Local 802, the Association of Musicians of Greater New York, and the producers of "The Scarlet Pimpernel" are crossing swords over the size of the pit orchestra when the downsized musical resumes at the Neil Simon Theatre, Sept. 10. Radio City Entertainment and Ted Forstmann are the "Pimpernel" producers.
The show, which is currently playing in Dallas and will continue on to Houston and Atlanta before returning to New York, had been running at the Minskoff Theatre for 19 months, with an orchestra consisting of 24 union musicians. The Neil Simon only requires 20 musicians.
But Local 802 doesn't want to be cut back, along with the "Scarlet Pimpernel" production's newly reduced cast (from 41 to 29), scenery, and potential box-office take.
"The best and strongest protection we have in our contract is the "run of the play' clause," Judy West, Local 802's spokesperson told Back Stage. "All the producers agreed to our contract."
Broadway orchestra contracts are governed by the size of the theatre, not the production. "The Scarlet Pimpernel" closed May 30 in order to strip down and go on its mini-tour. Although long-running Broadway musicals often change theatres, it is rare if not unprecedented for a show to return to a different theatre on the Main Stem after a short absence.
Actors' Equity made a concession to a union rule that would have protected the terminated "Pimpernel" actors (in exchange, the producers pumped up road and re-rehearsal pay for those actors who remained or were new hires), but the musicians' union seems disinclined to follow suit.
But neither is Local 802 yet threatening a strike, nor suggesting the employment of "walkers," extraneous musicians who are paid by the production but don't play anything other than pinochle.
Negotiations between play and players are temporarily on hold, primarily because the production principals are out of town with the show's opening in Dallas Tuesday night. From Texas, "Pimpernel" executive producer Tim Hawkins told Back Stage that "the move to another theatre was "not a choice of ours, but a response to a business reality. The Nederlanders wanted us to leave the Minskoff so that "Saturday Night Fever' could come in. But now we're planning for our show to have a good long life at the Neil Simon, and forever after. The union seems to be ignoring its own collective bargaining contract. It appears we're going to agree to disagree."
"We are still trying to sit down with them again," West said. "We're anxious to resolve this."
If all else fails, there is an arbitration provision in the collective bargaining agreement between musicians and producers.