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"Rollin' " Is Hittin' the Brakes

In terms of momentum, "rollin'" seems to be the one thing that "Rollin' on the T.O.B.A." just can't get enough of.

Last week, after producers for the show lost a long-shot bid for Tony eligibility, "T.O.B.A." ceased performances at the Kit Kat Klub, and the show's creators are now looking, once again, toward an uncertain future.

The prospects for choreographer "Smokey" Stevens' 12-year-old project were diminished, perhaps indefinitely, when the Tony Administration Committee ruled on April 1 that "T.O.B.A." was ineligible because it was not being performed in a Tony-eligible Broadway theatre.

The Tony Administration Committee did not agree with "T.O.B.A."'s producers, who had requested Tony eligibility on the grounds that last year's hit revival of "Cabaret" had been deemed Tony eligible when it was running at the Kit Kat Klub.

The real difference, according to Tony spokesperson Keith Sherman, is that the committee felt the production of "Cabaret" warranted Tony eligibility on a number of different levels.

"Cabaret' is a show with a long history on Broadway," Sherman said, "and there were circumstances surrounding the mounting of "Cabaret' that led to a special dispensation."

Indeed, the original year-long search for a non-traditional setting for "Cabaret" became a story in itself on Broadway, one that was revisited following the collapse of a scaffolding structure at the neighboring construction site at Four Times Square in July 1998. At that time, the success of the show and other issues involving the Kit Kat Klub as a venue prompted a move uptown to the larger space at the former Studio 54.

The Tony ineligibility ruling for "T.O.B.A." was the second news-making punch that the show suffered in as many weeks.

In late March, "T.O.B.A." was dealt its first body blow when an unrelated conflict between the show's venue, the Kit Kat Klub, and the venue's landlord, Douglas Durst, escalated into a temporary restraining order being issued to block the opening of "T.O.B.A." Two days later, a judge ruled that the show could open providing that it made its rent payments directly into a Durst-controlled escrow account.

In all, there were five previews and 14 performances of "T.O.B.A." at the Kit Kat Klub.

A spokesperson for producer Ashton Springer concurred with recent press reports indicating that the delayed opening of "T.O.B.A." cost $100,000, with total losses for the show estimated at $500,000.

Springer told Back Stage that there have been discussions about the show's future, including the possibility of opening in other cities, but nothing is confirmed at this time.

"We really don't know," Springer said. "We're exploring a lot of possibilities and we've had conversations with several booking agents about doing other cities. But as we speak, we don't have anything."

Springer said that he and his staff are trying to recover from what he described as a "blow to the solar plexus."

"I felt that the arguments they were putting forth, about Roundabout being a well-known producing entity and the fact that Roundabout was just producing "Cabaret' in a certain venue, were not that strong," Spring observed. "What I failed to deal with was the politics. I know I'm not a part of the establishment or the structure and I'm not a member of the club, so I can't expect any of the benefits of being a club member. That's the way it works. I'm an outsider."

Springer's feelings about the Tony eligibility issue are understandable, but Tony spokesman Keith Sherman felt compelled to clarify the nature of the denial, which, he said, was not political.

"The committee looked at the show and the circumstances of its production," Sherman said. "Mr. Springer is a legitimate theatrical producer, like all others. He has experience and a long history as a producer and managing director for Broadway productions."

Springer went on to say that he felt he had paid his dues, and had certainly paid his way throughout the "T.O.B.A." experience.

"Every Broadway union came after me and made me pay Broadway rates," Springer said. "Treasurers, Stagehands, Actors' Equity, and the Musicians Union. The New York Times made me pay Broadway rates for my ads which, as you know, are considerably more than Off-Broadway rates."

Springer told Back Stage that he feels that the League of American Theatres and Producers and the Tony Administration Committee inadvertently subjected him to their contracts, but did not afford him any of the benefits.

"Everything I did was based on Broadway contracts, which are negotiated by the league," Springer said. "That's what it gets right down to. When the unions were harassing me, which they did, I told the union reps, "You guys are hitting me to pay these $1,500 and $2,000 bills to pay stagehands, and the league is telling people that we're not a Broadway show.' "

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