Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award winner David Byrne’s Imelda Marcos musical Here Lies Love is drawing disapproval from New York City’s musicians’ union. The reason? It’s use of pre-recorded music rather than scores performed by live musicians (who happen to be part of that union).

The use of such music in a Broadway show is considered a violation by American Federation of Musicians’ Local 802, a labor union representing Broadway musicians and its contract Broadway League. That contract stipulates that all musicals at Broadway venues must employ at least 19 musicians.

“For generations, audiences have experienced Broadway shows with live music performed by the best musicians in the world, and by using just pre-recorded tracks it not only cheapens the art it’s putting jobs and livelihoods at risk,” said Tino Gagliardi, the local’s president and executive director, in a statement to Deadline. “Our musicians are heartbroken that David Byrne – a legend – is attempting this and we strongly hope he reconsiders.”

Slated to begin on June 17 with an opening night on July 20 at New York’s Broadway Theatre, Here Lies Love musical has a concept, music, and lyrics by Byrne who collaborated on music with Grammy Award winner Fatboy Slim. Making its world premiere in 2013 at the off-Broadway Public Theatre, the show centers around the rise to power and downfall of Imelda Marcos, the wife of Ferdinand Marcos who led an oppressive regime in the Philippines until the mid ’80s.

Its musical style relies on ‘70s pop-disco, tropical love songs, tunes of techno, and “part of the karaoke genre inherent to the musical” as producers put it. The audience witness the venue’s traditional proscenium floor to be turned into a dance club environment where they can stand, move and dance along with the actors during the performance.

However, the production’s use of instrumental tracks instead of a live band is considered as an “existential threat to Broadway” by musicians’ union Local 802. The union says it is seeking to preserve jobs for musicians and quality for theater lovers.

Production’s spokesman, Adrian Bryan-Brown, said: “Since Here Lies Love was first conceived 17 years ago, every production has been performed to prerecorded track; this is part of the karaoke genre inherent to the musical and the production concept. The music for Here Lies Love was inspired by the phenomena of ‘track acts,’ which allowed club audiences to keep dancing, much like this production aims to do.”

Here Lies Love had its biggest staging at London’s Royal National Theatre in 2014, and also returned to the Public Theatre in 2014-15. It was last staged in the U.S. at the Seattle Repertory Theatre in 2017. On its social media post, the production shared a statement citing that Here Lies Love does not believe in artistic gate-keepers.

Here Lies Love is on Broadway because Broadway must create space for boundary-pushing creative work,” the statement read. “Broadway is also the venue for a well-conceived, high-quality show that highlights the valued traditions of specific cultures whose stories have never been on its stages. Here Lies Love does not believe in artistic gate-keepers. Here Lies Love believes in a Broadway for everyone, where new creative forms push the medium and create new traditions and audiences.”

The production requested a “special situation” panel which would allow the show to be staged with less than the required number of musicians (19). Local 802 union’s president Tino Gagliardi informs on his president’s report that panel consists of representatives from Local 802, the League and includes neutrals, not affiliated with either party. The production is examined and the panel votes to determine whether to allow the orchestra reduction. If the parties don’t accept the decision, it is submitted to arbitration.

“But while we’re waiting on this administrative process”, Gagliardi emphasized, “We must inform the public that audience members will be paying full price for a Broadway musical, but will instead be getting a pre-recorded soundtrack instead of a live Broadway orchestra. Audiences are getting ripped off and our musicians are losing work. This is not good for anyone.”

According to New York Times report, in 2011, the union objected to a reduced-size orchestra, along with recorded music, for the Broadway production of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. More recently, The Little Prince was staged at the Broadway Theater with music sung to recorded tracks; that show was not Tony-eligible and had a short run, so the union did not object.

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