Broadway Musical Theatergoers Outraged at
Producers Replacing Live Music with Recordings
According to Nationwide Poll
First Broadway musical to replace live musicians with a recording, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, panned by critics as “monotonous and mechanical”
3 out of 4 theatergoers would not buy tickets knowing a show was using recorded music.
NEW YORK, NY—May 16, 2011: The thrill of hearing and seeing a live orchestra at a Broadway musical is one of the few remaining authentic musical experiences in American culture today. Indeed, audiences from every corner of the world flock to New York to experience the best of the best on Broadway. But in recent years some producers have begun to slash live orchestras and replace musicians with recordings or synthetic music to squeeze out a few extra dollars in profits. Meanwhile, ticket prices continue to rise.
To combat this assault on the excellence of Broadway shows, a coalition of Broadway composers, lyricists, musicians, performers and top professionals from the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera and The Julliard School have joined with the Council for Living Music* to launch a nationwide campaign, “Save Live Music On Broadway.”
Broadway Musical Audiences Want Live Music—Not Recordings, New Study Finds
Producers of the recently opened Priscilla, Queen of the Desert have drastically cut the theatre’s live orchestra and forced the remaining musicians to play along with a recording. Critics have been appalled, calling the show “synthetic to the core” (Time Out New York); “mechanical and monotonous” and “karaoke-inspired” (The New York Times); “a glossy costume party masquerading as a musical” (New York Daily News); and declaring that “the songs… blend together into an undifferentiated morass” (everythingmusicals.com).
Audiences agree that live music is essential to the Broadway Musical experience. A 704-person national survey released today shows that musical theatergoers overwhelmingly oppose the replacement of live music with pre-recorded tracks. The Broadway Musical Theatergoer Study, commissioned by the nonprofit Council for Living Music, reveals widespread shock and disappointment among the theatergoing public that some producers are seeking to cheapen the musical experience Broadway audiences expect and deserve.
91% of those surveyed said, “The best part about a Broadway Musical is the live music,” and 92% said they would be disappointed if they learned that a show for which they had bought tickets would contain little or no live music. For an industry so central to New York City tourism, it is noteworthy that 3 out of 4 respondents said they would not buy tickets to a show if they were aware it would be using recorded music to replace some or all of the musicians. The facts are clear: theatergoers are not willing to pay Broadway ticket prices for a sub-par experience so that producers can squeeze out a few more dollars in profits. (To see full poll results visit SaveLiveMusicOnBroadway.com.)
“Save Live Music On Broadway.com” Campaign Launches
The Save Live Music on Broadway campaign is launching today with a mission to send a message to Charlotte St. Martin, Executive Director of the Broadway League—the trade association for most of Broadway’s producers and theater owners―to keep Broadway music live. The Save Live Music on Broadway website (SaveLiveMusicOnBroadway.com) provides a detailed history of the Broadway League's race to the cultural bottom, along with the opportunity to sign a petition opposing the replacement of live music with recordings. Supporters also can “Like” Save Live Music On Broadway on Facebook and follow the campaign on Twitter (@SaveLiveMusic). Ironically, from 1997 through 2006 the Broadway League ran a large-scale nationwide marketing campaign, "LIVE Broadway," with the message that what makes theatergoing superior and unique is that audiences would experience the electricity and passion of flesh-and-blood performers and musicians, an experience that the League emphasized could not be had by watching movies or television or by listening to recordings on CD's, iPods (and now on smart phones), computers or other digital devices.
Endorsers of the Save Live Music on Broadway campaign include some of Broadway’s brightest lights, including Marc Shaiman (Composer, Lyricist, Arranger, Hairspray, Catch Me If You Can), and Scott Frankel and Michael Korie (Composer and Lyricist, Grey Gardens), as well as some of the most prominent figures in the wider music community including Joseph Polisi, President of The Julliard School for Dance, Drama and Music, New York Philharmonic Concert Master Glenn Dicterow and Metropolitan Opera Orchestra Assistant Concert Master Laura Hamilton.
What Broadway's Creative Artists and Critics Have To Say
SaveLiveMusicOnBroadway.com features a video of America's greatest living composer of Broadway musicals, Stephen Sondheim, saying, "Every audience is privileged to see a very specific performance that nobody will ever see again. It's the aliveness of the orchestra that makes the evening unique and allows for the interplay between the audience, the stage and the pit, which is necessary in every musical. There has to be a three-way interplay – each of them has to affect the other....If it's not all live, it doesn't have life."
Further describing the irreplaceable value of live orchestras, Broadway composer Scott Frankel said, “Going to see a Broadway musical is one of the few remaining hand-cobbled experiences left in our digitized entertainment world. It is something of a tightrope act: the actors are delivering their lines and songs in real time, not prerecorded; the live musicians perform the score with nuance and sensitivity, reacting not only to subtle interpretative variances emanating from the stage, but also from particular audience responses. Having played in the pits of Broadway musicals, conducted Broadway pit orchestras and composed the score for a Broadway musical...I can attest to the fact that when everything is 'live' it keeps the experience fresh and alive for performers, musicians and audiences alike."
Even Broadway’s most venerated and time-honored musicals are not immune. In 2010, producers of a revival of Leonard Bernstein’s classic West Side Story slashed five musicians after 500 performances and replaced them with a synthesizer, prompting violinist and Bernstein collaborator Paul Woodiel to write in an op-ed in The New York Times, “I don’t think Lenny would have approved.” Critics like the New York Post’s Barbara Hoffman agreed, stating “Something as sacred as that score, one of the most beautiful scores ever written—it’s blasphemous.”
The West Side Story incident is also a blatant example of producers’ frequent “bait and switch” tactics—opening a show with a full live orchestra, garnering positive reviews, and then cheating subsequent audiences by replacing much of the acclaimed orchestra with canned music. And when producers cheapen the quality of the show, do they reduce ticket prices? Of course not!—they continue to raise the cost of tickets to squeeze out even more profits.
A full history of the struggle to keep Broadway live can be found at: SaveLiveMusicOnBroadway.com
*The Council for Living Music
The Council for Living Music is an organization whose purpose is to enhance the public’s recognition of the art of live music and live musical performance in all its magnificent forms. We are dedicated to increasing public awareness and appreciation of various forms of musical expression, preserving historic and contemporary musical forms and encouraging the development of new varieties of musical expression that evolve through live performance. Let’s keep musical performances LIVE!