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MU General Secretary Addresses Phantom of the Opera Situation

MU General Secretary Horace Trubridge has today written to all members regarding the closure of the West End production of Phantom of the Opera in 2020, and the subsequent forthcoming production of the show featuring a greatly reduced orchestra.

Published: 06 May 2021 | 10:05 AM Updated: 07 May 2021 | 11:00 AM
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“We were so sorry to hear of this closure and deeply concerned for the livelihoods of the musicians who had given great service to the production.” Photo credit: Shutterstock

The contents of the email, which was sent out to members on the morning of Thursday 6 May, is as follows:

I am writing to you as we are aware of the distress regarding the closure of the West End production of Phantom of the Opera in 2020, and the subsequent forthcoming production of the show featuring a greatly reduced orchestra. We were so sorry to hear of this closure and deeply concerned for the livelihoods of the musicians who had given great service to the production.

At the time that the London office of the MU was overseeing the arrangements for redundancy payments, we were unaware of the producers’ plans to open a new production of ‘Phantom’. Once known we immediately entered into discussions with Cameron Mackintosh Limited (CML) and consequently learned their intention to use the touring production with the reduced orchestration.

We argued that, as well as the loss of employment for our members, it would not be possible to reproduce the symphonic sound associated with the production with only 14 musicians. As the touring version had been received favourably around the world, the producers stated they were sorry that fewer musicians would be required but that was the nature of the score. A situation that was universally unwelcome to us all.

We were also told that the music department had decided against engaging any of the musicians from the old show. On hearing this I spoke with CML and pointed out that, whilst we recognised that they had not breached the collective bargaining agreement, reducing the orchestra by such drastic numbers and refusing to consider existing players was wholly unacceptable to the MU, and warned CML that the MU would contact the press if necessary.

I was later informed that the music department would now be inviting musicians from the old show to express an interest in being considered for the new production. And also that, where there was no longer a suitable chair available for a particular musician in the new show, those musicians would be looked upon favourably for other productions.

I know you have concerns about the possibility of dwindling work opportunities on West End shows and it is something that we have been keeping a close eye on. The number of players engaged on shows has remained stable since 2011. Little comfort to some members I know, but it does show that over-all employment levels have not dipped in the last 10 years. Should we see a downward trend in future, this is something we would of course fight against.

I understand there is a feeling amongst some players that the Broadway/Local 802 agreement is far better than our SOLT/MU agreement. As you will be aware, labour laws in the US are very different to the UK, allowing US unions much more power than is afforded to unions in the UK. Whilst some aspects of the Broadway agreement may appear attractive, there are many restrictive clauses such as single time for a Sunday show, stricter depping regimes and less favourable severance/redundancy arrangements.

For those of you who have been so affected by this new production of Phantom, I am sorry for the distress this has caused but do want to assure you that the MU did everything necessary to ensure the best possible outcome.

The MU is here for you and we will continue to offer strong regular communications, help, advice and training to all. We spend each day arguing with politicians and civil servants to try to get our industry back up and running at the earliest point that it is safe to do so, which I hope is very soon.

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