UK: A new West End theatrical production, Peter Pan El Musical, has become the subject of a Musicians' Union campaign concerning its reliance on pre-recorded music. The entirely Spanish production - which has been touring Europe for approximately five years using a recording - is due to play at the Garrick Theatre until the end of this month, writes David Davies.
The use of a recording takes place despite an agreement between the MU and the Society of London Theatre (SOLT).
"The UK producers approached the Union to seek permission for the show to come into town," recalled Dave Webster, MU London region senior organiser. "We made it quite clear that there was an opportunity for our members, or Spanish musicians for that matter, to secure four weeks' employment. The Union regards the use of a live band as paramount in live theatre. We raised objections but it appeared that the contract for the show to come into London had already been signed, negating the due process required under the conditions of the agreement. The Spanish producers have made it quite clear that they could not afford to employ a live band despite reports that the cost of the West End run would be in the region of _1m. However, they have stated they will employ a solo foyer musician for the duration of the run."
"Whilst the Union appreciates this is a Spanish Unit company and the production will be performed in Spanish it should not negate the need to apply the terms and conditions of the agreement between the Union and SOLT," added the MU's assistant general secretary, Horace Trubridge. "What is really at question here is why contracts were signed before the Union could consult with its members on the issue. Perhaps we may have been able to reach an understanding but this 'fait accompli' approach is unacceptable."
A statement issued to PSN-e by representatives of the UK producers defends the reliance on recorded music by placing the story in a wider European context: "We have been talking to the Musicians' Union about Peter Pan El Musical since January and were hopeful that we could reach an understanding about this unique Spanish production that has been touring Spain for the past five years. It comes to the West End for a limited four-week season as a self-contained unit of 40 people. The music for Peter Pan was commissioned, performed and orchestrated for the show's producers specifically as a backing track and was never designed to be played by live musicians - and never has. This is usual with musicals on the continent. As a goodwill gesture, the producers have offered to pay a British musician to play in the bar of the theatre before the show and in the interval. The MU have further asked us to put a notice in the foyer at the box office indicating that the show features pre-recorded music and we are happy to comply with this."
In other MU-related news, the organisation has recently launched an online petition (see second link below) to encourage the public to support a campaign calling for "honesty" in the use of recorded music. Among the objectives for the Honesty Code are that consumers be able to make informed decisions before they buy tickets to a live production.