The Show Won’t Go On, Broadway Actors Say
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Theaters along the Great White Way went dark on Friday after Broadway actors and stagehands refused to cross picket lines set up by striking musicians.
The League of American Theaters and Producers, a group representing Broadway theater owners and producers, said all musical shows for this weekend had been canceled. “This is a sad night for Broadway and for New York,” said League President Jed Bernstein.
Theater ticketholders at 17 Broadway musicals, including “Les Miserables,” “42nd Street” and “The Producers,” were left stranded after the musicals said they would not make their traditional 8 p.m. opening curtain.
“We brought kids from Georgia, and they are just disappointed,” said Robin Johnson, a chaperone for 22 high school seniors from Tifton, Georgia who had planned to see “The Producers.”
Their plans to see another musical, “The Lion King,” on Saturday also were doomed, she said as she tried to find another activity for the teenagers.
Musicians, on strike since midnight on Thursday, are in a dispute with producers who want to cut the size of orchestras at the largest theaters to 14 players from as many as 26.
After negotiating throughout the day, union spokesman Shawn Sachs said theater owners walked out of the talks on Friday night. But a spokesman for the theaters, Pat Smith, said the two sides had merely taken a break, with one more meeting scheduled later in the night.
Producers had been prepared to replace live music with prerecorded, computer-generated “virtual music” beginning with Friday’s shows.
But the job action by the 652 unionized actors added considerable weight to the musicians’ battle to save jobs.
“Our members have made it clear that they do not wish to perform to virtual orchestras,” said Patrick Quinn, president of the Actors’ Equity Association.
Unionized stagehands with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees told the actors’ union they would honor the picket lines as well, Quinn said.
Actors, who could lose $1.3 million in weekly salary if shows fail to open, joined musicians’ picket lines around the city’s Theater District, saying they could not act with “canned” music.
“Virtual orchestras are not live music — it’s a computer program that sounds like a roller rink,” said Harvey Fierstein, who is starring in “Hairspray,” at the union news conference. “A machine is a dead thing, and that is not why people go to live theater.”
Broadway producers complain that many shows do not need the 26-musician orchestras required in the current contract, leaving them with “walkers,” or hired musicians who sit on the sidelines collecting salary but not playing.
“We love live music, but know of no other industry where workers are paid, but not needed,” said League representative Barry Weissler, producer of the hit musical “Chicago,” at a producers’ news conference on Friday.
Producers call the current system an “archaic” one that unfairly limits their creative control.
The producers said the American Federation of Musicians Local 802 was unwilling to cut minimum orchestra sizes by more than six players.
Musicians, who make a base salary of $1,350 per week, said the producers’ demand is only about money, not creativity, and would put musicians out of work.
“This is my full-time job and a good chunk of my income,” said Ray Kilday, a bassist picketing outside the Marquis Theater, where he plays in the orchestra for “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”
Kilday, who has played on Broadway for 22 years, added that “beefed up synthesizers” will sap performances’ human quality.
Local 802 called its last Broadway strike in September 1975, and nine musicals were shuttered for 25 days.