Technically speaking, Broadway is already open – to the extent that one can currently attend the concert “Springsteen on Broadway” at the St. James Theatre or the new drama “Pass Over” at the August Wilson Theatre.
But for all intents and purposes, the grand reopening of Broadway will occur in September with the return of previously running hit musicals such as “Hadestown,” “Waitress,” “Hamilton,” “Wicked,” “The Lion King,” “Chicago,” “American Utopia,” “Moulin Rouge!” and “Come From Away.”
It’s going to be exciting, unpredictable and maybe even scary.
Back in May, when Governor Andrew Cuomo gave the green light for theatrical venues to reopen at full capacity, it was unclear which Broadway shows would be ready and willing to reopen in the coming months. But rather than a trickle, numerous shows, one on top of the other, quickly announced plans to return in the fall.
Now, three months later, serious concern is growing about whether these shows (some of which have relied predominately on international tourists for years) can attract sufficient ticket sales to stay open until COVID-19 infection rates go down and tourism picks up again.
The long-delayed Tony Awards for the truncated 2019-2020 season (airing on Sept. 26 on CBS and Paramount Plus) will function primarily as a pep rally and infomercial for Broadway’s return. (Does anyone really care whether “Moulin Rouge!” wins Best Musical over “Jagged Little Pill”?)
In recent weeks, I have come across a number of articles pointing out that many shows have sold relatively few tickets for upcoming performances. Well, that should not be a surprise. Even with the generous refund and exchange policies now in place, virtually no one is in the mood to buy expensive theater tickets in advance – except for maybe “The Music Man” with Hugh Jackman.
The shows returning next month will probably need to rely on last-minute purchases, discounts and compelling marketing intended to make New Yorkers and tristate area theatergoers excited about seeing live theater again. They will also need to be convinced that it is safe to return to the theater, which is why the strict vaccine requirements now in effect to attend a show or work on a show were inevitable.
Long-running shows will also be competing for attention with new plays and musicals such as “Six,” “The Lehman Trilogy,” “Pass Over” and, come December, “The Music Man,” which local audiences may gravitate to over ones they saw many years ago. Then again, wouldn’t revisiting a show like “The Lion King” or “Wicked” be an ideal way to return to Broadway?
If the reopening process goes smoothly, attendance might increase substantially by the holidays. Until then, it’s worth noting that many of these shows have made tons of money in the past and might be willing to sustain losses until things get better. A lot of them also received up to $10 million in financial aid through the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program.
However, if serious complications occur (as in London, where many shows have needed to cancel performances due to positive COVID findings), or if the infection rate does not go down, some shows may decide to close down temporarily or permanently.
So fasten your seatbelts. Broadway in September is going to be a wild ride.
In other theater news…
Beanie Feldstein will star in a Broadway revival of “Funny Girl,” which will open in the spring…The Tony Awards will be held at the Winter Garden Theatre next month…Camille A. Brown (“Once On This Island”) will direct and choreograph a Broadway revival of “For Colored Girls…”…Heather Headley, Sara Bareilles, Christian Borle and Ashley Park have joined the cast of “Into the Woods” at City Center Encores! in May.