Special Situations Status Denied for Tom Sawyer

Volume CI, No. 4April, 2001

A request by the producers of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer that the show be designated a “special situations” musical has been turned down. A review panel voted unanimously to deny the request, after hearing presentations by the show’s producers and Local 802 on Jan. 26.

The show is scheduled to open on April 26 at the Minskoff Theatre, which has a minimum of 24 musicians. The producers wanted to reduce the orchestra size to 20 (19 plus the conductor), citing the “country/rock and roll” nature of the show’s music. Local 802’s Executive Board turned down their initial request last fall.

In a letter written to the producers at that time, explaining the decision, President Bill Moriarity pointed out that, in creating the “special situations” contract provision, the negotiators had “narrowly limited” its applicability. “It is not enough to argue, as you argue, that the orchestra size you desire is an appropriate orchestra size,” Moriarity wrote. “You must demonstrate that it is the appropriate, and therefore, necessary orchestra size.”

He noted that “it is difficult, if not impossible, to contemplate a situation in which a 20-musician orchestra is more appropriate than a 24-musician orchestra, when eight to ten members of the former are performing as multi-instrumentalists.”

Unwilling to accept that decision, the producers appealed, as is their right under the “special situations” clause of the Broadway contract. The group impaneled to hear the appeal was composed of League representatives Paul Libin and Sherman Warner, neutrals Wally Harper, Danny Troob and Luther Henderson, and Local 802 representatives Maura Gianinni and Jack Gale.

During his presentation on Jan. 26 the show’s composer, Don Schlitz, described his experience in the country music field. If there is a genre for his music, he said, it is “Americana” – which he described as including not only country but also folk and rock and roll. The goal of this production, he said, is to recreate the sounds of 1840s Missouri. The show’s orchestrator, Michael Starobin, described its instrumentation as somewhat different than the typical Broadway orchestra but nonetheless containing classical and “Coplanesque” elements.

In making the union’s argument, Moriarity again emphasized the “narrow” applicability of the Special Situations clause. While no one at the meeting could speak authoritatively about the size of bands in 1840s Missouri, he noted, those bands certainly did not include synthesizers or multi-instrumentalists, which are both products of the 20th century. Moriarity pointed out that describing the show’s musical content as country, folk and rock and roll, with classical and Coplanesque elements, does not lead to the conclusion that it requires an orchestra of any determinate size and therefore, under the contract provisions, the theatre minimum should apply.

The panel met briefly and returned a unanimous decision that Tom Sawyer is not a Special Situations musical.