Sir Cameron finalises plans for virtual orchestra in stage show

SIR Cameron Mackintosh is to proceed with his controversial plans to halve the number of musicians in his show, Les Miserables, when it moves from the Palace Theatre to the smaller Queens next month.

In a carefully worded statement, he has announced that 11 musicians have signed contracts and the transfer is to go ahead - despite the fact that some members of the Musicians Union (MU) had threatened to strike over his plans to replace half of his Les Miserables orchestra with a "virtual orchestra".

The MU insisted yesterday that it will fight the introduction of the Sinfonia, an American computer which records and mimics the sound of 300 instruments, in the West End. It fears that its use in Les Miserables will set a precedent which would lose its members work in the long term.

Sir Cameron, who is set to save thousands of pounds in musicians’ fees, has said that he would close the show if the dispute was not resolved, stating that "one can’t be like King Canute and insist that this technology won’t happen".

Negotiations are at a sensitive stage. The MU, which represents more than 31,000 musicians, has said it will fight Sinfonia’s introduction, which it has said would remove the "beating heart of the production". But it accepts that it will be unable to prevent its use.

Horace Trubridge, the assistant general secretary of the union, has said: "What we are trying to negotiate is to ensure the device will be used to replace the minimum number of musicians."

A statement issued by Peter Thompson Associates, on behalf of Cameron Mackintosh Ltd, stated: "While discussions continue between the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) ... and the Musicians’ Union over usage of synthesisers in the West End and regional theatres, Cameron Mackintosh confirmed today that the transfer of Les Miserables is going ahead from the Palace Theatre to the Queens Theatre exactly as planned and in full accordance with the industry agreement that exists between SOLT and the MU.

"The 11 musicians from the Les Miserables orchestra, which is the maximum that can be accommodated in the Queens orchestra pit, have accepted and signed contracts to move with this production. Actors Equity has informed their members that they are pleased that any dispute has been avoided and that the production is going ahead."

The production, which is the third-longest running musical, is due to move to the Queens in late March.

A statement issued by the MU read: "Contrary to recent reports in the media, the union’s position has not changed with regards to the use of the Sinfonia. The Musicians’ Union remains united in its opposition to the introduction of such devices into the West End. We are continuing our discussions with the Society of London Theatre and will deliver a full report to our members who work in West End theatres at a specially convened meeting at the union’s National Office on Monday, 23 February."

The union will report back to West End musicians in two weeks’ time. It will then decide whether to take action or measures such as urging theatregoers to boycott the show.

Cameron Mackintosh Ltd said any saving in fees would be outweighed by the costs of moving the production and the theatre being smaller.

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