NEW YORK - Striking musicians settled a contract dispute with theater producers Tuesday to end a walkout that shut down 18 musicals since Friday, agreeing to a smaller number of musicians in the largest Broadway theaters.
We have great news," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "Broadway is no longer dark."
Both sides said that after four days without the shows, the theaters would reopen Tuesday night. "We went out together, and we're going back together," said union head Bill Moriarity.
The dispute that led to Friday's strike was over minimums, the smallest number of musicians required for a Broadway orchestra. That figure is set by the size of the theater, with the largest houses currently requiring 24 to 26 musicians.
The union agreed to reduce the minimum in the 13 largest theaters to 18 or 19 musicians. Although the new contract is for four years, the minimum number will remain in effect for a decade, Moriarity said.
"While we have made some reductions in the house minimum, we have preserved live Broadway," Moriarity said. "We will continue to provide the best music you will ever hear in your life."
The two sides bargained for nearly 12 hours through the night at the mayoral mansion. The mayor, citing Broadway's enormous contributions to the city economy, became personally involved in the talks at Gracie Mansion.
"This was an extremely difficult negotiation," said Jed Bernstein, speaking for the theater owners. "Neither side got everything it wanted."
The strike began after talks between the League of American Theatres and Producers and Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians broke down. When actors and stagehands refused to cross the picket lines, all but one of Broadway's 19 musicals were shuttered.
The impasse has cost city businesses more than $7 million, with weekend box office losses estimated at another $4.8 million. The losses come at a particularly bad time for a city struggling with high unemployment and massive deficits.
The producers initially demanded no minimums, then offered seven. They raised that on Friday to 15 for the biggest theaters, but the musicians' union refused the proposal.
The union feared the loss of minimums, saying that producers are really seeking to slash the number of musicians for economic reasons. Musicians say they need staff minimums to help protect artistic freedom.
The battle was being waged on already shaky economic ground, said Jonathan Tisch, chairman of the city's agency for tourism. He warned of "significant job losses" if the strike is not resolved.
Broadway's total economic contribution to the city is estimated at more than $4 billion yearly, tourism and theater officials say.
The strike affected about 325 musicians, whose contract expired March 2. Broadway musicians last went on strike in September 1975, shutting down nine musicals for 25 days.
The settlement was good news for theatergoers like Crystal Heitman, who is spending her spring break from the University of Notre Dame in New York.
"I've always been a big fan of musicals and one of the big reasons that I came up here this week was to see a show," Heitman said. "I'd really like to see maybe 'The Lion King' or 'Les Mis,' but I'd really be happy to see anything."