Will Virus Team Up With Broadway’s Spring Recovery?

After a gloomy winter where the Omicron variant shrinks Broadway’s lucrative holiday season, New York’s vaunted theater industry bets on a big springtime, nearly doubling the number of screenings offered as the industry Businesses affected by the pandemic yearn to recover.

Adding all those plays and musicals – 16 new productions plus three returning from an opening hiatus over a 5-week period – will always be a gamble, because no one knows, in In this post-pandemic era, will there be enough tourists and locals going to theaters to sustain that many shows.

And now, the persistence of the coronavirus is complicating matters further. Some cases are increasing in New York City, coinciding with the appearance of the virus BA. 2 subvariants, once again rocking Broadway, infecting some of its biggest stars, including Daniel Craig, Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderickand forced four shows to temporarily cancel performances.

“What we thought we were going into this spring, which is always busy and crowded, in the last week has changed dramatically,” said Greg Nobile, lead producer of a new farce.HOT POT, “, while still in rehearsal, had to adapt when four of the seven actresses tested positive for coronavirus. “Somehow it feels like, ‘This again?’ The answer is yes, but this time, we need to ask the question, how do we actually sustain the show, and what are the ways we’re adjusting to the new normal? ”

Broadway’s big spring kicks off on a chilly late-March night with the opening to the revival of “Plaza Suite,” a Neil Simon comedy starring Parker and Broderick. Originally scheduled to begin performances on March 13, 2020. Broadway shut down because of the pandemic the day before that show, and the Hudson Theater was still empty, with co-star is married‘names on stage and stage, for two full years before they return to try again.

“Our hope is that this is not the moment, but this is how we will operate now,” Parker, in a pink satin gown with beaded tulle, said opening night. at the end of the 80 meter long film. preshow red carpet. “We have restaurants that are still waiting to reopen, we have hotel staff waiting to return, we have bad guys that have been attacked, we have people who are open wanting to work on the side. front of the house.”

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

Broderick, having finished wearing the gloves of the crews arrayed inside a dim tent, commented how excited he was to return to the theater as a spectator, and now as a performer. “We’re learning to live with a pandemic or endemic – whatever you want to call it now – so the stronger the theater and everything New York has to offer, the more normal life is,” he said. speak. “This is the part of the world that is making a comeback.”

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

“Plaza Suite” has been closed since Thursday, as well as “Paradise Square“, a new musical that was struggling at the box office and couldn’t afford the lost revenue. Craig’s performance, a revival of “Macbeth,” was canceled 10 days after the release. from its preview time. and “A strange loopA new musical Pulitzer Prize Winnerunconscious based on its Off Broadway run, has postponed the start of its previews. All positive coronavirus tests are cited among company members as reasons; All hope to resume performances this week.

The most recent virus-related cancellations were for new programs; Shows that have been running longer had more time to prepare for the cast’s absence and were able to continue with poor performers. Most notable was the revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “The Company” that opened last December, which temporarily lost six of its principals to positive coronavirus tests in April, including the actress. main character, Katrina Lenk, but the show continues. (Its most famous performer, Patti LuPone, was not among those suffering from the condition, possibly because she tested positive in late February and missed it 10 days later. )

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

The industry is going through an intense test, as annual Broadway shows, which tend to accumulate just before the late-April deadline to qualify for the Tony Awards, have grown even larger. normal because some works have delayed their release dates in hopes of avoiding the peak of the Omicron variant. This month had the highest number of Broadway theater openings of any April in more than a decade.

Broadway has always been a risky business, in which more shows fail than succeed. Some producers admit that having multiple new shows vying for attention and audiences at the same time is less than ideal, but they tend to be optimistic and each seems to believe that the show Theirs is the show that the audience has been waiting for.

“You can play a game of chicken and eggs,” said Jordan Roth, president of Jujamcyn Theatre, which operates five theaters on Broadway. “Should we wait until every tourist arrives in town? But why will every tourist come to town if we wait? At some point, we had to decide that we were going to live.”

This is effectively Broadway’s second attempt at restoration. The first started gradually last June, starring Bruce Springsteen’s wildly popular evening of songs and storytelling. The first play has begun End of Augustand in September, with a moment of hope and celebrationThe biggest musical is back.

Initial box office revenue and attendance both increased sharply. But then the Omicron variant arrived in New York, contributing to nine early closures and attendance at the worst possible time of the year: Only 62 percent of Broadway’s seats were filled. full for the week ending January 9.

Through the end of winter, there were only 19 shows showing in 41 Broadway theaters. With little competition, many of the rest – mostly established hits or hit shows – did pretty well. For the week ending March 20, 92 percent of seats were filled.

Now, as the number of shows grows and untested titles enter the hit, average attendance is dropping, with 85 percent of seats filled in the week ending March 1. April 3. Overall, 224,053 people showed up at 31 running shows that week, which is the highest number of ticket holders this year, but significantly lower than the 315,320 who attended 38 The show is going on for the same week in 2019.

“The reopening of these shows is a true celebration of moving forward,” said Tom Harris, president of the Alliance. Times Square, said. square. He notes that while Times Square is getting busier by the day, it’s still quieter than before: In March, an average of 255,000 people passed through the neighborhood each day, down from about 365,000 daily customers. before the pandemic.

Until the pandemic, Broadway was booming, with 14.8 million ticket sellers spending $1.8 billion at the box office during the 2018-19 season, which was the last full season before the coronavirus. But tourists to New York City, which pre-pandemic made up two-thirds of Broadway’s audience, have not returned to pre-pandemic numbers; The city’s tourism agency is projection 56.4 million visitors this year, down from 66.6 million in 2019.

That helps explain why Mayor Eric Adams is throwing a Broadway festival every now and then — appearing at the openings of “The Music Man” and “Paradise Square” and attending a student performance of “Hamilton.” members in recent weeks.

“I can walk the red carpet every time,” Adams said in an interview at the “Plaza Suite” opening. “I knew it was going to bring green money to our city.”

On Sunday, he too tested positive for coronavirus.

Now that the city has deregulated vaccines in restaurants and other public spaces, Broadway must decide whether to do the same. Its current safety protocols, which require all ticket holders to present proof of vaccinations to enter theaters and wear a mask when entering, except when eating or drinking, apply through the end. April 30. Theater owners and operators had planned to announce by April 1 whether they would expand those rules, but they postponed that decision until April 15 because the number of cases increased.

At the same time, new shows are constantly coming. This month, many moviegoers will open “POTUS,” whose stars including Julianne Hough and Vanessa Williams, have rehearsed at the Daryl Roth Theater in Union Square, as the producer couldn’t find a place to sit. in the theater area.

On a recent Saturday, the cast gathered to shoot scenes on the set of the makeshift White House. One of the stars, Rachel Dratch, is still out with the coronavirus, so her part was rehearsed by one under actor, Anita Abdinezhad, while another star, Julie White, was back again. first since the end of the quarantine period. White, who watched the training sessions via video while recovering, was still coughing beneath the mask, but her lines went cold, and she leaned into the comedy.

When she arrived, she was delighted to be back at work. She said it was her relief to finally see a negative result on her daily coronavirus test, saying, “It was good to see that single line this morning.”

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