‘We will weather this storm’: Omicron wreaks havoc on Broadway | Broadway

On the curtain name, Hugh Jackman put his arm round Kathy Voytko, an understudy all of a sudden thrust into the function of main girl Marian Paroo in The Music Man.

“Kathy, when she turned as much as work at 12 o’clock, may have performed any of eight roles,” Jackman, who performs Harold Hill within the musical, told the cheering audience. “it occurred to be the main girl. She discovered at 12 midday at this time and, at 1 o’clock, she had her very first rehearsal as Marian Paroo.”

Voytko had stepped up on 23 December as a result of Sutton Foster examined constructive for the coronavirus. However then, on 28 December, Jackman himself announced that he had Covid-19 with gentle signs and couldn’t go on stage.

Thought to be Broadway’s hottest ticket with a high value of $699 a seat, The Music Man can be a barometer of the uncertainty that prevails within the period of the Omicron variant, extra contagious however apparently much less lethal than earlier waves. New York theatre just isn’t closed, its leaders are at pains to level out, however it’s not wholly open both, and solid lists on any given night time will be one thing of a lottery.


Final month, exhibits together with Aladdin, Freestyle Love Supreme, Hamilton, Harry Potter and the Cursed Little one, The Lion King and Tina had been compelled to cancel performances. The musicals Ain’t Too Proud, Diana, Jagged Little Tablet, Trevor and Waitress, and the play Ideas of a Coloured Man, determined to close down sooner than deliberate due to infections and weak ticket gross sales.

The recent surge is merciless timing for Broadway, which reopened with fanfare – and vaccine mandates for solid, crew and audiences – in September after a report 18-month closure due to the pandemic. For some time it appeared the triumph-over-adversity, show-must-go-on spirit was unstoppable. Then Omicron got here like a kick within the enamel.

Gabriel Stelian-Shanks, inventive director of the Drama League, the one artistic dwelling in America for stage administrators, recollects: “We weren’t actually positive what was going to occur however issues had been wanting good. Audiences had been returning. Exhibits had been reopening. We had discovered a technique to do it safely. And as that received into September and October, we realised we had been having theatre that was not a superspreader occasion.

Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster in The Music Man
Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster in The Music Man. {Photograph}: Joan Marcus

“We had been feeling excellent about it after which, at Thanksgiving, all of us discovered the phrase Omicron and the pace and rapidity with which we needed to learn the way this is totally different. It nearly feels to me like a special epidemic by way of its unimaginable potential to be contagious. Omicron is so new that the query for us is: how can we handle a surge?”

New York state recorded greater than 85,000 new coronavirus cases on the final day of 2021, its highest single-day whole for the reason that pandemic started. The Omicron variant has the potential to tear by way of a solid, orchestra and crew of 200 individuals.

Stelian-Shanks says: “Omicron is a numbers recreation in some ways about an infection and the quantity of people that should be in shut quarters versus those that don’t. We’re seeing a few of these exhibits merely fall to a likelihood nobody anticipated. We’re not seeing deaths, we’re not seeing extreme hospitalisations, however we’re seeing sufficient an infection the place we will’t proceed with sure performances.”

However most exhibits stay open and at the very least a few of these that don’t had been struggling and prone to run out of steam even earlier than Omicron. The temper may be very totally different from the daybreak of the pandemic in March 2020, when Broadway felt like a ghost city, its playhouses darkish and eating places empty.

Stelian-Shanks provides: “I’m deeply pessimistic about January but when we glance a bit additional down the highway to spring and summer time, the image is rather a lot rosier. That’s, in fact, assuming that the medical specialists are proper and that Omicron’s going to burn very quick by way of the inhabitants.

“If we’re nonetheless coping with Omicron in Could then who is aware of? However I can’t discover anybody who isn’t telling me that we’re in a radically totally different image with Omicron by the tip of February.”

Conscious of those predictions, some producers have responded by quickly closing exhibits in January and February, sometimes the leanest months to herald audiences, with a view to reopening in March.

Mrs Doubtfire, a brand new musical comedy on the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, will take “a hiatus” from 10 January to 14 March. Kevin McCollum, its producer, estimates the price of the hibernation will be round $500,000, whereas attempting to maintain the present operating by way of the identical interval would imply a lack of at the very least $3.5m.

Broadway’s Mrs. Doubtfire, shut down due to a Covid-19 outbreak in December
Broadway’s Mrs. Doubtfire, shut down resulting from a Covid-19 outbreak in December {Photograph}: MediaPunch/Rex/Shutterstock

“I needed to shut after which reopen,” McCollum explains. “The excellent news is we now have a really tight group of people that have been working on the present for 3 years and everyone is aware of how good it’s. I’m taking additionally the calculated danger that we’ll have our firm again able to go in March and naturally individuals want jobs. That is one of the best factor I can do to create long-term employment.


“I believe I used the metaphor of attempting to plant a sapling in a hurricane. It’s important to get out of the best way of this tsunami of Omicron and are available again and replant when everyone is able to exit once more. And that’s what I’m doing for Mrs Doubtfire.”

Large musicals want full homes to show a revenue however the pandemic has smashed worldwide tourism in addition to home shopper confidence, with many individuals cautious of shopping for an costly ticket that they could have to cancel on the final minute.

Mrs Doubtfire was making $175,000 a day in ticket gross sales after opening however, as soon as the wave of Omicron-related closures took maintain, that dropped to $50,000. The price of day by day Covid-19 testing on the theatre for a full firm and workers of 115 individuals went from $18,000 per week earlier than Omicron to nearly $60,000 per week after.

And the cancellation final month of 11 performances of the present, based mostly on the 1993 movie starring Robin Williams, resulting from coronavirus infections amongst solid and crew turned an anticipated $1.5m incomes right into a $1.5m loss.

McCollum, whose previous credits embody Lease and Avenue Q, muses: “We’re an business that’s used to being at fixed danger and people of us who toil within the theatre have perhaps a chip lacking: we’re resilient in opposition to all odds. So it’s painful however that’s no motive to not rise up and take a look at once more.

“The cliche is there isn’t any individuals like present individuals and in instances of true disappointment we’re there for one another. Although we’re colleagues, collaborators, opponents in the end, we wish to know that tomorrow, if we put our our life’s blood into it, could possibly be a greater day.”

McCollum, additionally producing the musical Six on Broadway and The Play that Goes Flawed off-Broadway, provides: “The hot button is to recognise sure, in some ways it’s unfair however that’s no motive to turn out to be a sufferer. It’s important to pivot and rise up and determine it out tomorrow. I believe that’s what individuals love about Broadway and it takes a specific amount of grit and indomitable spirit. These are two very highly effective elements.”

Lynn Nottage in November 2021
Lynn Nottage in November 2021. {Photograph}: MJ Images/Rex/Shutterstock

Playwright Lynn Nottage at the moment has two tasks on Broadway. Clyde’s, a comedy on the Helen Hayes Theater on Tuesday, has survived Omicron comparatively unscathed other than thinned-out audiences. However MJ: The Musical, which options the music of Michael Jackson, was compelled to cancel a number of performances final month resulting from a number of coronavirus circumstances throughout the firm.

Nottage believes that the media is accentuating the adverse however prefers to see the glass as half-full. She tweeted last month: “There’s a lot emphasis on what’s closed on Broadway, let’s present some luv to the exhibits that r nonetheless OPEN. PLAYS r out right here beating again the virus & the percentages.”

She provides in a telephone interview: “Pre-Christmas and through the fall, it actually felt like Broadway was coming again. The eating places had been crowded, the streets had been crowded. You felt loads of power within the air and a few of that hasn’t left. There’s nonetheless individuals very a lot right here desirous to get again to enterprise as typical however you possibly can really feel the hesitation.

“However that stated, we had been within the theatre on Sunday for MJ and we had been nearly fully full and audiences that got here had been prepared and had been enthusiastic and pleased and needed to be engaged. There are people who find themselves actually determined to get again to theatre.”

Nottage, a double Pulitzer Prize winner, concludes: “I’m an optimist by nature so I do imagine that when this factor crests, individuals will come again. We’re going by way of an unprecedented, tough second however the truth is – and I can say this concerning the two exhibits I’m concerned in – we will weather this storm.”

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