Michael Butler, producer of Hair, the Broadway-bound off-Broadway rock 'n' roll musical about hippiedom, filed suit yesterday (Tuesday) in N.Y. Supreme Court seeking to restrain the League from proceeding with preparations for the Antoinette Perry Awards.
The basis for the suit is his charge that Hair has been unfairly excluded from Tony consideration. The producer is asking the court to halt selection of candidates for the awards, and postpone the cutoff date for eligible productions, currently set at March 19. The Tonys are to be presented April 21 as the highlights of a national television show on NBC, originating from the Shubert theatre, and produced by Alexander Cohen.
The legal papers include a lengthy deposition by Richard Osorio, general manager of Hair. They contain his detailed assertion that the League went to elaborate lengths to exclude the show from Tony eligibility.
Hair opened last fall as the initial production at the nonprofit N.Y. Shakespeare Festival's Public Theater. It received generally favorable notices, and was transferred December 22 to Cheetah, a Broadway discotheque. Butler says he acquired the first-class rights during the Cheetah run, and decided to bring it to Broadway. It shuttered January 23 at Cheetah.
According to the producer, he contacted Irving Cheskin, executive secretary of the League, in January to inquire about the Tony cutoff date, and was told that it would be no sooner than April 10. He says he was later told by Cheskin that the Tony cutoff date had been moved up a week, to April 3, and he accordingly scheduled the Broadway preem for that date.
Two weeks ago, however, the League officially set March 19 as the deadline. Butler claims he and Osorio had several previous assurances from the League that hair would qualify if it opened by April 3.
Barr said yesterday (tuesday) that the executive committee of the League had decided that no show that doesn't originate on Broadway will be eligible for award candidacy. He declared he knew nothing of Cheskin's purported assurances to Butler that hair would be eligible if it opened on time. The executive committee consists of Richard Barr, Robert Whitehead, Samuel Schwartz, Louis A. Lotito and Morton Gottleib.
Barr asserted that the committee hadn't yet decided if APA - Phoenix productions will be considered. Cheskin said a week ago that the APA would be eligible. APA has a League of Regional Theatres contract with Equity, rather than a Broadway Class A pact.
Upon hearing of the new deadline, Butler says he and Osorio attended a meeting last Thursday (14) of the League's tony committee, consisting of Barr, League president, and David Merrick, Cohen, Schwartz, Whitehead and Cheskin. He asserts that he protested the exclusion of Hair. When the committee declined to move back the deadline, Butler says he decided to open the musical for one night, MArch 19, to qualify.
He claims the committee told him that the one-nighter would have to be a paid performance at a first class theatre, with a printed program. After agreeing to meet these conditions, he charges he was informed last Friday (15) that the League had decided that the show could not qualify in any event because it originated as an off-Broadway production.
Butler is a Chicago-based financier who has previously invested in several Broadway productions. He has raised $200,000 from 10 partners to finance the Broadway production of hair still scheduled to bow April 3 at an unspecified theatre.