Sunday, March 2, 2003

Broadway shows will go on if union walks

The Associated Press

NEW YORK - Broadway producers vow the shows will go on - and are planning to use computer-generated virtual orchestras to replace union musicians if they go on strike.

"Every show will be prepared in one way or another with music in the event of a work stoppage," Jed Bernstein, president of the League of American Theatres and Producers, said last week.

Nineteen Broadway musicals will be running when the union contract expires today and almost all are holding or will hold cast rehearsals this week using the electronic equipment. Only one musical, Cabaret, has a separate contract with Local 802 of the Musicians Union because the show plays at Studio 54, a former discotheque. Cabaret would be unaffected by a strike.

Both sides reiterated previous positions.

"We believe in live music, we believe in live musicians, but we will no longer adhere to the policy of minimums," said Barry Weissler, producer of Chicago.

The union says a reduction in the number of musicians is an attack on live music; the producers call the minimums "featherbedding," requiring them to use more musicians than actually are needed.

The negotiations have focused mostly on those minimums - how many musicians are needed to play for a show. Right now, the number is determined by the size of the theater, although producers have negotiated reductions in some instances.

"There is no intention to end live music on Broadway," Bernstein said. "Live music is indigenous to Broadway. It is fundamental and it is vital and it isn't going away. The only thing that could possibly disrupt the performance of live music is if the musicians union decides to go on strike."

Union president William Moriarity said a strike authorization vote was scheduled for Saturday.

"There is no great wish to have a strike," Bernstein said. "It would be particularly devastating at this time," he added, noting that advance ticket sales are still lagging and that cold weather is continuing to hurt business.

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