Bill Gates during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 24. (Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)
Two years after Nerds failed to boot up on Broadway, some of the people who worked on the show might start getting paid.
The ambitious musical about the rivalry between Apple’s Steve Jobs and Microsoft’s Bill Gates was slated to slide into the Longacre Theatre right before the deadline to be considered for the Tony Awards in 2016. It had been circling around the Great White Way for over 10 years and was supposed to feature holograms and software that allowed audience members to interact with the set from their smartphones.
But while the cast was still learning the finale during rehearsals on March 8, 2016, one of the major investors in the $8 million show dropped out, and the producers pulled the plug.
“It was tragic for a lot of people because their dream really was about to come true in terms of making a Broadway debut,” recalled actor Rory O’Malley, who was cast as Gates.
“It was one of the worst things that I have ever experienced in my career, for sure,” he said.
Although the lead producers, Carl Levin and Vicki Halmos, did not need to have all of the money for the show lined up before beginning preview performances three weeks later, all the money needed to be in the bank on opening night. But, raising the rest of the cash had been challenging, and the producers did not think that they could speedily secure investors to fill the $1 million to $4 million hole in the budget. The musical would not come to Broadway.
While the decision to cancel Nerds during rehearsals meant that everyone stopped working on the show, not everyone was paid for their work.
All of the actors and musicians were paid from bonds that their labor unions required the producers to post before rehearsals. But, many other professionals were left holding the bag. The general management firm Bespoke Theatricals, for example, was reportedly owed $30,000.
Levin’s lawyer informed the creditors that “[t]remendous sums of money were paid for set design, construction, costumes, props, lighting and the full host of costs which go into a Broadway musical theater production.” “As the production was throttling towards opening, the production costs were running at approximately $410,000 each week,” he confirmed.
“Unfortunately, the amounts promised from third-party investors did not fully materialize,” Levin’s lawyer continued. “My client is deeply saddened by the evolution of events causing the closure of the production,” he wrote, and “my client wanted me to advise creditors of the unfortunate circumstances that take us to where we are today.”
The creditors were outraged. “What … does that mean?” asked one professional still waiting to be paid. “We know what happened, but what we want to know is ‘are we going to get our money?’” the creditor complained.
Levin, who serves as the business and operations manager of the Tony Awards, and his partners reached into their own wallets to pay some people for their work. But, there are still a lot of unpaid bills two years later.
The advertising agency Serino/Coyne, for instance, might soon get paid for its work marketing the show. The firm sued Nerds for all of its unpaid bills, and, since the show’s lawyers never responded to the lawsuit or showed up in court, the court is expected to enter a default judgement against the show in the amount of $194,475.92.
While it is uncertain how much cash still remains in the Nerds bank account, the real victims of the debacle will be the original backers, which includes several regional theater companies.
According to Steven S. Newburgh, an entertainment bankruptcy attorney, “the creditors of the limited liability company need to be paid first.” “Any surplus remaining would be distributed to the investors,” he said.
The investors will only get the crumbs.