Musicians Local 802 filed for arbitration Nov. 9 following a loss of momentum in negotiations with the producer of Saturday Night Fever over the size of the show's orchestra. In addition, the union says, musicians representing every Broadway orchestra will be on hand Nov. 10 at 7 PM outside the Minskoff Theatre to leaflet the patrons of Saturday Night Fever in a bid to gather support for its position with the theatregoing public.
"We have filed for arbitration today [Nov. 9] with the American Arbitration Association, which is the agency charged with handling arbitration under the League/802 contract," Moriarity told Playbill On-Line. "I have to discuss with legal counsel how quickly we can go to arbitration. It may be in our best interest to go to expedited arbitration if we can. We're looking to get this resolved as soon as possible." The union seeks to raise the number of musicians in Fever's orchestra by seven players. The leaflet from Local 802 recommends that theatre patrons call the League of American Theatres and Producers as well as the show's producers to complain that they "deserve the live, full sounds of a Broadway orchestra."
An advance copy of the Local 802 flyer, obtained by Playbill On-Line, states that, "The fine musicians in this small orchestra are doing an extraordinary job -- but there just aren't enough of them to make the music sound as it should. Musicians have been replaced with synthesizes and amplifiers, undermining the performance and cheating you, the audience."
The union flyer described the "cut-down, synthesized and amplified" music in Saturday Night Fever." A separate press release added that, "the show opened on October 21 to scathing reviews, including critical comments about the music in the show."
Contractually, the musicians claim, a Minskoff Theatre orchestra should comprise 24 players. After an initial debate over the issue, where Fever producers apparently did not prevail, six cast members (who sing in the show) on Equity contracts were handed "mini-keys" in a move to satisfy Local 802's demands. The union said the producer was insisting that the separate group of six cast members were, in fact, instrumentalists. Local 802 went on to say that "critics have described music in the show as 'tinny' and 'distant,' a far cry from the music popularized by the Bee Gees, which on many occasions used much larger orchestras, including strings"
Local 802 President Bill Moriarity viewed the show as "the most egregious example of the 'dumbing down' of the music of Broadway."
The League of American Theatres and Producers did not return a call by press time.
"Our members remain concerned about the quality of music presented generally on Broadway," Moriarity said, "where there is far too much reliance on synthesizers and amplification and not enough on the acoustic orchestra sound that we believe is one of the great attractions of Broadway."
Local 802 said it had raised a grievance with the League of American Theatres and Producers and a meeting on the issue had been set. But when Local 802 insisted that Actors Equity Association be allowed to participate the League declined to meet.