Broadway Bustling Again After Stagehands Strike for 19 Days
At “Chicago,” the cast had to do a run-through because the new leading man and two other stars joining the show — Vincent Pastore and Aida Turturro, of “The Sopranos” — had never rehearsed together.
At “Hairspray,” George Wendt had to be fitted into an enormous squishy undergarment — a combination padded bra and fat suit. Wendt, who played the barfly Norm on “Cheers,” is appearing, in drag, as the fashion-challenged character once played by Harvey Fierstein.
At “Wicked,” the crew had to put water in the bubble-making contraption that carries the actress Annaleigh Ashford across the stage before her opening line, which took on multiple meanings: “It’s good to see me, isn’t it?”
So it was on Thursday night, on an unusual opening night on Broadway. After a stagehands’ strike that shut down all but eight Broadway theaters for 19 days, some shows raced the clock to get the curtain up. Others, like “Mamma Mia!”— which has made all those Abba songs a fixture at the Winter Garden Theater since 2001 — treated Thursday night like pretty much any other night.
But it was not any other night. Beneath the show-must-go-on euphoria that came with the end of the strike was a definite undercurrent of worry: How much damage had the strike done to Broadway?
The consensus was that it was too soon to say.
“I don’t know how long it will take to build back up, but I can tell you this: We’re sold out this weekend — there won’t be any seats,” said Barry Weissler, a producer of “Chicago.” “Maybe we can take these 19 days and make them past history. We did it after 9/11 and after the musicians’ strike. We can do it now.”
The accord ending the strike, the second on Broadway in five years and the longest since 1975, was reached Wednesday night, around the time the darkened shows usually let out. People who were involved in the negotiations said the producers won some flexibility on rules covering how many stagehands must work on a show, and when. In return, the stagehands won annual wage increases of up to 4.5 percent for five years.
But the timing of the settlement meant that the casts and crews of about 30 shows had less than 24 hours before curtain, and the pressure was on.
And getting a theater ready for a show after a three-week hiatus is like opening a dusty, neglected summer house after a long winter — if that summer house were full of complicated electronic equipment, moving floors and one-of-a-kind costumes.