According to the New York Times, the Australian jukebox musical, which utilizes familiar pop and disco tunes for its score, employs only nine musicians in its pit. The 2003 agreement between Local 802 and the Broadway League, which represents producers, states that the Palace Theatre must employ a minimum of 18 musicians unless producers invoke a special situation clause allowing them to use less musicians for creative purposes.
In the case of Priscilla, which did make use of the clause, producers argue that the period-specific pop and disco sound that they are attempting to capture necessitates the use of a synthesized string section, rather than live musicians. Union members claim the practice is about saving money, not artistic creativity.
Priscilla producer Garry McQuinn, who has been behind the musical since its Australian debut, commented to the Times, "This is not an orchestral show — it's a show with disco music. We're not motivated here to save money or kill jobs. I simply don’t know what I would do with violinists or string players or other extra musicians if we were required to have them. And, yes, I'd rather not have to pay four or six or eight more musicians to basically sit in the pit and do nothing."
A previous independent arbitrator sided with Priscilla producers in March, stating that additional musicians were not needed in the case of this particular musical.
Local 802 has also hired consultants to create the "Save Live Music On Broadway" campaign, "a coalition of Broadway composers, lyricists, musicians, performers and top professionals from the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera and The Julliard School," to educate the ticket-buying public and to put pressure on the Broadway League to keep synthesized and recorded music out of Broadway orchestra pits. "Going to see a Broadway musical is one of the few remaining hand-cobbled experiences left in our digitized entertainment world," Tony-nominated Grey Gardens composer Scott Frankel said in a statement supporting "Save Live Music On Broadway." "It is something of a tightrope act: the actors are delivering their lines and songs in real time, not prerecorded; the live musicians perform the score with nuance and sensitivity, reacting not only to subtle interpretative variances emanating from the stage, but also from particular audience responses. Having played in the pits of Broadway musicals, conducted Broadway pit orchestras and composed the score for a Broadway musical...I can attest to the fact that when everything is 'live' it keeps the experience fresh and alive for performers, musicians and audiences alike."