Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Musicals skip city as tax hits sour note

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I hope everyone enjoyed Buddy ... The Buddy Holly Story last week because it is the only touring stage musical coming to town this summer.

After being treated to three (Rent, Chicago and Les Miserables) of the top 25 of Broadway's longest-running shows last summer, none will be stopping by the Centennial Concert Hall between now and the fall.

"We had a couple tentatively booked but both fell through," says Bob Sochasky, executive director of the concert hall. "It's disappointing. We haven't had a summer like this for a while."

Cats was tentatively booked for July 2-7 but the producers decided to spend the tour's two weeks in Canada in Alberta, where it was noted during negotiations that there is no punishing 10 per cent entertainment tax. The off-Broadway hit Two by Two was expected here in August, but star Tom Bosley (of Happy Days fame) suddenly became unavailable as did the show.

Are we being shut out because of the civic amusement tax, the effect of the Canadian dollar on the bottom line of American producers, or simply a lull in travelling shows? Well yes, yes and yes but maybe it would be instructive to look at Buddy, the only show that did come to town.

The eight-performance run of the upbeat bio-musical about the '50s rock pioneer played to 8,496 people and lost money for local promoter Sam Katz.

"If there was no entertainment tax, I would have almost broke even," Katz was saying yesterday.

"I'm actually starting to mull over whether I'm going to continue doing these shows. I've been waiting patiently for years and nothing seems to be happening about the elimination of that tax."

The loss is especially hard to swallow because he paid near $31,000 in entertainment tax on Buddy. Since the artists and stage crew receive their guaranteed salaries and the government always takes its cut, the one person taking any risk is the producer. This time that cost him somewhere between $30,000-$50,000.

"That $31,000 would have made the difference from this show having a large loss and a small loss," Katz says.

Calgary and Edmonton are seeing Cats because, given a choice, the promoters could make more money there than here. Two years ago, Beauty and the Beast bypassed Winnipeg for Saskatchewan.

There was an expectation last year that after Canadian producers brought three name musicals to town, the amusement tax would be axed once and for all.

As Katz surveys the landscape for touring shows, he sees a few slam dunks like Mama Mia, Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera but mostly shows where earning a profit is not so assured. The risk he can handle, it's the risk and the tax which is no longer adding up for him. The silence from city hall on the killing of the amusement tax has Katz wondering if it will ever happen.

"I'm kind of torn right now," he says. "I don't have the answer. I don't want to do things out of Winnipeg, Manitoba but you know what, I might start exploring it."

The concert hall will remain open through July and August, hoping a tour with a few open dates might make a last-minute decision to come here. It happened pretty suddenly with Prince and his June 6 concert so Sochasky holds out some hope.

"There's always an opportunity around the corner," he says. "If anyone calls I want to work the best deal I can. We've been calling all the different promoters asking, 'What about Winnipeg this summer?'"

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 30, 2002 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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