Les Miz Musicians and Cameron Mackintosh Face Off in West End

News   Les Miz Musicians and Cameron Mackintosh Face Off in West End Using "playbacks" instead of orchestras is nothing new in the musicals world, but it usually happens on tours where economics or theatre space won't allow for musicians.

Matthew Bourne's last UK tour of his Nutcracker, for instance, used recordings. But for a major West End show to jettison musicians, that's something else entirely. And the Musicians' Union is on the war path. Cameron Mackintosh isn't proposing any wholesale wipe-out, but he does want to reduce the size of the Les Misérables band from 22 to 9 when the show jumps from the Palace to the Queen's. He plans to beef up the sound with an American digital machine, called the Sinfonia. Requiring only one technician to operate it, the Sinfonia is obviously far cheaper than 13 extra players. According to the Daily Telegraph, Mackintosh has threatened to close the show completely if the dispute is not resolved. The Musicians' Union, however, is equally adamant, and the word "strike" is being whispered around Theatreland. "My members are very angry. They are absolutely, vehemently, 100 percent against it being used in any theatre in Britain," Horace Trubridge, assistant general secretary of the union, told the newspaper. "We are not just fighting for our members' careers but for the world class standards that the West End is known for."

The union says that they will accept a smaller orchestra, but not the Sinfonia. Mackintosh, for his part, insists that new technology cannot be ignored.