The “Lullaby of Broadway”? Theater fans and pros would prefer an alarm clock.
Since March 12, the 41 iconic theaters that stretch from 41st Street to 65th Street at Lincoln Center have been shuttered as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, putting thousands out of work and depriving nearby restaurants and shops of crucial business.
It’s the longest dark period in history for Broadway, the lifeblood of New York tourism, and it’s only getting longer. The Broadway League recently announced that performances would not resume until Jan. 3, 2021 — at the earliest.
Sure, last week’s Disney+ release of “Hamilton” was a nifty nicotine patch for Broadway addicts, but show buffs are nonetheless craving the real, unrecorded, unedited deal.
How long will we have to “Wait for It”?
“I would say that people are cautiously optimistic that very early in 2021 we’ll be back up,” Sue Frost, producer of the musical “Come From Away,” told The Post. “But I also think that we’re just seeing the beginning of some very creative ideas in terms of how people are gonna manage through this.”
Frost, whose hopeful musical is also waiting to restart productions in London, Toronto and Sydney, is talking about such lauded efforts as Tony Award-nominated director Michael Arden’s recent “American Dream Study.” An immersive show staged in upstate New York, it featured performances from Broadway actors and the Forest of Arden dance company, while rapt audiences drove their cars through and strolled the grounds. Producer Robyn Goodman told The Post, “I loved it. Saw it twice. Found it so original and moving.”
You can’t, of course, watch a Broadway show from your sedan on Eighth Avenue. But the London production of the musical “Six,” a pop-concert-style show about the wives of Henry VIII, is also putting butts in seat belts.
The West End and UK touring casts are staging about 90 ticketed performances of the sing-off at large, open-air venues around Britain this summer. The socially distant experience will cost between $78 for a two-person vehicle and $217 for a seven-seater.
However, don’t get wedded to the idea of carpool theater stateside: A spokesman for “Six” on Broadway said that there are no current plans for similar drive-in productions in the US. Plus, while having a windshield for a fourth wall may be adequate for a concert, it would undoubtedly hinder an intimate musical such as “Hadestown,” or even a big play such as “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”
Producers tip their hats to all the ingenuity, but don’t see these strategies as a long-term solution.
“I think there is room for more creativity on Broadway, as this terrible situation drags on with no end in sight,” said one producer of a currently running Broadway show. “I don’t think there can be one model, though, for how live theater can be produced, via Zoom or in innovative ways outdoors, socially distanced, etc. Each individual show requires such unique settings and direction.”
Some plays, including “What Do We Need To Talk About?” at the Public Theater, have given Zoom a shot, but just one in London streamed from a real-life stage. The bare bones relationship dramedy called “Lungs,” starring Claire Foy and Matt Smith of Netflix’s “The Crown,” staged a week of live, ticketed shows via videoconference earlier this month, and the tickets were priced the same as the real-life seats — $12 to $82 — in an effort to give its struggling theater, the Old Vic, a financial boost.
Could a Broadway show copy that model, and charge face-value $200-or-more ticket prices for a livestream to turn a profit?
“The answer is no,” Frost said, adding that filmed productions could, however, become more normalized as hesitant audiences slowly make their way back.
That said, to totally depend on video to pay the bills won’t work, said a backstage vet. While a West End production might give an onstage broadcast a try, it’s not feasible for Broadway, which costs roughly three times more per week to operate.
It’s also unlikely, sources said, that Broadway theaters will be used for anything other than performances — say, as a high-end cocktail bar or a cafe to make ends meet — due to union rules and sky-high costs.
One of the first American theaters to get back in the game will be Barrington Stage in the Berkshires, which Actors’ Equity recently gave the go-ahead to put on one- and two-person shows and concerts, performed either outdoors or at one-third capacity indoors. The theater has taken out whole rows of seats to promote social distancing, enforces mask use and even makes its audience members sign liability waivers.
One Broadway source said that, while the end goal is a unified strategy for a robust Broadway comeback, we could see a few slimmed-down auditoriums and one-man shows here at first — at least “in the short term.” Even so, “that would be for the unique individual show that could accomplish that.”
For instance, an acoustic Bruce Springsteen concert at one-third capacity could make a buck, but a big-cast spectacle like “Wicked” wouldn’t see much green at all. “When we talk about ‘Broadway is back and thriving,’ that means with full capacity available,” the source added.
One method being employed across the pond that is sure to be used on Broadway is enhanced health technology. The government-recommended modern germ-killing devices, such as AC filters and antimicrobial sprays, will be added before reopening. Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, who owns several theaters in London, has retrofitted his Palladium with thermal sensors and virus-squashing fogs.
Broadway League president Charlotte St. Martin told The Post we can expect to see the same alterations made to creaky old Broadway houses, especially when it comes to new air-filtering HVAC systems.
However, a major breakthrough happened two weeks ago that, she said, could lead to an on-schedule reopening night on New York stages.
“For the first time, we got positive — what I call ‘cautiously optimistic’ — indications from the medical professionals that we’re working with,” St. Martin said of the league’s infectious-disease expert approving a 15-second coronavirus quick test for use by actors and crew members.
“It’s not assured, because you get new information all the time. But so far, we feel good about the first quarter being open,” she said.
It can’t come soon enough, said one insider: “Let’s face it — the longer this shutdown goes, the more New York will be brought to its knees. Broadway is the center of the city and there is no return for New York without Broadway. And Albany knows it.”
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