Sunday, March 22, 2020

Coronavirus Crisis Devastates Broadway

The COVID-19 or coronavirus outbreak has silenced Broadway and will likely have a devastating impact long after it has passed. To prevent the spread of this highly contagious disease, all theaters in New York City, and many across the country, are closed and two new productions have announced they will not be playing when the stages re-open. Martin McDonagh’s
Dan Stevens and Gaby French in Hangmen,
the first Broadway casualty of the COVID-19 crisis.
Credit: Joan Marcus
Hangmen and the revival of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? have officially been cancelled. Producers cited lack of funds and scheduling conflicts respectively as reasons for the shutterings. These will likely not be the only shows to face elimination. All 41 Broadway theaters were shut down on March 12 in response to an order from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to curtail all gatherings of 500 or more people. 

This followed reports of an usher who had worked at the Booth Theater where Virginia Woolf was playing, and the Brooks Atkinson, home of the rock musical Six, testing positive for the virus. Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League, stated that theaters would re-open on April 12. But that date appears to be uncertain since the Center for Disease Control has issued guidelines that there should be no large public events for a total of eight weeks. That would mean the lights of the Great White Way would not shine again until May 7. Even that date is not for sure given the uncertainty of the virus’ course and the response of local, state and federal government. 

Hangmen starring Mark Addy, Dan Stevens, Tracie Bennett, Gaby French and a huge cast for a straight play on Broadway, began performances Feb. 28 at the Golden Theatre in advance of a scheduled March 19 opening. The play about a hangman who finds himself out of a job when that form of execution is outlawed, originally opened at London’s Royal Court Theater, then played Off-Broadway’s Atlantic Theater Company in 2018 and won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award as Best Play.

The revival of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? began performances at the Booth on March 3 and would have opened on April 9. The cast was comprised of Laurie Metcalf, Rupert Everett, Russell Tovey, and Patsy Ferran. Two-time Tony winner Joe Mantello who directed Metcalf in Three Tall Women and Hillary and Clinton, staged the play. This would have been the fourth Broadway revival of Albee’s searing drama of two academic couples clashing during an all-night booze-up. After the 1962 original, there were additional Main Stem productions in 1976, 2005, and 2012.

In addition, the Metropolitan Opera has cancelled the rest of its season and general manager Peter Gelb has given up his salary. David Gordon, president of the Outer Critics Circle, has revealed the organization will indefinitely postpone its annual awards. The Theater World Awards have been postponed until the fall and the Olivier Awards in London will not be presented live, but the winners will be announced. There have been no public statements about the fate of this season’s Tony, Drama Desk, Obie, Lortel, New York Drama Critics Circle, Drama League or Chita Rivera Awards. 

After the March 12 Broadway blackout, numerous Off-Broadway productions and companies also announced they were closing or canceling. There were a few stubborn hold-outs with low seating capacity that continued performances including Harry Townsend’s Last Stand at City Center’s Stage II and the long-running psychological thriller Perfect Crime and a parody of the TV comedy The Office, both at the Snapple Theater Center. But then, a few days later, Mayor Bill DeBlasio ordered all theaters, cinemas, cabarets, night clubs, and museums shuttered. 

The crisis arrived at the worst possible time for the New York theater community with a plethora of new shows set to open just before the cut-off of the major theater awards, the most vital being the one for the Tony Awards on April 23. Six, the rock musical about the wives of Henry VIII, was set to open on March 12, the night all of Broadway went dark. A total of 16 shows were to have opened on the Main Stem between March 12 and April 23. With Hangmen and Virginia Woolf folding, that leaves 14. These include the new musicals Six, Flying Over Sunset, Diana, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Sing Street (transferred from New York Theater Workshop Off-Broadway); the new plays The Minutes, The Lehman Trilogy (transferred from a production at the Park Avenue Armory last season) and Birthday Candles; and revivals of Company, Caroline or Change, Plaza Suite, American Buffalo, How I Learned to Drive, and Take Me Out. 

Theater is a major portion of New York’s economy. Last season, Broadway took in $1.8 billion and played host to 14.8 million audience members. Broadway has previously shut down under dire circumstances, but not like this. After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the theaters closed but were up and running again in two days. This hiatus could be indefinite. Producers and theaters are responding to the potentially catastrophic losses in a variety of ways. The Broadway League and the Coalition of Broadway Unions and Guilds have reached an agreement to get funds to on and off-stage personnel effected by the emergency. Numerous performers are hosting impromptu concerts from their homes via social platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. Patrons are being asked to donate the value of their unused tickets to theater companies in lieu of a refund or to give the money to the Actors’ Fund.  

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