Joys of Sex Composer Hopes to Settle Union Dispute Over "Virtual Orchestra" Use

By Ernio Hernandez
March 12, 2004

"I am a very young composer — 28 years old — and very lucky to have this show happen," composer David Weinstein told Playbill On-Line about his work The Joys of Sex: A Naughty New Musical heading to Off Broadway's Variety Arts, starting April 9.

The work, which hit the 2002 New York International Fringe Festival, has just hit a bump in the road, however, as the Local 802 of American Federation of Musicians has expressed opposition to its use of a synthesizer called the Sinfonia.

Producers of the new musical approached Local 802 with their plans to use a piano, bass and drums — as used in the Fringe run — with the addition of the Sinfonia machine — which is produced by the company Realtime Music Solutions.

The machine is the same technology — known to many as the "virtual orchestra" — that was at the center of the labor dispute last year between the AFM and Broadway producers which resulted in the musicians' strike.

Weinstein, a member of AFM's Los Angeles union, the Local 47, explained "I feel like they might have the wrong opinion on this Sinfonia machine. While I am in total agreement with them, in the fact that we all hope that it never replaces a Broadway orchestra, I'm using it as a separate tool.

"It's like an oversized synthesizer. With this show in particular, I'm using it for that reason. It's a show about sex and I wanted to put in all these fun sound effects and electronic keyboard sounds," revealed Weinstein. "When we did this show at the Fringe Festival, we had three musicians: piano, bass and drums. I have the exact same orchestrations: three musicians [but now] basically, I'm doubling the piano player to play Sinfonia as well.

"There are a couple colors in there that sound a little bit like real instruments, but I'm not trying to make an orchestral mock-up, or symphony orchestra or anything nearly like the classical European orchestrations that you'll hear on a Broadway stage. That's just not this kind of show. It's very rhythmic-driven, it's a lot of drums, a lot of rock 'n' roll, a lot of fun, really energetic stuff."

Producer Ben Sprecher told Playbill On-Line that the three musicians already under contract for the show are "very comfortable because the composer is not replacing musicians. He's using this as a sound enhancement, electronically." He added, "I asked my composer 'If you were to tape the music and we were just to play it on tape like [the Off-Broadway musical] Debbie Does Dallas did, what would you like?' And he said 'I would use the three musicians we have and I would record the Sinfonia.' He wants the sound of this instrument."

Composer Weinstein has called the union and both have set up a meeting to discuss the issue at hand. "I want them to know that I'm on their side on whatever I can do to keep replacements out because I'm a member of the union and I want to keep all the musicians' jobs." He said that, with Joys of Sex, the show is not putting anybody out of work and that the producers spent a good amount of money in acquiring the Sinfonia to fill out the sound of the music which for a larger venue sounded "sort of thin." Weinstein posed "If I didn't have the Sinfonia — I wrote it for that — [the musical director] would have a synthesizer and do exactly the same thing.

"I would like to be somewhat the Pied Piper to try to get the 802 to come up with a way to manage this issue and not just try to block it. We went to them and said 'We want to do this correctly, we want you guys to be a part of this'," said Weinstein. "I'm afraid that what's going to happen is some producer is just going to go to them and say 'Well, we're going to do it. [expletive] you' and [that would] be the end of it.' I would not want to see that happen."

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Jeremy Dobrish (The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged)) returns to direct the work, which will open May 12. Ron Bohmer (The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Thing About Men) and Jenelle Lynn Randall (They Wrote That?) join original Fringe cast members David Josefsberg (Les Misιrables, Grease!) and Stephanie Kurtzuba (The Boy From Oz).

Ben Sprecher and William P. Miller produce the musical featuring lyrics by Melissa Levis, music by David Weinstein and book by Levis and Weinstein.

Not to be confused with the bestselling, similarly-titled 1974 book, the musical The Joys of Sex — which does not contain "nudity or crass language" — features four characters who sing about threesomes, one-night stands, cybersex and orgasms.

The design team for The Joys of Sex will feature Neil Patel (set), David C. Woolard (costume), Donald Holder (lighting) and T. Richard Fitzgerald (sound). Lisa Shriver handles choreography.

Tickets to The Joys of Sex at the Variety Arts Theatre, 110 Third Avenue (at 14th Street), will be available March 21 by calling (212) 239-6200. The Variety Arts Theatre box office opens March 22.