Mamma Mia Declared “Special Situation” Musical

Volume CI, No. 9September, 2001

Local 802’s Executive Board has approved “special situations” status for the musical Mamma Mia, to be presented at the Winter Garden Theatre. The decision to allow the musical, which is based on the music of the 1970s rock group ABBA, to be presented with less than the minimum required orchestra came after an extensive review of the show’s musical conception and the group’s recordings.

Local 802 received the special situations request from Mamma Mia‘s New York producers in May. In their application, the producers presented the union with original ABBA recordings, the instrumentations used on these recordings, and a copy of the show’s London cast album. They indicated that they wished to do the show with the same nine-member orchestra as was used in London, where the show originated, and in Toronto. The minimum at the Winter Garden is 24.

Under the Broadway contract, producers who wish to present a show with fewer musicians than the theatre minimum must demonstrate that the musical is “of a definable musical genre or of a dramatic approach which necessitates a smaller size orchestra” or that the “show’s concept consists of the re-creation of a pre-existing size band.”

802 President Bill Moriarity appointed a committee to review the application and make a recommendation to the union’s Executive Board. It was made up of members of both the Executive Board and the Broadway Theatre Committee. The committee was asked to examine all material submitted by the producer and to review the scores prepared for the show.

Following this review, the committee asked that additional research be done in regard to the original ABBA recording sessions. That research uncovered the fact that more musicians had been engaged for the original sessions for four of the show’s 23 ABBA songs than was indicated in the material submitted by the producer, and more than the nine-member orchestra planned for the show. It was nearly impossible, however, to distinguish these additional instruments on the group’s CDs.

While the committee was disturbed by the lack of full disclosure on the part of the producers, they felt that the show met the definition of a “special situation” musical as outlined in the Broadway contract. They recommended that the Executive Board grant special situation status.

Before making a final decision the Executive Board asked President Moriarity to express to the producers the union’s concern about the discrepancies in the information it was provided with. Moriarity subsequently met with the show’s Music Director, who apologized for the mistaken information. He attributed the problem to incomplete recollections of those recording sessions by band members who had provided him with the information.

On Aug. 7, the Executive Board voted to concur with the committee’s recommendation and grant Mamma Mia special situation status.