‘Tony n’ Tina’ Tries to Divorce Local 802

Musicians fight back, winning a contract

Volume CIV, No. 12December, 2009

“Tony n’ Tina” musicians feel the union spirit. From left, Alden Terry, Tony Ventura, Sharon Kenny and Ray Grappone. Photo by Walter Karling.

The wedding is back on! Local 802 has successfully settled a dispute with the new producers of “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding.”

The popular comedy lets audience members feel as if they’re in an actual wedding. Improvisation and interaction are part of the shtick.

The show opened in 1988 and has appeared in hundreds of cities across the world.

Traditionally, a live band was an essential part of the atmosphere, but recently almost all producers of the show worldwide have downgraded the production by using a D.J. and recorded music.

Thanks to Local 802, the New York City production is now one of the only sites in the world that still uses live music – and the only show with a union contract covering the musicians.

The recent dispute was caused by a simple matter.

Local 802 first signed a contract with the New York producers of “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding” in 1990.

That contract stated that if other producers pick up the show, they have to bargain in good faith with the union. This is a standard clause that we include in all of our contracts.

In 2004, a new producer took over the show and tested Local 802 by hiring a non-union band.

We successfully fought back and won a contract for the original musicians.

Then, this September, another producer took the reigns: Broadway Entertainment LLC, an entertainment company from South Florida.

Rumors of replacing musicians with canned music were in the air.

On Oct. 17, after performing one show with the new producer, musicians checked in to play the night as usual and found they were locked out. The show went on with a recording.

Local 802 filed an unfair labor practice charge and began public demonstrations and an informational picket line in front of the venue.

The producers continued to snub us, as performances went on with canned music. Two performances were canceled.

Finally, a month later, the producers had felt enough heat.

Local 802 attorney Harvey Mars, with the assistance of Principal Theatre Rep Mary Donovan, was able to negotiate a new contract for the musicians, keeping the protections of the previous “Tony n’ Tina” contract.

“Even though this was a stressful experience, it was also a reminder of the great strength of our union and the strength of the solidarity of our members,” bassist Tony Ventura, told Allegro. Ventura has played the show for 19 years.

Drummer Ray Grappone agreed. “We are all very grateful that our union brothers and sisters stood in support of us at this time,” he said.

The employer plans to produce two performances a week and additional holiday shows. The contract guarantees musicians a minimum of one performance a week, plus guaranteed wages, pension payments, health payments and a dispute mechanism.

The contract runs through May 3, 2011.

Local 802 would like to acknowledge the help and support of Actors’ Equity and Sofia’s Restaurant in resolving this dispute.