Five Points musical ‘Paradise Square’ closes amid financial lawsuits

BY KEITH J. KELLY | Financial difficulties and declining audience numbers have forced the award-winning musical “Paradise Square” – set in the infamous Five Points neighborhood of downtown Manhattan during the Civil War era – to close the July 17.

The show is facing two lawsuits alleging the production failed to pay nearly $350,000 in wages, pensions and health benefits to two unions.

The big-budget musical with a cast of 40 in recent weeks has struggled to fill the Barrymore Theater, despite a short sales boost after being nominated for 10 Tony Awards and Joaquin Kalukango winning Best Actress in A musical. She also wowed the crowd during the CBS Tony Awards live broadcast, during which she sang the show’s best song, “Let It Burn,” to a standing ovation.

Kalukango portrays Nelly O’Brien, the black saloon keeper who maintains the Paradise Square saloon as a vibrant refugee after her husband, a Union Army officer, is killed in action. The short-lived utopia where famine-era Irish immigrants lived, worked and loved side by side with freed blacks and runaway slaves was shattered by the Draft Riots that rocked New York in 1863 – but Nelly protects her tavern in a standoff with the rioters.

The actors and designers could have used some of Nelly’s moxy in their real-life struggles with the play’s backers.

And the two lawsuits filed so far may just be the start of the show’s legal troubles, according to The Hollywood Reporter, which broke news of two pending lawsuits last week, shortly before the show was due. does not reveal its closure.

United Scenic Artists USA Local 829, which represents some of the designers, sued two weeks ago, saying it owed just under $157,000 for unpaid wages and pension benefits.

Actors Equity filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court in May, just a month after the show’s Broadway debut, and the production agreed to pay $413,000 to settle the benefits of unpaid health and pensions.

But in a second lawsuit filed two weeks ago, the union said the show defaulted and still owed about $190,000.

The Hollywood Reporter said that in the week ending July 10, the show drew just 48% capacity.

The show was seen as producer Garth Drabinsky’s first big bid to stage a return to the world of live entertainment after his release from a 17-month stint in jail in Canada for fraud and forgery since running the company. listed live entertainment company. live.

The two lawsuits are apparently just the latest in a series of ongoing battles between the union and the show’s producers.

The Actors Equity union said it reached a settlement in late May for the show to pay $412,807 in unpaid pension and health benefits and paid $224,900 before defaulting, according to the lawsuit filed by Actors. Equity in the Supreme Court of the State of New York.

“Equity is exploring all available avenues to ensure that the cast and managers of ‘Paradise Square’ receive everything their contract guarantees,” the union told The Hollywood Reporter.

More recently, Actors Equity said it planned to put Drabinsky on a “Do Not Work” list. The union says ‘Pardise Square’ cast members did not receive direct deposit paychecks that were due last Thursday and were instead ordered to receive paper checks at the theater that night.

Although Drabinsky is the lead producer, the designers’ syndicate is only suing Paradise Square Broadway Limited Partnership and Bernard Abrams, chairman of the limited liability company, so far.

The designers’ union said it was awarded $156,986 in an arbitration award in June, but never received any part of the settlement.

According to the original arbitration award, if full payment – ​​which has now risen to $190,000 – is not received by December 1, the production rights held by the producers will be transferred to four of the top designers at the origin of the lawsuit: Allen Moyer, the set designer; Toni-Lesle James, the costume designer; Donald Holder, lighting designer; and Jon Weston, the sound designer.

Carl Mulert, president of the Designers Union, told The Hollywood Reporter, “Since opening, the producers of ‘Paradise Square’ have touted the incredible work of designers, artists and professionals on and off the Barrymore stage. Yet before announcing the end of production, the producers had known for months that they owed the designers and assistant designers who built the world of “Paradise Square” thousands and thousands in unpaid wages and benefits. . Now that production is wrapping up, who’s stiff? Our members.

Drabinsky in an email to staffers last week said, “The art of producing is filled with endless choice, the appropriate decision made for the greater good. Compromise is a tool that often needs to be part of the process. Every production decision made on “Paradise Square” was to protect the show and run as long a run as possible for you all to enjoy.

“I fought the whole time for the company and the production that I believed in,” he continued. “I was your champion in the arena, valiantly fighting the fight to command the admiration of all who love musical theater and all who care for the hallowed institution of Broadway.”

But the latest Actors Equity email on Thursday said Drabinsky was “the sole person making all executive decisions.” Under the terms of Drabinsky’s parole, he was barred from being the chief executive of any live entertainment business. Actors Equity’s latest whistleblower claimed that the company’s producers “withheld benefits and wages from many company members and created an unsafe, toxic and often hostile work environment.” When presented with these concerns on the part of the company, this person [Drabinsky] was continually dismissive, defensive and often abusive.