In September, Broadway is going from zero to 100. A passel of productions – including such long-running megahits as “The Lion King,” “Wicked” and “Hamilton” – have announced they are returning Sept. 14 or a bit later, and at 100 percent of conventional capacity.
Producers of “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Chicago,” “Come From Away” and “Tina: The Turner Musical” also have detailed their comeback plans, with tickets already on sale for many of them. Other musicals announcing their return between late September and the end of the year: “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations,””Company” and “Mrs. Doubtfire.”
But the nail-biting uncertainty: With all of this happening at once, will box offices go nuts, or go bust?
The announcements follow the decision last week by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to remove, as of May 19, nearly all of the state’s capacity restrictions on indoor gatherings for retail stories, movie theaters, hair salons, museums – and Broadway. Although the timing took many producers by surprise, Cuomo’s action lit an immediate fuse, and an explosion soon followed of declarations that Broadway shows would be coming back.
It is not, however, as simple for a multimillion-dollar musical to start up again as it might be for a barber shop or even an art museum. Actors, musicians and backstage crew must be reassembled and rehearsed; sets and costumes must be fixed and cleaned; and ticket buyers have to refill the coffers. That’s because the weekly running costs of a Broadway show can be anywhere from a few hundred thousand dollars to almost a million dollars.
So a restart for Broadway beginning Sept. 14 with the tentpole “The Lion King,” “Wicked” and “Hamilton” – announced Tuesday morning on ABC’s “Good Morning America” – is a reasonable cushion of time, to build some momentum.
Despite the increasing number of vaccinated potential patrons, and some relenting of the coronavirus’s spread, no one expects audiences to immediately flood theater lobbies. Tourism, on which Broadway’s 41 theaters depend for most of their ticket sales, has not yet been restored to anything like a robust facet of New York life. And nothing in the history of the industry serves as precedent for every show starting together from virtually square one.
“This is a historic moment that will unite us all as we celebrate what is at the heart of our story: kindness, generosity and love,” the producers of “Come From Away” said in a statement. The show, about stranded airline passengers cared for after 9/11 by a provincial Canadian town, will resume performances Sept. 21.
Spot checks of random performances reveal huge variations in prices depending on the night. Not all productions will resume their pre-covid schedules, though, at least not right away. “Chicago,” for example, which restarts Sept. 14 for its 9,693rd performance, is advertising only five shows a week in September and October, as opposed to the regular eight shows a week. (As an incentive, any “Chicago” tickets purchased between now and Jan. 17, 2022, can be exchanged or refunded until two hours before the performance.)
Producers will doubtless be looking at how theatergoers in other cities respond to offers for touring Broadway productions. Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center, for instance, has announced a highly ambitious schedule beginning in October for 100 percent capacity productions of tours of “Hadestown” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” and return visits later of “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Hamilton” and “The Band’s Visit.” Thus far, according to center officials, season subscriptions are running ahead of the same time two years ago – the last pre-pandemic season. But because single tickets, which have yet to go on sale, are a bigger source of revenue, the overall fiscal picture remains unclear.
Several plays have been announced for the upcoming Broadway season, including Antoinette Nwandu’s “Pass Over,” well-received off-Broadway and in regional productions, and Keenan Scott II’s “Thoughts of a Colored Man.” Neither has disclosed its run dates.
Other hit musicals, such as “Dear Evan Hansen,” are expected to disclose their return plans soon. Roundabout Theatre Company and Second Stage Theatre, nonprofit groups operating both Broadway and off-Broadway houses, also have unveiled their seasons. Notable among Second Stage’s Broadway offerings will be Stephen Adly Guirgis’s “Between Riverside and Crazy,” the winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for drama. Roundabout’s roster includes a revival of Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s musical “Caroline, or Change.”