Will the Virus Cooperate With Broadway’s Spring Rebound?

After a dismal winter wherein the Omicron variant shriveled Broadway’s profitable vacation season, New York’s vaunted theater trade has been betting on an enormous spring, almost doubling the variety of exhibits on supply because the pandemic-battered enterprise thirsts for a rebound.

Including all these performs and musicals — 16 new productions plus three coming back from hiatuses are opening over a five-week stretch — was all the time going to be of venture, since nobody is aware of, on this not-yet-post-pandemic period, whether or not there are sufficient vacationers and theatergoing locals to maintain that many exhibits.

And now the cussed persistence of the coronavirus is complicating issues even additional. A rising variety of instances in New York Metropolis, coinciding with the arrival of the virus’s BA. 2 subvariant, has as soon as once more rocked Broadway, infecting a few of its largest stars, together with Daniel Craig, Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, and forcing 4 exhibits to quickly cancel performances.

“What we thought we had been getting into into this spring, which was all the time going to be busy and crowded, during the last week has modified dramatically,” stated Greg Nobile, the lead producer of a brand new farce, “POTUS,” which, whereas nonetheless in rehearsals, has needed to adapt as 4 of its seven actresses examined constructive for the coronavirus. “One way or the other it looks like, ‘This once more?’ The reply is sure, however this time, we have to ask the query, how can we actually hold the present on, and what are the methods we’re adjusting to what’s a brand new regular?”

Broadway’s huge spring started on a chilly night time in late March with the opening of a revival of “Plaza Suite,” a Neil Simon comedy starring Parker and Broderick that was initially scheduled to start out performances on March 13, 2020. Broadway shut down for the pandemic the day earlier than that efficiency, and the Hudson Theater remained vacant, with the married co-stars’ names on the marquee and the set on the stage, for 2 full years earlier than they returned to strive once more.

“Our hope is that this is not a second, however slightly that is the way in which we’ll perform now,” Parker, in a pink satin robe with a beaded tulle overlay, stated opening night time on the finish of an 80-foot-long preshow purple carpet. “We now have eating places ready to reopen nonetheless, we’ve got resort workers ready to return again, we’ve got delis which were hit, we’ve got ushers who’re eager to work the entrance of the home.”

The gang that got here out to cheer her on, which included Mikhail Baryshnikov, Laura Linney, Cynthia Nixon and Martin Brief, was buoyant.

Broderick, completed with the gauntlet of digicam crews arrayed inside a translucent tent, remarked how a lot he had loved returning to the theater as an viewers member, and now as a performer. “We’re studying to stay with the pandemic or endemic — no matter you wish to name it now — so the stronger theater and all the pieces New York will get, the extra regular life is,” he stated. “That is a part of the world coming again.”

However eight days later, he examined constructive, and two days later, so did she.

“Plaza Suite” has been closed since Thursday, as has “Paradise Sq.,” a brand new musical which was already struggling on the field workplace and may sick afford the misplaced income. Craig’s present, a revival of “Macbeth,” canceled 10 days of previews. And “A Unusual Loop,” a brand new musical which received the Pulitzer Prize primarily based on its Off Broadway run, scrapped its first 5 days of previews. All cited constructive coronavirus exams amongst firm members as the rationale; all hope to renew performances this week.

The newest virus-related cancellations had been all at new exhibits; exhibits which were working longer had extra time to arrange for solid absences, and have been capable of soldier on with understudies. Most notably, a revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Firm” that opened final December quickly misplaced six of its principals to constructive coronavirus exams in April, together with its lead actress, Katrina Lenk, however the present went on. (Its finest recognized performer, Patti LuPone, was not amongst these stricten, presumably as a result of she had examined constructive in late February and missed 10 days then.)

And the consequences aren’t restricted to Broadway: Off Broadway, exhibits together with “Suffs,” on the Public Theater, and “On the Marriage ceremony,” at Lincoln Middle Theater, have additionally quickly canceled performances.

The trade is present process a stress take a look at of kinds, because the annual crush of Broadway openings, which are inclined to cluster simply earlier than an end-of-April deadline to qualify for the Tony Awards, is even greater than ordinary as a result of some productions postponed their begin dates within the hopes of avoiding the height of the Omicron variant. This month options the very best variety of Broadway openings in any April for greater than a decade.

Broadway is all the time a dangerous enterprise, wherein much more exhibits fail than succeed. Some producers acknowledge that having a glut of latest exhibits vying for consideration and viewers on the identical fraught time is lower than preferrred, however they are usually optimizers, and every appears to consider that theirs is the present audiences have been ready for.

“You may play a little bit of chicken-and-egg,” stated Jordan Roth, the president of Jujamcyn Theaters, which runs 5 Broadway homes. “Ought to we wait till each vacationer is on the town? However why is each vacationer going to be on the town if we wait? Sooner or later we’ve got to resolve that we will stay.”

That is truly Broadway’s second try at a rebound. The primary started progressively final June, with the return engagement of Bruce Springsteen’s wildly widespread night of songs and storytelling. The primary play started performances final August, and in September, with a second of hope and celebration, the most important musicals returned.

Early field workplace grosses and attendance had been encouragingly sturdy. However then the Omicron variant arrived in New York, contributing to the untimely closing of 9 exhibits and crushing attendance on the worst doable time of yr: Solely 62 % of Broadway’s seats had been occupied through the week ending Jan. 9.

Via late winter, there have been solely 19 exhibits working in Broadway’s 41 theaters. With little competitors, lots of these left standing — principally established hits or exhibits with well-known titles — did fairly effectively. By the week ending March 20, 92 % of seats had been occupied.

Now, because the variety of exhibits grows, and untested titles be a part of the hits, common attendance is slipping, with 85 % of seats crammed through the week ending April 3. Total, 224,053 folks had been on the 31 exhibits working that week, which is the The very best variety of ticket holders this yr, however is considerably decrease than the 315,320 who attended the 38 exhibits working through the comparable week in 2019.

“The reopening of those exhibits is an actual celebration of shifting ahead,” stated Tom Harris, the president of the Instances Sq. Alliance, which is marking this busy spring with a show of 10-foot-tall Playbill monoliths erected on a theater pedestrian district plaza. He famous that whereas Instances Sq. was rising livelier, it’s nonetheless quieter than it was once: In March there have been about 255,000 folks passing by the neighborhood on a median day, he stated, down from about 365,000 day by day guests earlier than the pandemic.

Till the pandemic, Broadway was booming, with 14.8 million ticket holders spending $1.8 billion on the field workplace through the 2018-19 season, which was the final full season earlier than the coronavirus. However vacationers to New York Metropolis, who earlier than the pandemic accounted for two-thirds of the Broadway viewers, haven’t returned in prepandemic numbers; town’s tourism company is projecting 56.4 million guests this yr, down from 66.6 million in 2019.

That helps clarify why Mayor Eric Adams has been celebrating Broadway at each alternative — exhibiting up on the openings of “The Music Man” and “Paradise Sq.” and attending a scholar efficiency of “Hamilton” in current weeks.

“Each time I can stroll a purple carpet,” Adams stated in an interview on the “Plaza Suite” opening, “I do know it may carry inexperienced foreign money to our metropolis.”

Now, as town has dropped vaccine mandates at eating places and different public areas, Broadway should resolve whether or not to do the identical. Its present security protocols, which require that every one ticket holders present proof of vaccination to enter theaters and stay masked whereas inside, besides when consuming or consuming, are in place by April 30. Theater house owners and operators had deliberate to announce by April 1 whether or not they would lengthen these guidelines, however they postponed that call till April 15 because the case counts rose.

On the identical time, the brand new exhibits hold coming. So many are opening this month that “POTUS,” whose stars embody Julianne Hough and Vanessa Williams, wound up rehearsing on the Daryl Roth Theater, in Union Sq., as a result of the manufacturing couldn’t discover appropriate house within the theater district.

On a current Saturday, the solid gathered to work on scenes on a makeshift White Home set. One of many stars, Rachel Dratch, was nonetheless out with the coronavirus, so her half was rehearsed by an understudy, Anita Abdinezhad, whereas one other star, Julie White, was again for the primary time since ending her isolation interval. White, who had stored an eye fixed on rehearsals by way of video whereas recuperating, was nonetheless coughing beneath a masks, however had her traces down chilly, and she or he leaned in to the comedy.

As she arrived, she was visibly delighted to be again at work. She famous her aid at lastly seeing damaging outcomes on her day by day coronavirus take a look at, saying, “It was so good to see that single line this morning.”

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