Despite the lack of a contract, Radio City Music Hall's musicians say they will play in the famed "Christmas Spectacular."
"We are willing to play this show for the good of the city, for the good of the audiences, and as you will see, there is no picket line here today," David Lennon, president of Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, told WCBS-AM's Sean Adams Thursday morning, just hours before the first performance. "The musicians are reporting to work, the musicians are ready to play."
Management had promised ticketholders that the show would go on — even if the leggy Rockettes have to do their chorus-line kicks to canned music.
A preseason performance Wednesday night was canceled and ticketholders left disappointed as several dozen musicians staged a picket line outside the Manhattan landmark. Stagehands also walked out in support.
The Lubin family of Mineola, N.Y., got the bad news when the arrived for the final dress rehearsal. They told WCBS-TV's Mary Calvi their daughter got out of the hospital early to see the show, with her doctor's approval.
"He said 'all right as long as she doesn't have a fever, she can come in,' so we rushed," said Glenda Lubin.
At issue are salaries and overtime pay. The orchestra's contract expired in May, and Lennon blamed Radio City Entertainment, which produces the Christmas show, for the breakdown of talks. Lennon added that no meetings had been scheduled.
Radio City Entertainment said in a statement that the union had walked away from the negotiating table and was holding "the 'Christmas Spectacular,' its 300-member cast and crew as well as hundreds of thousands of patrons" hostage.
The union accuses Cablevision Systems Corp., which operates Radio City, of vastly underpaying musicians who put on several shows a day throughout the holiday season. In a statement, Radio City said it had offered the musicians increases in salary and benefits "over what is already the most lucrative contract in the industry."
The "Christmas Spectacular" has entertained children and adults for seven decades. People pay up to $250 a ticket to watch the Rockettes high-kick to Christmas tunes.
Stagehands for the show had walked out to back the musicians, said James Claffey Jr., president of Local 1 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.
Claffey believed there was a no-strike provision in the Rockettes' contract.
The Rockettes, represented by the American Guild of Variety Artists, reached a contract agreement with Radio City Entertainment last month.
More than a dozen Broadway musicals went dark in March 2003 for four days after the musicians' union walked out, and theaters lost millions in revenue. But when the union struck the New York City Ballet in 2000, performances of "The Nutcracker" went on as scheduled with taped music.
Last week, hundreds of musicians and supporters held a boisterous, music-filled protest on Sixth Avenue in front of Radio City Music Hall.
Union negotiator Mark Johansen said previously that Radio City Entertainment was trying to cut the musicians' base pay of $133 per show, which he said was about $40 less than what standard Broadway musicians are paid. At the height of the Christmas season, the orchestra works as many as six 90-minute shows every day — at overtime pay beyond the first two. The musicians must play at least 12 shows a week.
On average, Johansen said, a musician doing 150 of about 200 shows in the run would make about $25,000; orchestra members also receive very basic year-round health benefits.