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Judge Orders Broadway 'Grinch' to Reopen

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SAMUEL MAULL | November 21, 2007 10:07 PM EST | AP

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NEW YORK — All the Whos down in Whoville will have holiday work this year after a Manhattan judge ordered the Broadway production of "Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas!" to reopen despite the ongoing stagehands strike.

"I'm going to grant the injunction" against the lockout, state Supreme Court Justice Helen Freedman said Wednesday. "I think one Grinch in town in enough."

Her ruling came a day after she heard arguments from producers of the show and owners of the theater housing the $6 million production. Producers, citing a special contract between the show and Jujamcyn Theaters, wanted the show to go on.

The theater owners plan to appeal Freedman's decision. But unless they prevail, the "Grinch" will return with an 11 a.m. show Friday, said John Kuster, attorney for the producers.

Jujamcyn owners said the lockout was legal and a tactical decision by the theater owners in handling the strike. An attorney for the owners said his clients had no assurance that the stagehands would not walk out again if the show resumed at the St. James Theater, which is owned by Jujamcyn.

The continued closing of "The Grinch," however, was the result of a management lockout rather than the strike, with the theater owners refusing to let the musical perform even though the stagehands union said it would work.

Jujamcyn is Broadway's third largest theater chain. It owns five Broadway theaters _ the St. James, the Al Hirschfeld, the August Wilson, the Eugene O'Neill and the Walter Kerr. It is currently owned by Rocco Landesman, who purchased the company in 2005.

Jujamcyn lawyer Neil Abramson argued that there was the threat of a second walkout if the union workers came back on the job. And he insisted that the judge lacked authority under state labor laws to end the lockout.

But the judge said her decision was based on a provision of the theater lease, adding that she believed the production company would be irreparably harmed if the show wasn't permitted to resume its runs.

The dispute between the stagehands union, Local 1, and the League of American Theatres and Producers has closed "Grinch" and 26 other Broadway plays and musicals during the lucrative Thanksgiving holiday period.

Stagehands _ who include scenery and prop handlers, carpenters, electricians and lighting and sound technicians _ have been working without a contract since the end of July. The labor dispute is focused on how many workers are required to open a Broadway show and keep it running.

Eight shows, whose theaters have separate contracts with the league, remain unaffected by the walkout. They include four productions _ "Pygmalion," "The Ritz," "Mauritius" and "Cymbeline" _ playing at nonprofit theaters and four other shows: "Young Frankenstein," "Mary Poppins," "Xanadu" and "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." All off-Broadway productions are open, too.

Jujamcyn was formed in 1970 by James H. Binger, a former chairman of Honeywell. It was named after Binger's children, Ju(dith), Jam(es) and Cyn(thia).

The St. James, which is the home of the "Grinch," is Jujamcyn's premier musical house. Located on a prime block of 44th Street, the theater has housed such landmark musicals as "The Pajama Game," "The Producers," "Hello, Dolly!" and "Oklahoma!"

Last season, "Grinch," playing at the Hilton Theatre, was one of Broadway's big success stories. More than 200,000 theatergoers saw the musical during its 11-week run, a run that produced million-plus weekly grosses, often on 12 performances each week rather than the eight that Broadway customarily does. The show's total gross topped $15 million.

Because of that success, "Grinch" planned several 15-performance weeks this year _ including a concentrated eight performances on all-important holiday weekends when family theatergoing is most popular.

"This year, we were tracking to do just as well, and then news of the strike has really slowed down our sales," producer James Sanna said last week in an interview. "At this point last year, if you called, it would have been difficult to get a good ticket. This year, because we have had so many cancellations, there is a great opportunity for families who want to see `Grinch.'"

___

AP Drama Writer Michael Kuchwara and Associated Press Writer Larry McShane contributed to this report.