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Richmond Symphony Asks City Official to Intervene in Dueling Michael Jackson Conerts


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A high-ranking city official is declining to intervene in a dispute between the nonprofit Richmond Symphony and the city-run Richmond Coliseum over rival Michael Jackson concerts.

The symphony appealed to Richmond Chief Administrative Officer Byron Marshall after the Coliseum booked Cirque du Soleil's "Michael Jackson: the Immortal World Tour" for April 15 and 16. That's three days after the symphony planned its own take on the King of Pop, a show called the "Music of Michael Jackson."

"We know the city needs revenue from the Coliseum, but we also know the city does not want revenue at the expense of Richmond's own nonprofit, performing arts companies and its CenterStage performing arts venues," wrote Philip H. Bennett, chair of the symphony's board of directors, in a letter to Marshall.

The Coliseum announced the Cirque du Soleil booking last week. The symphony committed to its show a year ago, Bennett wrote, saying it represented a significant financial risk because it required $100,000 in ticket sales as well as sponsorships.

But there was no way the symphony could compete with Cirque, Bennett told Marshall, so the board voted to scrap its concert. As a result, the symphony lost its corporate sponsor and had to refund $12,600 in presale tickets.

"Cirque's advertising spend will vastly exceed ours and our concern is that our Michael Jackson show will be out-marketed and out-sold by Cirque's as a result," Bennett wrote. "Further, continuing to market our concert to the public … as if we were unaware of a rival show would be disingenuous."

Bennett asked Marshall to direct SMG, the multinational venue management company that operates the Coliseum for the city, to make a $6,270 "compensatory payment from the projected profits of the Cirque show" to cover the Richmond Symphony's cost of reprinting publicity materials.

CenterStage also has a contract with SMG to operate the Landmark Theater and the Carpenter Theatre, where the symphony is a resident company. Because of the overlap, Bennett said SMG is in a position to prevent such conflicts. He asked Marshall to direct SMG to coordinate programming across venues in the future.

In a letter of response dated Jan. 29, Marshall said he thought it would be inappropriate for him to tell SMG to make any payments to the symphony. But Marshall said the regional manager for SMG assured him the company "will continue to make efforts to improve coordination with programming partners, and has committed to help promote your replacement show."

Style Weekly obtained a copy of the exchange from the city through a Freedom of Information Act request. A spokesman for the symphony declined to comment further.

Dwight Johnson, SMG's general manager for the Coliseum, says in a statement that Cirque du Soleil asked SMG to hold the date "quite some time ago," but that it only recently learned what performance the group planned to bring to Richmond.

"We are respectful of our local resident companies and whenever a possible or perceived conflict arises we make every effort to inform them," he says. As soon as SMG learned the details of Cirque's show, "we contacted the Symphony immediately."

The symphony seems to have found a fallback pop-rock group, according to its website. On April 12, the day its Michael Jackson concert was scheduled to take place, it will perform the music of the Rolling Stones.


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