NEW YORK - Compared to the millions they pay Tom, Julia or even that guy running for governor of California, Broadway salaries just aren't in the same show-biz league.
Yet those unattributed reports swirling through New York newspapers that Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick will each pull down a cool $100,000 a week to return to "The Producers" for a three-month stint could up the paychecks for those few performers who really can sell tickets on Broadway.
Can we talk specifics?
Getting actors or their agents or producers to talk about how much money stars make is a lot harder than getting them to talk about their sex lives or their drug and alcohol problems.
"No one will speak on the record," Adrian Bryan-Brown, a veteran New York press agent, admonished an intrepid reporter in search of exact figures on a star's (any star's) weekly paycheck.
He's right. Several producers were willing to talk, but only off the record and not for attribution. Several expressed doubts that Lane and Broderick will make that much.
"I can't give you a primer," said "Chicago" producer Barry Weissler when asked how he determines what he pays stars to appear in his shows. "If Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones agreed to do `Chicago' as Roxie and Billy Flynn, the value of those two people would be astronomical.
"If you are trying someone unknown, Melanie Griffith, and you don't know if it is going to work or not - though she is a star - something much less than that," Weissler added, artfully sidestepping an exact figure.
If Arnold Schwarzenegger can make $30 million for the latest "Terminator" flick and cast members of television's "Friends" each pull in $1 million an episode, what is eight performances a week in a Broadway show worth?
Let's start with the basics. According to the latest Actors' Equity figures, the minimum salary for a performer in a Broadway play or musical is $1,354 a week and it goes up from there. How high depends on how good a performer's agent is or how many tickets a producer thinks a star can sell.
Lane and Broderick demonstrated during their yearlong engagement in "The Producers," which opened in April 2001, that they could sell plenty. It was the town's hottest ticket until the day they left, a fact not lost on the show's producers who are negotiating with the stars to return for three months, possibly in January.
Says Tom Viertel, one of the producers of "The Producers": "In this instance, obviously what we are trying to figure out is how much difference Nathan and Matthew would make to the show in the months involved and try to apportion that value fairly among the show and the two stars."
And possibly raise ticket prices to pay them, although Viertel said, "We haven't really considered that in any great detail."
The day the ecstatic reviews for "The Producers" came out two years ago, top ticket prices were hiked to $100. Later, selected seats were made available - and still are - through Broadway Inner Circle, a premium ticket agency, for $480 and $240.
In the recent past, there have been reports of stars getting between $30,000 and $35,000 a week. Among those rumored to be in that category are Bernadette Peters and Vanessa Williams, who recently starred in a revival of "Into the Woods."
But then, you want a star, you pay more - unless you are Joanne Woodward and can get your husband, Paul Newman, to work for scale in a revival of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town," produced by a theater you run.
Broadway is filled with the ghosts of star-driven shows that thrived for a while, only to fade when their big names left. Last season, for example, saw grosses for "Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune" collapse after the original leads, Edie Falco and Stanley Tucci, were replaced by Rosie Perez and Joe Pantoliano. It makes you wonder what will happen to "Nine" when Antonio Banderas departs Oct. 5.
Of course, if a show does not have big stars, it can still make money. One reason why "Cats" and "Les Miserables" had such long runs is because they did not have to pay the hefty salaries that stars command. And "The Phantom of the Opera" is still running on Broadway, long after original star Michael Crawford's departure.