The Special Situation Dilemma
Volume CVIII, No. 5May, 2008
As Allegro went to press, the producers of “Cry-Baby” withdrew their request for Special Situation status. See box below article.
Last month Allegro ran an article about the Lincoln Center Theatre production of “South Pacific” currently performing with an orchestra of 30. At that time, we neglected to mention that, at virtually the same time, “Gypsy” opened at the St. James Theatre to rave reviews with an orchestra of 25. We seem to be in a very successful period for the Broadway musical; let’s hope that the trend continues and that Local 802 can assure that live music remains an integral part of its success.
It’s wonderful to see classic musicals presented so that the public can enjoy these masterpieces, and we should applaud the producers of these shows for being willing to expend additional resources for these productions so that they can be heard with the full sound of a live orchestra. Broadway will not, however, remain successful unless the art form is allowed to evolve and change to suit the tastes of the public. The worst thing that could happen in terms of the future of musical theatre would be for it to become a museum piece which only reflects musical conventions of the past. The result would inevitably be smaller audiences and less employment for our members.
The reality, though, is that not all musicals open above, or even at, the minimum for the theatre involved. We have made an uneasy compromise with the League that makes it possible for a producer to bring in a musical with fewer musicians than the minimum under certain circumstances, one intent being to allow the evolution of the art form. Administering that aspect of the contract —the “Special Situations” clause — is difficult.
Earlier this year, the producers of “In the Heights” applied for Special Situation status for that production. After weighing the statements of the creative team, the Executive Board gave unanimous but conditional approval to the request, retaining the right to attend a rehearsal to confirm that the altered string patches in the synth part were not merely a replacement for a live string section. It was not a decision that was made lightly, but with the knowledge that we must evaluate these applications honestly so that new sounds can be created for Broadway. Those board members who attended the rehearsal agreed that this was an appropriate utilization of the contract provision. Hopefully “In the Heights” will be successful and will bring a new audience into contact with the Broadway stage.
Now there is another request before us — for “Cry-Baby” at the Marquis Theatre. Originally the producer intended to utilize 13 musicians for “Cry-Baby” — the same orchestration as had been used in La Jolla, California. After some delay, we were able to begin the hearing process and discovered that the orchestra complement had been expanded to 16. As of this moment, however, our team is not convinced that this is a legitimate use of the Special Situation provisions of the contract. In our opinion, the emulation in the synth parts, particularly synthesized harp, reveals that the composer’s concept is for an orchestra larger than 16. Moreover, we believe the size of the string section is more a result of an economic than an artistic decision. We are awaiting a date for the hearing with the neutral. The delays we have encountered from the producers have resulted in previews being done with the smaller orchestra, which is troubling, but which will allow the neutral to hear the production firsthand and, in our view, observe that this musical should fall under the minimums rather than the Special Situation conditions.
Actually, I hope that the producers, having heard our thoughts, will decide to withdraw the request. As I said earlier, the Special Situation provisions of the contract are an uneasy compromise. If these are to become provisions in which we can all have confidence instead of a continuing source of conflict, both sides will have to be willing to hear and acknowledge one another’s viewpoint and to acquiesce when it is appropriate. If we could reach that point, it would be an achievement of which both Local 802 and the League could be proud.
SPECIAL SITUATION REQUEST WITHDRAWN
The producers of the Broadway musical “Cry-Baby” have withdrawn their Special Situation request for the show, which is currently in previews at the Marriott Marquis Theatre. As a result, three additional musicians will be hired and added to the orchestra effective back to the first service at the theatre. The show opens on April 24.
The decision came after the show’s producers met twice with representatives from Local 802 and the League, and after a review of the show’s score by Local 802 representatives. Following this review, Local 802 made clear to the producers that they had failed to demonstrate that a smaller orchestra was required based on the musical needs of the show. The minimum orchestra at the Marquis is 19 pieces.
President Landolfi hailed the decision, telling Allegro, “This is most of all a victory for live musical theatre and for all of us who want to see live theatre prosper and continue to attract audiences from around the world.”
During the past decade, Local 802 — along with Broadway’s musical teams — have strongly argued that cheapening Broadway’s musicals by replacing musicians with synthesized recorded material poses a threat to everyone employed in the theatre.
“I don’t think we can count on audiences continuing to pay top-dollar for musicals that are turned into karaoke,” said Landolfi. “I think the producers of ‘Cry-Baby’ and the League made the right decision in withdrawing this Special Situation request.”