Broadway Extends Shutdown Through May 2021

Closed broadway theaters during the coronavirus pandemic on April 08, 2020 in New York City - Getty - H 2020
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The move means performances won't resume until more than a year after they were halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Broadway shutdown has been extended to May 30, 2021, the Broadway League announced today.

The news extends the performance halt forced by the COVID-19 pandemic by five months, after productions had been paused through the end of 2020.

The initial shutdown occurred March 12, 2020, as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned gatherings of more than 500 people in a bid to slow the infection rate of the novel coronavirus, when 31 productions were running, including eight in previews and eight in rehearsals ahead of a spring opening.

The closure was initially through April, then extended to June, followed by Labor Day and the end of the year.

The extension means that Broadway will be closed for more than a year, an unprecedented shutdown, by the time it reopens in 2021.

“With nearly 97,000 workers who rely on Broadway for their livelihood and an annual economic impact of $14.8 billion to the city, our membership is committed to reopening as soon as conditions permit us to do so. We are working tirelessly with multiple partners on sustaining the industry once we raise our curtains again,” Broadway League president Charlotte St. Martin said in a statement.

During the period from March 12, 2018, through the end of May 2019 (the last period corresponding to the current shutdown when Broadway was operational), box office grosses totaled $2.3 billion, with just under 18.7 million admissions. Industry analysts generally estimate that losses to theater-district businesses fed by the Broadway economy — hotels, bars, restaurants, parking garages, taxis and car services — can be factored by multiplying ticket sales by three. That would put the overall financial blow to the New York economy caused by the 14-month Broadway shutdown alone at a staggering $6.9 billion.

A number of suspended shows that had tentatively planned on returning in the spring will now be forced to hold off further, into summer or fall. Additionally, two major new musical productions that had been announced to begin performances before May 30 have been pushed back.

The Michael Jackson bio-musical MJ, starring Ephraim Sykes in the title role, will now start previews in September 2021 at the Neil Simon Theater, with an official opening to be announced. The large-scale revival of The Music Man, starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, has now been moved to later in the year, with its first preview Dec. 20, 2021 at the Winter Garden Theatre and official opening way off on Feb. 10, 2022.

New York was initially hit hard by the pandemic, with as many as 11,000 new cases a day in April, before a robust response led to a drop below 1,000 new cases a day for three months from June through August, with a month of daily positive tests below 1 percent at the end of the summer. In recent weeks, however, a number of ZIP codes in New York City and the state as a whole have seen spikes in new cases, leading state authorities to increase testing and tracing efforts in those locations and even call for some new restrictions. Still, none of the hot-spot ZIP codes so far identified are in Broadway's borough of Manhattan.

After closing all but essential businesses in March, New York state has slowly reopened, in a phased, data-driven approach, but movie theaters and other performance venues remain closed. Indoor dining in restaurants, at a significantly reduced capacity, and gyms have only recently reopened.

New York is also still advising travelers from states with a daily positivity rate, based on a seven-day rolling average, of more than 10 percent or 10 per 100,000 residents to quarantine upon arrival for 14 days, which would seem to dissuade tourists, at least from states with high infection rates, from traveling to New York City.

The Tony Awards were initially postponed indefinitely after the Broadway closure, with industry insiders mulling over how best to honor the work from the truncated 2019-2020 season. Ultimately it was announced that the Tonys would take place virtually later this year, but a specific date for the awards show has yet to be announced. Still, nominations will be announced next Thursday.

David Rooney contributed to this report.