Sound of Music Returns to Broadway: Strike Settled, Minimums Reduced

News   Sound of Music Returns to Broadway: Strike Settled, Minimums Reduced The musicians strike, which began Friday March 7 and was supported by the actors and stagehands unions, has been settled. A tentative agreement was reached early Tuesday morning after round-the-clock negotiations began Monday March 10 at Gracie Mansion.
Striking musicians participate in a mock funeral on Saturday afternoon.
Striking musicians participate in a mock funeral on Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Andrew Ku)

Broadway musicals, most of which which have been dark for four days running, will begin performances again on March 11.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg called officials from Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians and the League of American Theatres and Producers to Gracie Mansion at 9 PM Monday night and effectively shut them in a room with mediator Frank J. Macchiarola until an agreement was reached. Middle ground was located in less than 12 hours.

The main point of the dispute between Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians and the League of American Theatres and Producers concerned the question of minimums in Broadway orchestras. The old pact placed the number at 24 to 26 at the twelve largest Broadway musical houses. The musicians union wanted to set the minimum of players at no less than 24, while producers suggested first 7, then 14, then 15 musicians. At a press conference March 11, it was announced that minimums at the large Broadway theatres will now have set minimums of 18 or 19 players.

The lowered number represents a reduction of roughly a third, but is a far cry from a complete elimination of the minimums clause, a conclusion the producers had initially sought.

There were also changes made to the "Special Situations" clause, which allows producers of shows to petition for a different number of musicians. Previously, the committee that decided these matters was comprised of six people, all music professionals: orchestrators, music directors and the like. The committee will now be made up of both representatives for the musicians union and producers. The new provisions will not apply to shows currently playing on Broadway or scheduled to open this season. The agreement still has to be ratified by the Local 802 rank and file.

Eighteen Broadway musicals were affected by the strike. The strike cost the city millions of dollars a day in revenue at a time of fragile economics, lingering recession and a severe budget shortfall.

The night the lights went out on Broadway was Friday March 7. At 12:01 AM that day, the American Federation of Musicians' Local 802 called a strike, after weeks of negotiations with the League of American Theatres and Producers failed to produce an agreement.

Producers had intended to bring in so-called virtual orchestras, so that their shows might continue, but when Actors' Equity and Local One of the stagehands union decided to honor the musicians walkout, the move effectively shut down nearly every musical currently playing on Broadway.

The League announced at 7 PM Friday that the affected musicals were canceled for the entire weekend. Monday show were also subsequently cancelled. A Times Square suddenly bereft of splashy musical entertainment quickly felt the pain. Restaurants and other local businesses that depend on theatre trade saw a dip in business.

The strike also interrupted rehearsals of three musicals due to open on Broadway this season: Nine, Gypsy and The Look of Love. It did not affect Broadway's plays, or the musical Cabaret, which works under a different contract with Local 802.

The quick resolution of the strike may prevent the schedules of aborning shows from being derailed. Had the walkout continued, upcoming musicals would have surely changed or postponed their opening dates. The producer of Urban Cowboy told the New York Times that, had the strike gone on, it was doubtful the new musical would have opened. A long strike also might have pushed back the date of the Tony Award ceremony.