include theatergoers' total spending on tickets, dining and shopping. The league put the damage even higher.
Eight shows remained open during the strike (their theaters had separate contracts with Local 1), and they were joined by a ninth when "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" got a court order to let it reopen.
The end of the walkout means a scramble for new opening nights for several shows that were in previews when the strike hit. They include Aaron Sorkin's "The Farnsworth Invention" and an adaptation of a long-lost Mark Twain comedy, "Is He Dead?"
Disney's "The Little Mermaid" already has announced it would push back its scheduled Dec. 6 opening -- with a new date still to be set.
"We hope everyone's satisfied ... the atmosphere around our stage door was: We tried to remain positive," Tituss Burgess, who portrays Sebastian the crab in the lavish musical, told New York 1 TV. "We're just happy to be going back to work."
Alecia Parker, executive producer of "Chicago," said that she wasn't worried theatergoers might not come back to Broadway.
"I think people have been very disappointed to have Broadway dark," Parker told the television station. "I think we'll see an outpouring of support from the community."
Parker said rehearsals were planned Thursday to get the cast back up to speed, but she anticipated few problems. "You can imagine the adrenaline for coming back after 19 days," she said.
Broadway's last strike occurred in 2003 when musicians staged a four-day walkout. The musicians also struck in 1975, shutting musicals but not plays for 25 days.