In July, just four months after the show opened to rave reviews, producers closed the hit Broadway musical, “Shuffle Along, Or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed.” “Shuffle Along,” with 10 Tony nominations this year, had the makings of a long-running bonanza, but producers decided that when its acclaimed star, multiple past Tony Award winner (six!) Audra McDonald, had to leave the cast due to a surprising pregnancy (the actress was 45), it was too risky to continue. As soon as a replacement was named, ticket sales plummeted.
The show, which was capitalized for up to $12 million, had purchased a $14 million insurance policy from Lloyd’s of London to cover any damages arising if McDonald “was unable to perform because of an accident or illness.” Now producers are asking Lloyd’s to pay up, covering losses created by the pre-mature closing of the musical and by the effects on the production occasioned by other health issues related to McDonald’s pregnancy while she was still performing. “Since the beginning of previews of the Show, Ms. McDonald was unable to appear in numerous performances of the Show due to circumstances related to illness, a knee injury, and her pregnancy,” a lawsuit says. Her role was a strenuous one, requiring, among other things, a lot of tap-dancing.
Why the lawsuit, you ask? Lloyd’s says that the policy’s terms haven’t been met, arguing that the actress’s pregnancy and the associated medical conditions were neither due to an ‘accident’ nor an ‘illness’ under the policies.” The show’s position, as articulated by a lawyer representing the show, is that”‘Shuffle Along’ bought an insurance policy to cover it in the event that Ms. McDonald was unable to perform, and she was unable to perform.”
I love this story! It has everything—cold-eyed insurance executives, a perhaps manipulative diva, the sanctity of pregnancy, buck-passing, Hail Marys, feminist taboos, and Broadway!