On Sunday, the critically-acclaimed Broadway drama “The Lehman Trilogy” concluded its limited run of 99 performances. Normally, this would not be any kind of achievement in and of itself. But this year, the mere fact that the show was able to make it through its entire run without needing to cancel any performances due to breakthrough COVID-19 cases was remarkable.
The holidays, which are traditionally the best-selling and most well-attended time of the year for the theater industry, recently resulted in unprecedented turmoil as the Omicron variant forced numerous shows to cancel performances due to insufficient backup coverage after too many performers or other theater workers tested positive for COVID-19.
Before things get better for the theater industry, they will probably get worse. The early winter is generally considered the slowest, worst-attended time of the year for theatergoing. On top of that, many performances are still being canceled due to breakthrough cases. In acknowledgement of this, some shows are not just cancelling individual performances but closing permanently or at least temporarily.
Following a suspension of performances, the producers of the Alanis Morissette musical “Jagged Little Pill” announced that the show would not reopen. “We are dismayed by what appears to be another substantial public health crisis…In light of the extreme uncertainty ahead of us this winter, and forced to choose between continuing performances and protecting our company, we’ve made the difficult decision to close our doors,” the producers said in a statement. Its final performance took place on Dec. 17, three days before the show officially closed.
On Dec. 23, just three days after making an announcement about new actors joining the show in January, Keenan Scott II’s soul-searching drama “Thoughts of a Colored Man” confirmed that it had played its final performance the day before. One of its last performances only went forward because the playwright took on a role himself with the script in hand.
“Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations,” a solid hit on Broadway before the shutdown, will play its final performance on Jan. 16. However, given that a national tour is currently underway, one wonders whether the touring cast may eventually bring the show back to Broadway for a return engagement.
Looking Off-Broadway, the Public Theater has canceled this year’s Under the Radar festival of international experimental performance, which was scheduled to run Jan 12-30. “Multiple disruptions related to the rapid community spread of the Omicron variant- including artist and staff availability, artist and audience cancellations, major flight interruptions, and visa processing delays – have prevented a viable way to move forward…” the Public Theater wrote on Twitter.
“Mrs. Doubtfire,” which officially opened in December right before the wave of performance cancellations began, is in danger of having to close according to its lead producer, Kevin McCollum. In an attempt to prevent this and mitigate expected financial losses over the next few weeks, the show will instead go on a nine-week hiatus from Jan. 10 to March 14.
“I think a producer’s job is to assess every option that they have available and compare it to the position the show is in,” said Hunter Arnold, who has numerous producing credits, including such current shows as “Hadestown,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Moulin Rouge!,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” and “Company.” Arnold expressed optimism that things will soon get better. “We are in a deeply better place today than we were 12 months ago or 22 months ago. I think we’ve seen our last full-scale shutdown unless the virus mutates in a way none of us predict,” Arnold said.
Looking immediately ahead, Manhattan Theatre Club has once again postponed opening night of Dominique Morisseau’s “Skeleton Crew” (which had originally been scheduled for Jan. 12 and then rescheduled for Jan. 19) due to ongoing performance cancellations. “The Music Man,” which temporarily suspended performances after Hugh Jackman tested positive for COVID-19, will resume previews on Wednesday, Jan. 5. “MJ,” the Michael Jackson musical, is in previews and currently slated to open on Feb. 1.