Hit Broadway musicals are dropping like flies, including “Dear Evan Hansen” (which closed on Sunday), “Come From Away” (closing on Oct. 2), and, as announced last week, “The Music Man” (closing on Jan. 1) and “The Phantom of the Opera (closing on Feb. 23).
Let’s take a moment to consider what this tells us about the current state of Broadway, which “reopened” exactly one year ago following the 18-month pandemic shutdown.
“Dear Evan Hansen” and “Come From Away” both opened on Broadway during the 2016-17 season following earlier runs at multiple not-for-profit theaters. Both were still regularly selling out prior to the shutdown and had become leading examples of original, innovative, and timely new musicals.
One could speculate about whether the panned film adaptation of “Dear Evan Hansen” or the pro-shot version of “Come From Away” on Apple TV affected demand to attend the shows live. However, the most likely explanation for the closings is that the sizable tourist audience that has allowed some musicals to run for years on end has still not returned to New York City.
The lack of tourists is definitely why “Phantom” is closing. When I attended “Phantom” prior to the pandemic, no one around me in the theater lobby was speaking English. “Phantom” also has very high weekly running costs thanks to its big cast, crew, and pit orchestra.
All the same, the closing of “Phantom” is shocking because of its status as the longest-running show in Broadway history. For many who visit New York, “Phantom” is Broadway – and the closing of “Phantom” is indicative of the fact that post-pandemic Broadway is a different place. (Of course, “Phantom” could receive a revival relatively soon, though it will probably be in a revamped, less costly, less spectacular form.)
On the other hand, while “The Music Man” is still generating record-breaking weekly grosses, its producers decided to close the show once Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster leave the show rather than cast new stars and hope (likely in vain) that the large production stays profitable. It is also worth noting that the revival received weak reviews (creating doubt that it could survive the departure of Jackman and Foster) and with just a few rare exceptions (most notably “Chicago”), even successful musical revivals rarely run longer than a year.
If the tourist audience does not return in the coming months, more long-running musicals will either need to close or enact aggressive marketing campaigns.
It is worth noting that extremely long runs are a relatively recent phenomenon in Broadway history – and perhaps their time has passed. While “Phantom” has provided employment to countless theater professionals over the past 35 years, can you imagine how many other shows might have played the Majestic Theatre had it not come along?