As Broadway grapples with the coronavirus crisis, producers have concluded that the Great White Way will not reopen in April, as they’d hoped. The best-case scenario right now is the summer, and that means many new shows aren’t going to survive.
“This is worse than 9/11,” says a top producer. “We lost a few shows then — we’re going to lose a lot more now.”
I’ll spare you the p.r. nonsense. All press agents have been instructed to say that the shows they represent will open as soon as the crisis has passed. The reality is this: Unless a show has plenty of money in the bank — or very rich backers — it’s finished.
Theater unions are negotiating with producers to get their members paid for as long as possible. I’m told that a deal being worked out guarantees salaries for at least two weeks and then for another two weeks at lower rates. But after that, all bets are off.
“You can’t pay people forever when you don’t have any money coming in,” one producer says.
A producer of an upcoming play puts it well: “I can hang in for a month, but not until the summer. We’ll let everybody go and see if we can regroup in the fall.”
There’s no way the Tony Awards will go on in June. There’s hope they can be rescheduled in the fall; CBS’s broadcasting schedule permitting.
When the Tonys do come back, there’s a sense that the awards shouldn’t be competitive but rather a celebration of Broadway, a 100-year-old business that’s been here for this city at every turn.
After the stock market collapse in 1929, Broadway still produced 150 shows. In the midst of WWII, Rodgers and Hammerstein created the show that defined the American musical as we know it today: “Oklahoma!”
And after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center shut down Broadway for two days, Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane were back onstage at “The Producers,” leading 1,500 people at the St. James Theatre in “God Bless America.”
For now, Broadway is dark.
But when it comes back — and it will come back — it has some extraordinary shows to lean on. Its longest-running show, “The Phantom of the Opera,” has grossed over $7 billion. It will be back, as will Disney’s “The Lion King,” “Aladdin” and, possibly, “Frozen.”
Producers Fran and Barry Weissler‘s “Chicago,” a low-cost, global hit, probably has never had a week that wasn’t profitable. Does anyone think Fran and Barry can’t buy some more black tights when Broadway reopens?
“Come From Away,” about how all those nice Canadians looked after people on grounded planes after 9/11, is both economical and life-affirming. It will be back, as will “Wicked,” “Hamilton,” “Dear Evan Hansen,” “The Book of Mormon” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
To that list I’ll add a revival that has yet to open: “Plaza Suite,” starring Broderick and his wife Sarah Jessica Parker, two iconic New Yorkers who will be there when Broadway — and this city -– reopens for business.
“Len Berman and Michael Riedel in the Morning” airs weekdays on WOR Radio 710.