In rehearsal one minute, layoff the next: the fate of the Broadway “hall”
Two weeks into Broadway rehearsals for “Room,” a show about a mother held captive with her young son, the first act had stalled completely. Tickets were on sale. Critics had been invited.
There were 18 days until the first preview performance, and on Thursday the cast continued to work on Act II. But then, inside the 42nd Street rehearsal studio, a senior producer gathered members of the cast and crew to announce that a shortfall meant the show would be postponed indefinitely.
“It got quiet,” said Michael Genet, one of the show’s cast.
The rolling of the machines on Broadway had stopped. Producer Hunter Arnold told those in attendance – including the star, Tony-winning actress Adrienne Warren – that an attempt to save the show through dozens of phone calls to potential investors had failed.
“I said, quite honestly, it’s the most painful thing I’ve ever had to do in my professional life,” Arnold said in an interview on Friday. “We had spent the past few days doing everything in our power to try to save something that we believe was truly beautiful, and we failed.”
Genet, who has performed on Broadway since 1989, said he had experienced a lot of turmoil in the industry: A musical he was in, “Lestat,” closed in 2006 after 39 performances.
“But I had never had the mat taken out in the middle of a rehearsal,” he said.
‘Room’, adapted from a novel by Emma Donoghue, which later turned it into a film starring Brie Larson, was gearing up for its Broadway debut after its London premiere in 2017 and staging productions in Ireland, Scotland and Canada. Directed by Cora Bissett, the production, which was also set to feature Ephraim Sykes and Kate Burton, was due to begin performances on April 3 and run through mid-September.
Arnold, whose current shows include “Some Like It Hot” and “Leopoldstadt,” told the cast and crew – and soon after, the audience – that a senior producer had decided not to fulfill his obligations to the production” for personal reasons. .
In an interview Friday, Nathan Gehan, producer and general manager of Broadway, said he had decided to withdraw his production company, ShowTown Productions, from being general partner of “Room” due to a family crisis. As general partner, Gehan’s company assumed financial responsibility for the show, along with Arnold and the British producers who had helmed the show since its overseas debut, Sam Julyan and James Yeoburn.
Gehan said he planned to continue raising funds and doing production work “on the ground” despite announcing his intention to step down as a general partner on March 7. He said he believed his company had enough financial commitments to “maintain our end of the bargain.” But in the days that followed, Gehan said, he and his producing partner, Jamison Scott, were kicked out of the deal. process by the other producers; they learned about the postponement along with the rest of the audience.
“Having to go through a rehearsal and having nothing to show is just heartbreaking,” he said.
The issue was seeking to raise up to $7 million in total, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
In a statement, Arnold said the outgoing producer had provided the remaining producers with a list of “interested parties” in regards to fundraising, but that “it quickly became apparent that the list was neither viable nor enough to bridge the economic gap that we were”. oriented.” They reached out to more than 200 contacts looking for potential investors, Arnold said, but couldn’t find the support they needed.
“We are still dealing with this turn of events and as it continues, we cannot speak to every statement made by Mr. Gehan,” he said. “Suffice to say, we don’t entirely agree with his version of events.”
The story told in “Room” is particularly gritty and moving, following a mother (played by Warren) who was kidnapped as a teenager and has lived in a room for seven years, raising a child she has worn after being raped by her. abductor. Warren seemed respond to news about the show with a broken heart emoji on Twitter.
The two child actors who play the young boy, Christopher Woodley and Aiden Mekhi Sierra – both anticipating their Broadway debuts – were told the series was postponed after their parents arrived, Genet said. In the rehearsal room, some people cried and others hugged, but the conversation quickly turned to ways to get the show back on track.
“People were jumping on the calls to see who could help,” said Justin Ellington, the sound designer, who had prepared to show the director the music and lines for the first act on Thursday. “I didn’t feel like people were like, ‘Oh, I’m missing out on all this money’ – that wasn’t the point. What I felt and heard in the space was tied to the piece and told this story.
Still, actors who had signed on for more than five months of work were suddenly looking at empty schedules. Arnold said he assured them they would receive their paychecks for the work they did, although he warned that the checks could take a few days to clear as they were from an account at the Signature Bank, which was recently seized by regulators as part of a larger banking crisis.
A spokesperson for the Actors’ Equity union said it was working to ensure the production adhered to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. Arnold added in a statement that company union members would be “fully compensated under the terms of their contracts.” Basic Broadway contracts for actors and stage managers include a stipulation that if a show is interrupted, workers must be paid for the remainder of the rehearsal period, plus at least two additional weeks.
In his statement, Arnold said he was “committed to creating comparable compensation conditions” for non-union employees.
Even as cast and crew members held out hope for a new investor to swoop in, the bubble of excitement around staging a new show with a major Broadway star had been burst.
“I’m just going to do my taxes, I guess?” Ellington said. “I really didn’t think that far.”