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Broadway braces for possible strike

Musicians seeking new contract

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NEW YORK (Reuters) -- They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway, but by next week the music could be canned.

Musicians who work in the orchestra pits of old Broadway standbys like "Phantom of the Opera" and new hits like "Hairspray" said on Tuesday they might walk off the job after their union contract expires on Sunday.

Negotiations between the musicians' union and producers have hit a snag over a clause in the contract that requires a minimum number of orchestra members to be hired for each Broadway theater. Producers can negotiate reductions in some cases.

Broadway musicals this week are rehearsing with prerecorded music to prepare for a potential strike.

The American League of Theatres and Producers, which represents Broadway producers, vowed that live music would always be a part of the Broadway experience -- unless the musicians go on strike.

"There's no way Broadway is ever going to stop having live music," said producers' president Jed Bernstein. "The only use of virtual orchestra technology will be in the event of a work stoppage."

The so-called "virtual orchestras" being used in rehearsals this week are sophisticated, computer-controlled playback systems designed to replicate the sound of live musicians.

Bill Moriarity, head of the American Federation of Musicians Local 802, said the musicians in his union fear that eliminating the minimum staffing clause would "lead to the immediate reduction and eventual removal of live music on Broadway."

Negotiations between the union and producers are expected to continue through the weekend.

Bernstein declined to speculate on how Broadway theatergoers would respond to the use of prerecorded music, or whether shows would offer discounted tickets in the event of a strike.

"I hope we don't ever have to find out," he said.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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