Giving our regards to Broadway 12 months after shutdown

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Tonight is the first anniversary of the last performances that were given on a Broadway stage; a year ago tomorrow, Six was due to open on Broadway, but that afternoon the governor of New York State, the currently beleaguered Andrew Cuomo, announced that public gatherings of more than 500 people would be immediately suspended.

It was a particular body blow to Six, imported from London (after originating as a student production at Cambridge, and then on the Edinburgh Fringe), whose first night was about to happen; Kevin Wilson, the London press agent for Six, was there, and staying in my New York apartment. He was the last person to sleep there in a year now (though I’ve sent a New York friend in to check that all is well).

As The Guardian reported at the time: “Given the rash of cancellations in recent days and warnings from public health officials to avoid crowded areas to minimise the spread of Coronavirus, also known as Covid-19, the suspension seemed only a matter of time as Coronavirus cases in the US passed 1,200 people, including a part-time usher for two high-profile Broadway productions.”

It’s chastening to read that low statistic; in the year since, the US have recorded over half a million deaths (and still counting). That includes numerous Broadway personalities, from the young — Tony-nominated actor Nick Cordero (who died, at just 41) — to the much older, veteran playwright Terrence McNally (81) and Shubert Organisation joint CEO Philip J Smith (89). They’re all sorely missed.

And the Broadway and live entertainment industry has been decimated (on both sides of the Atlantic). But whereas the West End is charting a cautious path to reopening now, we still have no idea when Broadway will be in a position to do the same.

And as Howard Sherman noted in a column for The Stage last week: “How do you measure a year in the pandemic? For musical theatre fans, it will have been 525,600 minutes since theatre across the US shut down. We know that thanks to the late Jonathan Larson, the creator of Rent. His song ‘Seasons of Love’ drilled the number of minutes in a year into the collective theatre consciousness at the top of Act II of Rent.”

That show, he went on to note, celebrated its 25th anniversary last week: “Just as the first anniversary of the virus decimating live performance arrives. A cast reunion, like most human interactions these days, took place online.”

I remember when the Broadway League made that original closing announcement on March 12 clearly — I was due to go to New York myself the very next week, to catch some of the annual round of March and April openings. The initial shutdown was to the middle of April. I naively thought to myself, “well, that’s okay — we’ll go on April 16 instead.”

But here we are a year later. And not only has Broadway not re-opened, we still don’t even have any idea of when that might occur. As Sherman writes, “The guessing game of when theatre will return to the US, measured initially in weekly increments, then months by the summer, has largely abated. The experts – in health, in government – cannot give a date with any certainty, so hopes of an imminent starter’s pistol on shows returning has faded.”

Sherman introduces a note of realistic caution as to when that date might be:

“It is possible, based on current projections, that theatre will return to the US another 262,800 minutes from now, in time for the fall theatre season to begin on schedule. But unlike politicians who now urge reopenings based on political calculations rather than public health recommendations, performing arts venues are unlikely to start encouraging audiences back until a reasonable expectation of safety is possible. One key measure is vaccination rates, which will need to reach roughly 70% of the population, the lowest level of herd immunity. Nationally, the US is at 8%.”

Early on, a slew of shows that were already in previews when the shutdown occurred announced a permanent close: Hangmen and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? would not be coming back, whenever that was, to try to open then. Then other shows already long open also announced that they would close rather than re-open, Frozen and Mean Girls, among them.

Other shows that had begun performances but didn’t reach their opening nights are now announcing new planned opening nights for spring 2022, according to a list compiled by Playbill.com:

Tracy Letts’s new play The Minutes plans to preview from March 1 prior to an official opening March 15a revival of Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite (pictured above left), with husband-and-wife team Matthew Broderick and Sarah-Jessica Parker, which had already played its out-of-town try-out at Boston’s Colonial Theatre, will now arrive at Broadway’s Hudson Theatre from March 19, prior to an official opening April 13a revival of David Mamet’s American Buffalo with Laurence Fishburne and Sam Rockwell that will now begin performances at Circle in the
Square on March 22, prior to opening April 14a revival of Richard Greenberg’s Take Me Out (pictured above right), that was in final rehearsals for a Broadway opening last April, will now arrive at Second Stage’s Helen Hayes from March 22, prior to a planned opening April 22Diana, a new musical about Princess Diana, will return to the Longacre for an planned opening on May 25, having already been filmed last year for screening on Netflix

Yet to be rescheduled are Caroline, or Change (in the production that was due to transfer from Chichester Festival’s Minerva and Hampstead Theatre, starring Sharon D Clarke), Sing Street (due to have transferred from New York Theatre Workshop) and the planned Lincoln Center premiere of Tom Kitt, Michael Korie and James Lapine’s new musical Flying Over Sunset.

Then there’s a slew of productions that were originally being planned for the summer and fall seasons of 2020/21 that have now been moved to the 2021/22 season, including the Michael Jackson jukebox show MJ (above left), and the Hugh Jackman/Sutton Foster revival of The Music Man (above right), now planned to begin performances at the Winter Garden from December 20, prior to an official opening February 10, 2022.

All of which gives us much to look forward to if and when Broadway returns, assuming it can maintain the new planned schedule.

Last week Crain’s New York Business reported that some two-thirds of New York’s arts and culture jobs are now gone. According to a report from the State Comptroller’s Office,

Jobs in arts, entertainment and recreation fell by 66% last year from 2019, the largest decline among the city’s economic sectors, erasing a decade of gains in what was one of New York’s most vibrant industries…”The Covid-19 outbreak has had a profound and negative impact on the industry,” Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said Wednesday in a statement.”

It also reported:

“Before the pandemic, the city drew 67 million tourists each year to take in Broadway shows, Yankees games and Madison Square Garden concerts, generating $70 billion of economic activity. This month Gov. Andrew Cuomo took steps to reopen movie theaters, amusement parks, sports arenas and other venues at limited capacity, but job growth and tourism remains stunted.

As of Feb. 4, 59% of arts and entertainment businesses and 63% of sports and recreation venues in New York City have shut down altogether since the beginning of March, according to software and business-services provider Womply.

Arts, entertainment and recreation in the city accounted for 93,500 private jobs at 6,250 establishments in 2019, the comptroller said.”

But as with the West End, much will depend on consumer confidence and willing to return to live entertainment, and also the return of a viable tourism trade which sustains so many shows on both sides of the Atlantic.

The post March 11: The anniversary of Broadway’s shutdown first appeared on Shenton Stage.

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Mark Shenton
Mark Shenton has been a full-time freelance London-based theatre critic and journalist since 2002, and is proud to have co-founded MyTheatreMates with Terri Paaddock. He has variously (and sometimes simultaneously) been chief theatre critic for the Sunday Express, The Stage, WhatsOnStage, What's On in London magazine and LondonTheatre.co.uk. He has taught at ArtsEd London in Chiswick on musical theatre history since 2012. He was until recently President of the Critics' Circle, and is also on the board of Mercury Musical Developments and the National Student Drama Festival (NSDF). You can follow him on Twitter @ShentonStage, and on instagram at @ShentonStage. His personal website is www.shentonstage.com.
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Mark Shenton on FacebookMark Shenton on RssMark Shenton on Twitter
Mark Shenton
Mark Shenton has been a full-time freelance London-based theatre critic and journalist since 2002, and is proud to have co-founded MyTheatreMates with Terri Paaddock. He has variously (and sometimes simultaneously) been chief theatre critic for the Sunday Express, The Stage, WhatsOnStage, What's On in London magazine and LondonTheatre.co.uk. He has taught at ArtsEd London in Chiswick on musical theatre history since 2012. He was until recently President of the Critics' Circle, and is also on the board of Mercury Musical Developments and the National Student Drama Festival (NSDF). You can follow him on Twitter @ShentonStage, and on instagram at @ShentonStage. His personal website is www.shentonstage.com.

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