Dirty Dancing musical sparks protest amongst musicians

Producer Karl Sydow at the shows launch in Blackpool earlier this year
Producer Karl Sydow at the shows launch in Blackpool earlier this year
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Angry musicians are holding a demonstration outside Dirty Dancing at Blackpool’s Opera House tonight claiming the show uses too much pre-recorded music.

Members of the Musicians’ Union (MU) say that the show – dubbed the “ultimate live experience” – features fewer live musicians than previous tours.

The MU fought for more live music in the current production of Dirty Dancing, but the producer refused and therefore we believe the all-important musical element of the show is compromised

Union bosses claim the use of a backing track recorded in Italy robs their members of work, leaving only five musicians performing in the show.

The MU did not reveal what form protests would take at tonight’s 7.30pm show, but union bosses say its “presence would be felt by the audiences and theatres”.

However, Dirty Dancing co-producers Karl Sydow and Paul Elliott have strongly refuted the MU’s claims, saying the show is a “play with music” and has always featured at least 40 per cent recorded tracks.

Horace Trubridge, MU assistant general secretary said: “In a musical, live musicians are a fundamental part of the show; for quality, audience enjoyment and value for money.

“The MU fought for more live music in the current production of Dirty Dancing, but the producer refused and therefore we believe the all-important musical element of the show is compromised.

“Returning fans keen to see this show based on their enjoyment of previous tours may be disappointed to witness the apparent cost-cutting changes that have been made.

“The MU believes that live theatre should be just that – live.”

Dirty Dancing opened last night and performances will continue at the Opera House until August 30.

The show is based on the hit 1987 movie which starred Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey.

Showbusiness magazine The Stage has reported that Mr Elliott has resigned from trade body UK Theatre, which negotiates employment terms with unions on behalf of producers.

He said: “I decided that after 50-plus years of membership of UK Theatre, I would not submit to this blackmail and took the decision to resign.”

According to the MU, the dispute began when Mr Elliott and Mr Sydow approached the union about getting rid of the show’s band completely.

The MU objected, which it claimed had resulted in the show agreeing to add five actor-musicians.

Mrs Trubridge said: “There seems to be not a great deal of clarity about how much the actor-musiciansdo on stage compared with the recording.

“We suspect the majority of what the audience hears is the recording made in Italy.”

He said many touring shows used recordings to augment an existing live band to make it sound bigger, which the MU said it accepted as necessary in terms of touring economics.

However, he said Dirty Dancing was doing the opposite, by predominantly using a recording with “some live music mixed into it”.

“We think there is an issue here for the ticket-buying public, as we gather that prices are not reflecting the fact it is effectively a reduced production,” he said.

“The MU believes that live theatre should be just that – live.” The producers said the tour was playing more venues for shorter runs, and that smaller stages meant the show had needed a “redesign”.

Mr Elliott said he had employed 2,931 musicians during his 55 years as a producer.

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