Musicians union protests ‘Fever’

Orchestra has fewer members than contract requires

NEW YORK — “Saturday Night Fever” may be flirting with sold-out status on Broadway, but the musicians union Local 802 isn’t celebrating.

On Wednesday, one hour before curtain, Local 802’s Broadway musicians will begin a leafleting campaign aimed at “SNF” audiences.

According to the union, the “SNF” orchestra is composed of seven fewer musicians than contractually required at the Minskoff Theater, where the show opened Oct. 21 and has steadily grown in box office receipts.

“This show is the most egregious example of the dumbing down of the music of Broadway,” said Local 802 president Bill Moriarity. “Our members remain concerned about the quality of music presented generally on Broadway 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.”

“Saturday Night Fever,” produced by Robert Stigwood and based on the 1977 film he produced, originated in London, where the new stage musical was orchestrated for 18 musicians. The union minimum at the Minskoff Theater is 24, said Manny Kladitis, the show’s associate producer on Broadway. “In order to fulfill that minimum, we orchestrated seven more keyboard parts. Because they’re also asked to sing, they have received the higher minimum (salary), which is the musicians union minimum.”

But in a written statement, Local 802 said: “The (‘SNF’) producer is insisting that six cast members located in a dressing room in another part of the theater are orchestra members. The cast members are vocalists in the show but each has been given small electronic keyboards called mini-keys to bolster the producer’s argument that they are instrumentalists.”

The union had raised a grievance with the League of American Theatres and Producers. A meeting on the issue was scheduled for Monday, but did not go forward when Local 802 asked that Actors Equity be allowed to participate in the meeting as an observer. The League held that the grievance involved the musicians contract and not the actors contract.

Actors Equity initially had two issues with the Broadway producers of “Saturday Night Fever.” “Contractual requirements are that there be no sweetening, and that swings cannot be used in the chorus,” said Alan Eisenberg, executive director of the thesp union. (“Sweetening” is the use of recordings to supplement the voices of singers on stage; a “swing” is an understudy.) “We did have those two issues, but they were resolved to our satisfaction.”