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In rapid succession, three longer-running Broadway shows announced a fall closing, bringing to light the challenges the industry still faces after reopening.
The closing notices, announced the week of June 6, came from Dear Evan Hansen and Come From Away, both of which opened in 2017 and were largely sold out before the pandemic, as well as Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, which had also posted strong sales after opening in 2019. All three shows were caught in the middle of a trend impacting most Broadway shows this season, in which there have not been enough attendees to support the number of running productions. The hope is that this changes this summer, but the fallout is likely not over yet.
When Broadway theaters reopened this fall, following an 18-month shutdown, all productions were starting from scratch. This put global brands such as Hamilton, Phantom of the Opera and Wicked in competition with new shows, as well as these returning productions.
Lower tourism numbers exacerbated the challenge — New York City is expected to welcome 85 percent of the tourists it saw in 2019 — as these attendees generally make up more than 60 percent of the Broadway audience. The next hit came from the omicron surge this winter, which closed several productions and led to canceled performances at dozens of shows, including Come From Away. The production never recovered from this downturn, says producer Sue Frost.
These shows were further squeezed this spring as more than a dozen productions opened over the span of several weeks.
“There’s a lot of shows and not as many people,” Frost says. “And we’re not the shiny new toy, we’re not the new musical, and we’re not the long-running, well-established brand. We’re in the middle there, and we struggled.”
Still, that middle position is nothing to scoff at. Come From Away, which tells the story of 7,000 plane passengers diverted to Newfoundland, Canada, on Sept. 11, recently celebrated becoming the longest-running show to play Broadway’s Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.
“We knew it was going to have a great life, we just didn’t quite know what that life was going to be, but it has more than exceeded our expectations,” says Randy Adams, another lead producer on the musical.
Both Come From Away and Tina had strong starts this fall, with Tina helped out by the return of original castmember Adrienne Warren, who had just won a Tony Award for playing the title role, and Come From Away aided by its feel-good message and critical acclaim. But as Warren departed, and as more shows opened on Broadway, the attendance and grosses at these shows faded.
Dear Evan Hansen had a rockier start, resuming performances on Dec. 11, 2021, just as Broadway productions were hit by the omicron wave. The production may have also been impacted by the negative reviews surrounding the release of the Dear Evan Hansen film in the fall.
Productions that have run for a few years already struggle to stand out from the pack — bringing in new castmembers is the method of choice — and in this uncertain environment, customers appeared to be even choosier. “This is one of the challenges of producing theater,” says producer Ken Davenport. “We have very limited means to upgrade our product every year.”
Compared to their sold-out, pre-pandemic runs, Come From Away and Dear Evan Hansen have both seen their prior gross numbers slashed in half in recent weeks, both bringing in around half a million dollars, and have seen capacity drop into the 60 and 70 percentages. Tina has been on a somewhat similar trajectory. Meanwhile, new hits such as The Music Man have been bringing in more than $3 million a week, while Wicked continues to be a strong seller.
While there are likely to be more show closures ahead, a normal occurrence from productions that were holding out for the Tony Awards, but did not win big prizes, the industry hopes to bring in bigger audiences this summer, as the city expects to see higher tourism numbers. But there’s now a question of how inflation will impact consumer demand.
There’s also the hope that the June 11 Tony Awards broadcast, viewed as the first big awards show since the industry’s return, can reinvigorate interest and help boost attendance at all remaining shows. This year’s CBS telecast brought in about a million viewers more than last year’s fall ceremony, reaching 3.9 million viewers, according to Nielsen data, but still came in as the second-lowest-rated on record.
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