Will the virus cooperate with Broadway's spring rebound?

After a dark winter in which the Omicron variant shrunk Broadway’s lucrative holiday season, New York’s vaunted theater industry bet on...


After a dark winter in which the Omicron variant shrunk Broadway’s lucrative holiday season, New York’s vaunted theater industry bet on a great spring, nearly doubling the number of shows on offer as the pandemic-plagued business thirsts rebound.

Adding up all those plays and musicals — 16 new productions plus three returning from hiatus opens over a five-week span — was always going to be a gamble, because no one knows, in this not yet post-pandemic era, there are enough tourists and locals going to the theater to support so many shows.

And now the stubborn persistence of the coronavirus complicates matters even further. A growing number of cases At New York, coinciding with the arrival of the virus BA. 2 subvariant, once again rocked Broadway, infecting some of its biggest stars, including Daniel Craig, Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderickand forcing four shows to temporarily cancel performances.

“What we thought was going into this spring, which was always going to be busy and crowded, over the past week has changed dramatically,” said Greg Nobile, lead producer of a new prank, “POTUS“, who, while she was still in rehearsals, had to adapt since four of her seven actresses tested positive for the coronavirus. “In a way, it’s like, ‘This again?’ The answer is yes, but this time we have to ask ourselves the question, how can we really keep the show going and how do we adapt to what is a new normal?”

Broadway’s big spring started on a cold night in late March with the opening of a revival of “Plaza Suite,” a Neil Simon comedy starring Parker and Broderick that was originally scheduled to begin performances March 13, 2020. Broadway closed for the pandemic the day before this performance, and the Hudson Theater remained vacant, with the married co-stars‘ names on the marquee and stage set, for two full years before returning to try again.

“Our hope is that this is not a moment, but rather that this is how we are going to operate now,” Parker, in a pink satin dress with a beaded tulle overlay, said at the party. opening at the end of an 80 foot long. pre-show red carpet. “We have restaurants still waiting to reopen, we have hotel workers waiting to return, we have delis that have been affected, we have ushers who want to work in front of the house.”

The crowd that came out to cheer him on, which included Mikhail Baryshnikov, Laura Linney, Cynthia Nixon and Martin Short, was spirited.

Broderick, finished with the gauntlet of film crews laid out inside a translucent tent, remarked on how much he enjoyed returning to the theater as an audience member, and now as a performer. “We’re learning to live with the pandemic or the endemic — whatever you want to call it now — so the stronger the theater and whatever New York gets, the more normal life is,” he said. . “It’s part of the world coming back.”

But eight days later he tested positive, and two days later so did she.

“Plaza Suite” has been closed since Thursday, as has “Paradise Squarea new musical that was already struggling at the box office and can ill afford the lost revenue. Craig’s show, a revival of “Macbeth”, canceled 10 days of its preview period. And “A strange loop», a new musical that won the Pulitzer Prsize based on its Off Broadway run, has postponed the start of its previews. All cited positive coronavirus tests among company members as the reason; all hope to resume performances this week.

The latest virus-related cancellations were all for new shows; shows that have been running longer have had more time to prepare for cast absences and have been able to continue with one-liners. Most notably, a revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company” that opened last December temporarily lost six of its directors to positive coronavirus tests in April, including its lead actress, Katrina Lenk, but the show continued. . (His best-known performer, Patti LuPone, was not among those affected, possibly because she tested positive in late February and missed 10 days by then.)

And the effects aren’t limited to Broadway: Off Broadway, shows like “Suffs,” at the Public Theater, and “At the Wedding,” at the Lincoln Center Theater, have also temporarily canceled performances.

The industry is undergoing something of a stress test as the annual crush of Broadway openings, which tend to cluster just before the late April deadline to qualify for the Tony Awards, is even bigger than usual. as some productions have postponed their start dates. hoping to avoid the peak of the Omicron variant. This month features the highest number of April Broadway openings in over a decade.

Broadway is always a risky business, in which far more shows fail than hits. Some producers acknowledge that having a glut of new shows vying for attention and audiences at the same time is less than ideal, but they tend to be optimistic, and everyone seems to believe theirs is the show. that the public expected.

“You can play a little chicken and egg,” said Jordan Roth, president of Jujamcyn Theaters, which runs five Broadway houses. “Should we wait until all the tourists are in town? But why is every tourist going to be in town if we wait? At some point we have to decide that we are going to live.

This is actually Broadway’s second attempt at a rebound. The first one started gradually last June, featuring the return engagement of Bruce Springsteen’s hugely popular Songs and Tales evening. The first play began performances last augustand in September, with a moment of hope and celebrationthe greatest musicals have returned.

Early box office receipts and attendance were encouragingly strong. But then the Omicron variant arrived in New York, contributing to the premature closure of nine shows and crushing attendance at the worst time of the year: only 62% of Broadway seats were occupied during the week ending on January 9.

Until the end of winter, there were only 19 shows in the 41 theaters on Broadway. With little competition, many of those left standing — mostly established hits or shows with famous titles — fared quite well. By the end of the week of March 20, 92% of the seats were occupied.

Now, as the number of shows increases and untested titles join the hits, average attendance is falling, with 85% of seats taken in the week ending April 3. the highest number of ticket holders this year, but is significantly lower than the 315,320 who attended the 38 shows held during the comparable week in 2019.

“The reopening of these shows is a true celebration of progress,” said Tom Harris, president of the Times Square Alliance, which is marking this busy spring with a display of 10-foot-tall Playbill monoliths erected on a Theater District pedestrian. . square. He noted that while Times Square was getting busier, it was still quieter than before: In March, about 255,000 people passed through the neighborhood on average, he said, compared to about 365,000 daily visitors before the pandemic.

Until the pandemic, Broadway was booming, with 14.8 million ticket holders spending $1.8 billion at the box office during the 2018-19 season, which was the last full season before the coronavirus. But travelers to New York, who pre-pandemic accounted for two-thirds of Broadway audiences, did not return in pre-pandemic numbers; the city’s tourist agency is projecting 56.4 million visitors this year, compared to 66.6 million in 2019.

It helps explain why Mayor Eric Adams had been celebrating Broadway at every opportunity — showing up at the openings of “The Music Man” and “Paradise Square” and attending a student performance of “Hamilton” in recent weeks.

“Anytime I can walk a red carpet,” Adams said in an interview at the “Plaza Suite” opener, “I know it’s going to bring green currency to our city.”

Sunday, too tested positive for coronavirus.

Now that the city has dropped vaccination mandates in restaurants and other public spaces, Broadway must decide to do the same. Its current safety protocols, which require all ticket holders to show proof of vaccination to enter theaters and remain masked inside except when eating or drinking, are in place until April 30. Theater owners and operators had planned to announce by April 1 whether they would extend those rules, but they delayed that decision until April 15 as the number of cases rose.

At the same time, new shows follow one another. There are so many opening this month that ‘POTUS,’ whose stars include Julianne Hough and Vanessa Williams, ended up rehearsing at the Daryl Roth Theater in Union Square because the production couldn’t find a job. appropriate space in the theater district.

On a recent Saturday, the cast got together to work on scenes from a makeshift White House set. One of the stars, Rachel Dratch, was still out with the coronavirus, so her role was repeated by a stunt double, Anita Abdinezhad, while another star, Julie White, was back for the first time since the end of his period of isolation. White, who had been keeping tabs on video rehearsals while recovering, was still coughing under a mask, but had her lines cold and she leaned into comedy.

When she arrived, she was visibly delighted to return to work. She noted her relief at finally seeing negative results on her daily coronavirus test, saying, “It was so good to see that one line this morning.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Will the virus cooperate with Broadway's spring rebound?
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