Shows resume playing on Broadway - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Shows resume playing on Broadway

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Posted: Wednesday, March 12, 2003 9:01 am | Updated: 2:13 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

NEW YORK - Song and dance returned to Broadway as striking musicians ended a four-day walkout that shut down nearly every musical on the Great White Way in a dispute over the size of the shows' orchestras.

In the end, both sides blinked - with musicians accepting some cuts, but not as many as the producers originally desired.

There was a festive, almost giddy air in the Theater District as the 18 musicals, including "The Producers," "The Lion King," "Mamma Mia!" and "Thoroughly Modern Millie," resumed playing Tuesday night.

Producer Barry Weissler of "Chicago" took to the stage of the sold-out Ambassador Theatre before the start of the performance and announced, "I welcome you to the reopening of our show and the reopening of all of Broadway.

"The turmoil is over and there is love in the air," he said as the crowd roared its approval.

There were similar celebrations at other theaters. At "La Boheme," all 28 players in the orchestra came on stage after the show to take a bow, as did the musicians at "Hairspray."

At "Movin' Out," the show's composer, Billy Joel, was in the audience to lend support.

Calling himself "a union man," Joel said, "I'm a piano player. And as a composer, I want to be able to say how many musicians should be playing."

The strike, which began Friday, shut down all but one of Broadway's 19 musicals. By Tuesday, the walkout by the 325 musicians had cost the city $10 million in lost box-office receipts and revenue from other businesses, such as restaurants and hotels, according to city tourism officials.

The number of musicians was at the heart of the dispute between Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians and the League of American Theatres and Producers.

The union agreed to reduce the minimum number of players in the 13 largest theaters to 18 or 19 musicians, down from 24 to 26 in the very biggest houses, a 25 percent cut.

The new contract will last for four years, although the minimums will remain in effect for 10.

Local 802 members are expected to vote on the offer later this week, most likely Saturday.

The producers initially demanded no minimums on the number of musicians per show, then offered seven and later 15.

"The musicians had a very strongly held artistic belief, and so did the producers, about how to determine the right size orchestra to play for a particular project," said Jed Bernstein, league president. "I think both of us are very confident that we got to a good place."

The agreement came Tuesday morning following an all-night negotiating session set up by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The mayor brought the two parties together after they failed to talk during a long weekend that saw musicians, actors and stagehands on picket lines and disgruntled theatergoers lining up for refunds or ticket exchanges.

"Both sides understood that they had to resolve this," said union official Bill Dennison. "There was no escaping finding a solution."

When the strike began, producers vowed to keep shows running and replace the musicians with computer-generated virtual orchestras. But when the performers union and the stagehands refused to cross picket lines, the musicals closed.

It was not an easy decision for either side, said "Hairspray" star Harvey Fierstein.

"You know what both sides want. You know you're going to get there eventually. You just need to talk," said Fierstein, adding that when he wasn't on the picket line, he slept, caught up with his mail and didn't shave. "It was lovely. But then I realized I missed the kids in the cast and wanted to get back to work."

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