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Broadway actors reach agreement

NEW YORK -- Broadway lights will continue to shine.

Two weeks after its contract expired, the union representing stage actors reached a tentative agreement yesterday with theater producers, ending a period of uncertainty as the two sides wrangled over issues of health care costs, actor safety, and, most importantly, nonunion tours of Broadway shows.

"Actors' Equity Association and the League of American Theatres and Producers announced they have reached a tentative agreement on a new four-year Production Contract," both sides said in a joint statement.

"The leadership for both sides will meet today to hammer out the language," said League spokeswoman Kelly Sullivan, adding it might even be tomorrow before all the details are known.

Tensions had risen over the weekend after producers of "The Boy From Oz," the hit musical starring Hugh Jackman as Australian entertainer Peter Allen, agreed to a temporary contract with the union, breaking ranks with other League members.

The Kennedy Center's production of "The Glass Menagerie," starring Sally Field, also signed an agreement, Maria Somma, an Equity spokeswoman, said. The revival of the Tennessee Williams classic, now in rehearsal, begins performances in Washington, D.C., Saturday for a run through Aug. 8.

The Kennedy Center was placed in an odd situation with "Menagerie," which is part of the Center's summer Williams festival. Even though the engagement was for a limited run, one-theater-only production, the Center agreed to terms usually reserved for Broadway or major touring productions.

Among options union leaders could have considered after its contract expired was a strike, which would have shut down most Broadway plays and musicals as well as major productions on the road. Shows have continued to run throughout the negotiations. The union's contract with the League of Broadway Producers expired June 27, and the two sides have met since to resolve not only the issue of nonunion tours but also questions about soaring health care costs and worker safety.

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