Broadway musicians to protest pre-recorded music in ‘Priscilla’ Thursday

Los Angeles Times
Broadway musicians to protest pre-recorded music in ‘Priscilla’ [Updated]
May 26, 2011 | 1:44 pm

Since the musical “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” opened in March at the Palace Theatre in New York, musicians on Broadway have been voicing their unhappiness with the decision to use a combination of live and pre-recorded music in the show. On Thursday, musicians and other supporters will protest the musical starting 7 p.m. outside the Palace.

The protest is being organized by the Save Live Music on Broadway campaign, a coalition of composers, performers and other live-music professionals. The campaign itself is the creation of Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, a union that has waged an aggressive public-relations war against the musical in recent weeks.

Producers of “Priscilla” have “drastically cut the theatre’s live orchestra and forced the remaining musicians to play along with a recording,” said campaign organizers in a statement sent Thursday.

[Updated, 1:52 p.m.: A spokesman for the show has provided comments from producers. Producers of “Priscilla” said in a statement that there no plans to change the musical composition of the show. “The orchestrations were created more than five years ago and have been performed in productions in Sydney, Aukland, London and Toronto for thousands of performances prior to Broadway,” they said.

The producers maintained that there “are elements in the sound of the ‘Priscilla’ score that cannot be recreated by live performance. These are the recorded manipulated sounds that accompany the live musicians who play every performance of the show.”]

The musical, based on the hit 1994 Australian movie, follows a group of drag queens who travel to the outback in a large bus. Reviews of the show have been largely lukewarm to negative, and the production was shut out of the best-musical category in the Tony nominations.

At the box office, “Priscilla” is doing respectable business, having played to nearly 87% capacity in the most recent week. Among the show’s many producers is actress-singer Bette Midler.

The use of pre-recorded music in “Priscilla” is an anomaly on Broadway, where live music is still the norm.

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2 thoughts on “Broadway musicians to protest pre-recorded music in ‘Priscilla’ Thursday

  1. I completely agree that there shouldn’t be any pre-recorded music on Broadway. It created less jobs and opens a Pandora’s Box to thousands of other issues to come. HOWEVER, there is always an exception to every rule and I believe this is the case not because I adore Bette and Priscilla but because of the nature of this particular musical.
    The music in question are the tracks the queens lypsync to when performing in drag throughout the show. It wouldn’t make any sense, or really work at all to have them singing live ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” when they are supposed to be lypsyncing to the song in a night club.
    Taken at face value I can see the need for alarm as work in the arts is already so incredibly rare and, again, it could lead to cast members lypsyncing as well (and not when they are supposed to be. Confusing huh?) As live concert goers many of us have experienced the anger, disappointment and shock of attending the concert of a popular star *cough britney* *cough cough cher* only to find the only thing “live” about the show is the performer on stage. (and often then, barely. *AAcchhchooo! britney spears*) Why even our beloved Divine One Miss Midler made a tiny attempt at lypsyncing back during her “DeTour” when while performing as Delores DeLargo she breaks into “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and due to the choreography she lypsyncs this song rather than perform it live, breathlessly. In “Art or Bust” the HBO presentation of the concert it is painfully clear she is lypsynching and is clearly painful she is as unhappy about it as we are. From “Experience the Divine” on she has kept this bit in her routine however now there is no lypsynching and almost to those in the know (or to herself to prove it CAN be done she always ends it by yelling “And that was LIVE!”
    Although live shows presented to pre-recorded vocals and music have not gone over well with performers and audience members alike but that hasn’t stopped it from happening and as producers are faced with ever increasing budgets for the giant special effects not expected from Broadway musicals but still having to deal with dwindling audiences forced to take “stay-cations” rather than travel, one sure fire way to cut a budget is, like Walt Disney pioneered for his parks, to pay real talent once to record the song, then hire bodies to fill the costumes at a fraction of the price to act it out over and over.
    So, yes, as an entertainer myself I understand the concern to keep live theater live and I am fully behind a protest of this sort –just not for this play. There must be pre-recorded music to tell the story and when not lypsynching as drag queens all of the rest of the music and vocals are live.
    So– basically that was a whole lot of babbling to simply say: right issue. Wrong play.

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