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Musicians’ union, Broadway shows work through debate over orchestrators

A one-sentence clause in a union contract has been causing headaches for the Broadway industry.

The cast of 'Be More Chill' during the show's off-Broadway run. (Photo: Maria Baranova)

A one-sentence clause in a union contract has been causing headaches for the Broadway industry.

Due to a clause in the collective bargaining agreement between the Local 802, the musicians’ union, and the Broadway League, “Be More Chill” orchestrator Charlie Rosen and “Hadestown” orchestrator Michael Chorney were recently informed that playing in the pit of their respective Broadway shows was in violation of the contract. The rule states that “No orchestrator of a given production may serve as Orchestra Contractor, Supervisor, Copyist or Instrumentalist on that production.”

Local 802’s collective bargaining agreement expires in early March and is set to be renegotiated with the League beginning next week. The musicians’ union is led by a new slate of elected officials, including a new president, Adam Krauthamer, a new vice president, a new nine-member executive board and a new nine-member trial board, all of whom took office in January after sweeping the election in December.

The current collective bargaining agreement does include an exception for conductors, meaning that a conductor could also play in the pit of a Broadway show, even if he or she was also the orchestrator, as was the case with Alex Lacamoire in “Hamilton” and “In the Heights,” for example.

In a joint statement, “Be More Chill’s” General Manager Lisa Dozier King and Krauthamer said they were working together to address the issue involving Rosen, after the show’s creative team and fellow musicians had been posting about the situation on social media.

“Local 802 raised an issue under the current labor agreement and we are having respectful and productive conversations regarding how best to move forward,” Dozier King said. “We are grateful to Adam and the 802 Board for swiftly working towards a productive solution.”

“I look forward to continuing our productive relationship with ‘Be More Chill’ and the other shows on Broadway under the Collective Bargaining Agreement,” Krauthamer said in the statement.

Rosen is listed as “Be More Chill’s” music orchestrator and music supervisor, in addition to playing guitar and ukulele in the pit. He has several Broadway credits, including as the co-music orchestrator on the upcoming “Moulin Rouge!”

He did not respond to a request for comment.

At “Hadestown,” Chorney had played guitar in every production of the musical, including at New York Theatre Workshop in 2016, and had been expecting to play in the Broadway production.

However, because of his duel role as orchestrator and guitarist, the show was informed about two weeks ago that it would be in violation of the collective bargaining agreement.

“Hadestown” begins previews on March 22 and the team is keeping open the possibility that Chorney may be able to play.

“Our hope is that the union will reconsider their position,” said producer Mara Isaacs. “We understand that we have to abide by their decision and on behalf of the creative team hope that they will allow the team to have the musician in the pit who is the most qualified for the show.”