Who the furkus is Burton Turkus?

Burton Turkus was an attorney, an author, and most influentially to our industry, an arbitrator.

Waaaay back in the days of the original Promises, Promises, in April of 1963 to be exact, Mr. Turkus presided over an arbitration between, well, just about every theatrical union, and the then named, League of New York Theatres.

Here’s what went down 50 years ago . . .

There was a 13-day strike in 1960 known as the “Broadway Blackout” which was the result of the failure of Actors’ Equity and The League to come to terms on a new agreement.  The biggest outstanding issue?  The creation of a brand new pension fund for the Actors.

The Actors got their pension fund as a result of the walkout.  As part of the agreement, they graciously agreed to help The League lobby the City of New York for the removal of the 5% Admissions Tax that was levied on all theater tickets at the time.

The theory was . . . if they could get rid of this 5% tax, they could use that 5% to pay pensions to all the unions.  The league would be happy because they wouldn’t be paying any more than they already were.  And the unions would be happy, too, because they would all get pensions.  Happy-happy, joy-joy!

Well, it wasn’t so easy.

The two sides were successful in getting the City to do away with the tax on tickets (!) . . . but there was a disagreement in how much of that 5% should go to AEA, and, consequently, how much of the remaining amounts should be distributed to the other eight unions involved.

Make sense?

Simplified:  The 5% tax went away.  So they had a pot of 5%.  But how to whack it up?

Enter the esteemed Mr. Turkus, who, in the “Burton Turkus Award of 1963” (as it is affectionately referred), created a system for determining who got what.

First, the actual net “tax relief” that we ended up with after the repeal was a net of 4.5%, not 5%, or “the 045” (as it is also affectionately referred).

Next, in order to distribute the funds accordingly, BT examined the books of Broadway shows to determine what percentage of gross payrolls was attributed to the actors, what was attributed to the musicians, the stagehands, and so on.  These percentages make up the guts of the “Award”.

A complex chart was created which awarded different percentages of “the 045” to the various unions, depending on a few factors, like whether it was a play or a musical, and even how many musicians a show had.

Confused yet?

Let me use a specific example, using modern day numbers:

A production grosses $1,000,000 for a week.

4.5% or .045 of $1,000,000 is $45,000.

$45,000 is then allocated towards the pension of our various unions.

In a musical with over 16 musicians, The BT Award allocates Actors’ Equity 50% of the $45,000 or $22,500.  Local One gets 15% or $6,750.  Local 751, the Treasurers, got 1.88% or $846.00 and so on, until the entire $45,000 is distributed.

This happens every week on Broadway to this day!

Now, IF on your show, your 045 monies don’t pay for pension that you are responsible for, you still have to make up the difference (if the Treasurers actual pension on the salaries was supposed to be $1000, then you got billed another $154).  The .045 only contributes towards the pension due, but it doesn’t necessarily cover all of the pension due.

Why is this history lesson relevant?

The wise Mr. Turkus, who ended one of the most bitter disputes our industry has seen, and is known as a hero in certain circles, created this chart using the payroll allocation formulas that were in front of him at the time . . . that are now almost 50 years old.

Back then, the Actors made up the bulk of the payroll, which is why they got the bulk of the 045.  Things have shifted just a teensy bit over the years, and salaries for some of the other unions have increased dramatically . . . which has thrown the whole 045 off its axis.

It’s very common now that the amount due to Actors’ Equity greatly exceeds that amount that is actually due.  So you could “overpay” by thousands of dollars . . . and the 045 ain’t a Discover card.  There’s no cash back.

At the same time, shows can often have a “deficiency” to Local 1, meaning that their 045 contribution fails to pay for the entire pension due, which then means that the show has to make up the difference.

So, while you’re overpaying to one union, you’re underpaying to another, and you cannot apply the overpayment from one to the other.  You gotta make good on the underpayment, and the overpayment stays with the union.  (I remember Show Boat having a million-dollar overage at one time!)

Now, Actors’ Equity, recognized the issue over the years and created opportunities for Producers to use their “overages” on National Tours of a show after they play on Broadway .  They’ve even used that overage for a reduction to their health payments at one time.

And that’s all good . . . but I don’t think it’s enough.

I’ve got another idea.

It’s time for a Burton Turkus, Jr. to come in, toss out the archaic old formulas and come up with something new.  And maybe this one can also handle the annuities that shows also pay to the unions.

I know, I know, the unions that are getting the overages aren’t going to take to this very well.  (I think my phone has started ringing already)  Why would they?  I wouldn’t want to . . .

But it is the right thing to do.

With all due respect to the great Mr. T, the 045 has to be readjusted, reconfigured, or simply trashed sooner or later.  These aren’t the days of  the original Promises, Promises anymore.  Our economics are vastly different now, and we can’t rely on economic formulas designed in the days when a brand new Ford Mustang cost $2,495.

Mr. Turkus deserves to be in the Broadway Hall of Fame.  But his Award needs to be retired.

If you would like to read the actual Burton Turkus decision from 1963 (it’s quite fascinating) and see the percentage distribution charts, click here.

Fun on a Friday: A Broadway ‘promise’ to Lebron James.

Give it up for the great gals at Promises, Promises (and the marketing team pulling their strings) who sang the little ditty below to try and convince LeBron James to wear Knick orange next year.

While their sweet harmonies didn’t do much in the campaign to woo Lebron, they did manage to get a bunch of attention, including a write-up on the NY Times website.

There are a couple things to learn from this fun video, besides the fact that New Yorkers are actually nice:

  1. Nothing is more valuable than an enthusiastic cast that will go above and beyond to help promote your show.
  2. Mixing two subjects that don’t usually belong together (Chorus Girls in a 1960s Broadway Musical and one of the greatest basketball players to ever play the game) is inherently interesting and funny and spreads faster than a cold in kindergarten.
  3. If you look a little deeper on the Promises, Promises YouTube Channel, you’ll see that this wasn’t the Voices’ first vixeny video.  It was just the first one that got real attention.  But they didn’t give up when the first one didn’t go viral.  They kept going and going and going, until something hit.  Huh. Sounds like a good motto for marketing . . . and everything.

Thanks for the lesson, ladies.

Now, in the next video, keep the wigs, costumes and heels on, and head to the outdoor courts on West 4th Street and join a pick-up game.  I’d love to see that.  I bet a lot of folks would pay to see that!

The Tony Awards beat me to this blog.

The theme of this year’s Tony Awards opening number was the current overwhelming number of songs on Broadway stages from the popular musical canon.

Well, dangit, that’s what I was going to say!

But it’s more than just this year’s crop.  While leaving American Idiot a few weeks ago, I walked through Times Square and looked at all the marquees.  Connections to popular music are all over the Great White Way in one way or another.

Let’s look at all the book musicals (in alpha order) currently playing on Broadway and connect the popular dots:

A Little Night Music

Stephen Sondheim is not considered a “popular” composer, but ALNM features his only major pop hit “Send In The Clowns,” of the over 800 songs he has written.  It won a Grammy for ‘Song of the Year’ in 1976.

American Idiot

Composed by punk-rock super-group, Green Day, the album of the same title also won a Grammy for ‘Best Rock Album.’

Billy Elliot

Composed by rock superstar (and sometimes Rush Limbaugh supporter), Elton John, who has more Grammys than a retirement home.

Chicago

What do I have to say about this composing team?  How about this:  two words repeated.  “New York, New York.”  That popular enough for you?

Come Fly Away

Speaking of NY, NY, Come Fly Away is all pop tunes sung by pop legend, Frankie S.

Everyday Rapture

This bio musical uses pop tunes to tell some of its story.

Fela!

Fela Kuti’s tunes may not have been featured on morning radio in this country, but in his homeland, his pioneering sounds were all the popular rage.

Hair

The astrological tune, “The Age of Aquarius,” held the #1 spot on the charts for 6 weeks and is listed as the 57th Greatest Song of All Time according to Billboard.

In The Heights

I got nothing on this one, except for the obvious influence of pop music of the time on the score.  So far, that’s 8 out of 9 with a direct connection to the pop world.

Jersey Boys

A bio-musical about one of the most popular guy-groups ever, who sold more than 175 million records.

La Cage aux Folles

Not only did “I Am What I Am” rank on the charts, but Herman had a hit with “Hello Dolly” in 1964 when the Louis Armstrong recording knocked The Beatles out of the #1 spot!

Mamma Mia!

The gold-record standard of the jukebox musical still has ’em dancing in the aisles and grossed almost $800 million last week, almost 9 years after its opening.

Mary Poppins

The Sherman Bros have should get an award for having so many awards. Oscars, Grammys, Golden Globes, and more.  Their supercalifragilisticexpialidocious songs have been sung by the masses for years.

Memphis

David Bryan, the composer of Memphis is the keyboard player for a little known band called Bon Jovi.

Million Dollar Quartet

Some of the greatest classic rock tunes, and classic rock characters, are featured in this jukey musical.

Next to Normal

Outside of his musical theater work, Composer Tom Kitt is the founder of The Tom Kitt band, and his work on American Idiot led him to be hired by Green Day to provide arrangements for their latest album, 21st Century Breakdown.

Promises, Promises

Promises Composer Burt Bacharach has written 70 Top 40 hits in his lifetime, including “I Say A Little Prayer For You” and “A House Is Not A Home” which were both integrated into this revival.

Rock of Ages

Mamma Mia but with 80s tunes.

South Pacific

How many covers of songs can a composer/lyricist have?  R&H’s tunes were all over the place in their day, and are still used in pop culture today.

The Addams Family

Like In the Heights, there’s no real strong connection to the pop world here.  That makes 18 out of 20 with direct connections to the pop music world.

The Lion King

Another one by Sir Elton.

The Phantom of The Opera

Andrew Lloyd Webber is like a modern day R&H when it comes to his theater songs becoming standards.  Streisand, Manilow, and Mathis are just a few of the folks that have covered and scored hits with “Memory” alone.

West Side Story

Leonard Bernstein was successful in the popular idiom in another way . . . the classic way.  He grabbed a couple of handfuls of Grammys in his day, including one for Lifetime Achievement.  He wrote for the movies, for shows, for choruses, and more.  His stuff was everywhere.

Wicked

What Andrew Lloyd Webber is to the UK is what Stephen Schwartz is to America.  He is our most popular successful composer, with Grammys and Academy Awards and more, oh my.  “Day by Day” was a Top 40 hit, and he has even written songs for Five For Fighting.

There you have it.  24 musicals on Broadway and 22 of them with direct connections to the world of popular music.  Some looser than others, I’ll admit. And some are chicken-egg questions (Did their pop success come from the theater work or vice-versa?).

But my point is not that you need to be a successful pop artist to be a successful Broadway composer.  In many of the cases above, the Broadway success came first.

What I am saying is that the overwhelming lack of degrees of separation between successful Broadway composers and the world of pop music suggest that there may be a characteristic that binds the two.

And that characteristic is melody.

So if you’re a composer looking to get a show up on Broadway, you might want to make sure your songs have some similar characteristics to what’s on the radio.  I can’t tell you how many demos I listen to (or stop listening to) where the composers seem to be after some sort of intelligentsia award, instead of just writing a song that people might enjoy hearing in their car, or while cleaning their room, or while they are finishing a blog at 2:08 AM (Lady Gag
a is on in the background on my Sirius radio).

I’m not saying that theater songs have to be Britney-like trite or super-simplistic (God knows Green Day isn’t trite, and Elton’s stuff is some of the richest musical and lyrical material you’ll ever listen to).

But they’ve all got melody and hooks and songs that people like to sing along to.

And that will put you at the top of charts and the Tony Awards.

My Tony predictions and yours revealed.

Can you hear it?

Every year, as Tony Sunday approaches, you can hear the chatter about who’s gonna go home with a trophy get louder and louder.

So let’s add to it!

My predictions are always like the odds for the horses running in the Kentucky Derby  they change daily until the event.  And this year, since we have so many neck-and-neck races, picking the winners is harder than ever.

But I’m going to give it a shot!

I’m also going to reveal what the majority of YOU think is going to win!  Last night we closed our official Producer’s Perspective Tony Pool with a record number of players!  We had well into the THOUSANDS of entries!  Woo-woo!  And one of those lucky contestants is going to win an iPad!

So here goes . . . here are my predictions for this year’s Tony Awards, and yours (along with the percentage that made up the majority so you can see how tight the race is).  Remember, these are not “should win” . . . they are “will win” predictions.

Here goes:

1.  Best Sound Design of a Musical

My Prediction:  Robert Kaplowitz (Fela!)

Your Prediction:  Robert Kaplowitz (Fela!) – 36.3%

The Sound Design award is one of the newest Tonys we have, so it’s even harder to predict what the voters will do.  I’m with you . . . Fela’s music was so unique, so its sound had to be as well.

2.  Best Sound Design of a Play

My Prediction:  Acme Sound Partners (Fences)

Your Prediction:  Adam Cork (Enron) – 31.1%

Sorry guys, I don’t think enough of the voters saw Enron to make it a winner.  I’m going with what I call ‘Tony by Association’ and giving the award to Acme for Fences.  The sound at Fences was terrific, but the votes that will put it over the top are for the show as much as they are for the sound.

3.  Best Lighting Design of a Musical

My Prediction:  Kevin Adams (American Idiot)

Your Prediction:  Kevin Adams (American Idiot) – 57.3%

The lighting in Idiot is amazing . . . but Adams also benefits from the cool projection designs that voters probably lump into the same category (even though he didn’t do them).  And that begs the questions . . . with video and projections a part of more and more shows every year . . . will we see a Projection or Video Design Tony soon?

4.  Best Lighting Design of a Play

My Prediction:  Neil Austin (Red)

Your Prediction:   Neil Austin (Red) – 43.1%

Ironically, I think Neil is going to get this award for the brilliant lack of lighting used in an early scene of this play.  For those of you who haven’t seen the show, there is a incredible display of the contrast between theatrical lighting and stark work-light early on that makes you realize just how talented all lighting designers are, and Neil will get a trophy for helping teach us that lesson.

5.  Best Costume Design of a Musical

My Prediction:  Matthew Wright (La Cage)

Your Prediction:   Matthew Wright (La Cage) – 69.6%

Making men pretty has a high degree of difficulty and my readers and I agree, that’s worth a Tony.

6.  Best Costume Design of a Play

My Prediction:  Catherine Zuber (The Royal Family)

Your Prediction:   Catherine Zuber (The Royal Family) – 43%

When in doubt, go with the period piece.  Zuber’s work is always beautiful, and she’ll snag another Tony for her work on Family.

7.  Best Scenic Design of a Musical

My Prediction:  Christine Jones (American Idiot)

Your Prediction:  Christine Jones (American Idiot) – 50.1%

When American Idiot was steamrolling into town, I don’t think anyone thought it would be cleaning up the design awards, but you and I agree that this’ll be the second Tony for the rock opera so far.  But with the strange lack of nominations for Idiot in other categories (Orchestrations anyone?  Direction?), could the design awards be the only awards that Idiot wins?

8.  Best Scenic Design of a Play

My Prediction:  Christoper Oram (Red)

Your Prediction:  Christopher Oram (Red) – 33.2%

You all weren’t so sure about this one, with 33.2% making up the majority.  I’m not sure either.  Part of me wants to say Fences again, but ultimately, I think the title of the play, Red, screams design elements, which will help Chris grab an award for his cool way of putting canvases on stage.

9.  Best Orchestrations

My Prediction:  Daryl Waters and David Bryan (Memphis)

Your Prediction:  Daryl Waters and David Bryan (Memphis) – 42.2%

No contest here.  The only original score grabs the orchestration award.

10.  Best Choreography

My Prediction:  Twyla Tharp (Come Fly Away)

Your Prediction:  Bill T. Jones (Fela!) – 44.2%

Oh, readers, we were seeing eye to eye for so long.  We differ on this one.  This is where I think Tony voters like to spread the love around.  Come Fly Away won’t get honored in any other categories on Tony night, so Twyla will be given the category that makes the most sense for the show . . . and she deserves it.  Just how in the heck does she get bodies to move like that anyway?  Don’t feel bad for Bill.  His love is coming.

11.  Best Direction of a Musical

My Prediction:  Bill T. Jones (Fela!)

Your Prediction:  Terry Johnson (La Cage) – 41.9%

Terry did brilliant work in making this production of La Cage stand out not only from the recent revival, but also from all previous productions of the show.  But I think the voters will want to make sure Fela! gets recognized, and this is how they’ll do it.

12.  Best Direction of a Play

 

My Prediction:  Kenny Leon (Fences)

Your Prediction:  Michael Grandage (Red) – 32.8%

For a long time, I was with you all.  I was giving it to Grandage as well, but I flip-flopped and am predicting Leon will have new hardware for his mantle after Sunday night, partly because of the amazing performances in Fences, and partly because of the body of his Wilson work, and the fact that he has never won before.

13.  Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical

 

My Prediction:  Katie Finneran (Promises, Promises)

Your Prediction:  Katie Finneran (Promises, Promises) – 43.3%

I think we’d all love to see Angela get a 6th award, but how can we not give this one to Katie Finneran? You know how they added songs for this revival that weren’t in the original?  After seeing Katie’s scene, I couldn’t help but wish they had written a new scene for her at the end of the second act!

14.  Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical

My Prediction:  Robin de Jesus (La Cage)

Your Prediction:  Bobby Steggert (Ragtime) – 23.2%

Only 1.9% separated three of the nominees in your choices for the winner of this tight category.  While a lot of folks are pulling for Bobby to pull it out, at the end of the day, I just don’t think enough voters caught his Younger Brother.  So, I’m going with the scene-stealing de Jesus.

15.  Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play

My Prediction:  Scarlett Johansson (A View from the Bridge)

Your Prediction:  Scarlett Johansson (A View from the Bridge) – 36%

Only 36% of you think Scarlett’s going to take this one?  I’m shocked, cuz this one is a lock.  Give it to the girl, already.

16.  Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play

My Prediction:  Stephen McKinley Henderson (Fences)

 

Your Prediction:  Eddie Redmayne (Red) – 31.4%

Tough, tough category, but I think Fences will get a hat trick of performance awards on Sunday, with this being the first (see below for the other two).

17.  Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical

 

My Prediction:  Catherine Zeta-Jones (A Little Night Music)

Your Prediction:  Catherine Zeta-Jones (A Little Night Music) – 38.3%

Zeta seems right to me, but there has been a lot of buzz about Montego lately. This could be a big upset, in the style of Idina over co-star Kristin Chenoweth in 2004.  I picked Kristin then, and I’m picking Zeta now, just like you.

18.  Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical

My Prediction:  Douglas Hodge (La Cage)

Your Prediction:  Douglas Hodge (La Cage) – 47.7%

The range of how this role is written certainly helped Hodge seal his Tony fate, but he plays every inch of that range to perfection.

19.  Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play

My Prediction:  Viola Davis (Fences)

 

Your Prediction:  Viola Davis (Fences) – 55.3%

Even more of you think Viola is going to win than Denzel!  And she will.

20.  Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play

My Prediction:  Denzel Washington (Fences)

 

Your Prediction:  Denzel Washington (Fences) – 41.5%

What a freekin’ category.  Walken, Washington, Law, Schreiber and Molina? Come on.  It’s like actor heaven.  I sort of feel these guys should be treated like the President and the Vice President and not be allowed in the same location for too long in case something happens to one or the other.  Despite the competition, Denzel will take the trophy, partly for being snubbed years ago for his performance in Caesar. He has returned, and he kicked acting a$$ in the process.  And the hat trick I spoke of earlier is now complete.

21.  Best Original Score

My Prediction: Fences 

Just kidding, just kidding.  That was a joke.  Sort of like the two play nominations that rounded out this category.

My Prediction

:  David Bryan & Joe DiPietro (

Memphis)

Your Prediction:  David Bryan & Joe DiPietro (

Memphis) – 74.7%

Rumor has it that David Bryan is missing a Bon Jovi concert to be at the awards. I think he picked the right day to play hookey, and so did you.  I can’t wait to hear his acceptance speech.

22.  Best Book of a Musical

My Prediction:  Dick Scanlan and Sherie Rene Scott (Everyday Rapture)

Your Prediction:  Joe DiPietro (Memphis) – 41.3%

You’ve got a point, readers. You’ve got a point. Memphis is a traditional book musical.  DiPietro is loved by everyone in the biz. But so is Sherie, and I think since DiPietro will have some other trophies to play with after Sunday, this one will surprise everyone and go to Sherie and Dick.

23.  Best Revival of a Play

My Prediction:  Fences

Your Prediction:  Fences – 61%

I hate to see Bridge lose, because I loved it so, but Fences was an event that demands to be rewarded.

24.  Best Revival of a Musical

My Prediction:  La Cage aux Folles

Your Prediction:  La Cage aux Folles – 64.6%

Yet another reason why I wished I would have produced this one is that it’s gonna win the Tony.

25.  Best Play

My Prediction:  Red

Your Prediction:  Red – 53%

Tony voters like “smart” plays, and Red qualifies.  It’s so smart, it even feels British, doesn’t it?  Yet it was written by a guy who grew up in Jersey.  My money is on him bringing that Tony back home to Jersey Monday morning.

26.  Best Musical

My Prediction:  Memphis

Your Prediction:  Memphis – 47.8%

You know what was interesting about your predictions?  47.8% (the majority) picked Memphis.  Second place at 29.6% was NOT American Idiot.  It was Fela!Idiot came in third at 19.3%.  It seems that no matter how many folks like Idiot, they also don’t think it represents the type of musical that gets awarded on Tony night . . .and I have to agree.  Memphis feels like the big Broadway musical that voters like to pin their badge of approval on.

Well there it is.  Another year of predictions.  I promise I’ll let you know the winner of the pool and the iPad by Wednesday of next week at the latest, so stay tuned.  I also promise to give you my score as well, no matter how humiliating.

For those of you who want to play in another pool, make sure you come to my Tony Party on Sunday night.  We’re giving away a Nintendo Wii to whomever wins that pool!  Click here to reserve before it’s sold out.

But wherever you are . . . Enjoy Tony night!  And make sure you tell everyone you know to tune in. Let’s see what we can do about these ratings, shall we?

The Neil Simon tragedy.

Tragedy.

Now there’s a word rarely uttered when speaking of one of the greatest comic minds of the century.

Unfortunately, Broadway hasn’t been kind to Mr. Simon lately.

Prior to Brighton Beach, post-9/11 Broadway had seen productions of a the original 45 Seconds From Broadway as well as revivals of Barefoot in the Park, Sweet Charity and The Odd Couple.

The Odd Couple, with Broderick and Lane, is the only one of those that recouped, but it wasn’t the smash that everyone had expected it to be.

Sweet Charity sneaked out a seven month run, but Barefoot, and now Brighton and Broadway, were unfortunate disappointments.

Why?

Well, Mr. Simon, to use hackneyed break-up phraseology, it’s not you.  It’s us.

Our tastes have changed. In fact, perhaps it was 9/11, or perhaps it was Jon and Kate plus Stupid, or perhaps it’s the economic crisis, that turned our taste buds a little more acidic.

Neil Simon’s plays are classics, but no matter how great the productions may be (and I heard Brighton was fantastic, especially under the gentle hand of David Cromer), today’s audiences just don’t take to them the way they used to.

Our taste in television comedies has changed over the last twenty-five years, so as much as I was pulling for this double-feature, it’s no surprise to me that our taste in theatrical comedies has changed as well.

In my opinion . . . Yasmina Reza is the modern day Neil Simon.  Belly laugh funny with a bite.

Now let’s see if Promises, Promises can break this streak. I know I’m pulling for it.  I mean, come on, it’s got a song called, “She Likes Basketball!”

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