Coronavirus Shutdown Extends to June on Broadway

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The Walter Kerr Theatre, where 'Hadestown' performances have been suspended since March 12

The Broadway League on Wednesday confirmed that the previously announced April 12 reopening will be pushed back two months, though insiders expect further postponements.

The Broadway League, the trade organization that represents New York's top-tier theater industry, confirmed Wednesday that the 41 venues that make up the Great White Way will not reopen April 12, as previously scheduled.

Broadway will now remain dark through June 7, though given the unabated spread of the coronavirus pandemic, subsequent announcements are widely expected to push back that reopening date further as needed. Even if the blackout does end then, the sector could take years to bounce back from the astronomical losses.

"Our top priority continues to be the health and well-being of Broadway theatergoers and the thousands of people who work in the the theater industry every day, including actors, musicians, stagehands, ushers and many other dedicated professionals," League president Charlotte St. Martin said Wednesday in a statement. "Broadway will always be at the very heart of the Big Apple, and we join with artists, theater professionals and fans in looking forward to the time when we can once again experience live theater together."

The theaters have been closed since March 12, following a mandate from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, initially prohibiting gatherings of 500 people or more in a bid to slow the infection rate of the novel coronavirus.

The continuation of the suspension beyond the originally scheduled April date was inevitable given that the death toll in New York state has soared to more than 5,500. Statewide coronavirus-related fatalities last week doubled in just three days, while this week registered the highest number of deaths in a single day since the crisis began. New York City has emerged as the global COVID-19 epicenter, with more than 4,000 recorded fatalities to date, meaning the pathogen has now claimed more lives in the city than the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. 

The shutdown came into effect just as Broadway was gearing up for its traditionally busy spring season, with 16 more productions scheduled to open before the April 23 cutoff for 2020 Tony Awards eligibility. An announcement was made March 25 that the Tonys would be postponed to a later date to be set once Broadway reopens. 

Among the secondary theater honors, the Lucille Lortel Awards, the Obies and the Drama Desks all have announced plans to hold virtual ceremonies this year, with eligibility restricted to a shortened season ending March 11, the night venues on- and off-Broadway played their final performances before the suspension. 

Two Broadway shows that had begun previews — Martin McDonagh's Hangmen and the latest revival of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, starring Laurie Metcalf and Rupert Everett — have announced they will not reopen following the suspension. And productions from nonprofit companies that operate on Broadway have been pushed to next season, including Roundabout's Birthday Candles and Caroline, or Change, Lincoln Center Theater's Flying Over Sunset and Manhattan Theatre Club's How I Learned to Drive.

The producers of other scheduled spring openings are adopting a wait-and-see approach before announcing their intentions, though industry observers anticipate more shows dropping out.

One musical now in limbo is Beetlejuice, which opened last April and has steadily grown into a sleeper hit, grossing north of $1 million a week. Despite playing to near-capacity houses, the show was forced to set a June 6 closing date at the Winter Garden Theatre to make way for the incoming revival of The Music Man, with Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, which is slated to begin previews Sept. 9.

Producers are still considering whether an opportunity exists to bring Beetlejuice back to Broadway in another theater, and previously announced plans to launch a national tour in fall 2021 are moving ahead.

Conservative estimates peg losses in box office revenues across Broadway for the three-month closure at around $500 million, with the additional impact on theater-district businesses fed by the Broadway economy pushing that figure to well over $1 billion. While Broadway's theaters have been closed for short periods in the past — over labor disputes, in the wake of 2012's Hurricane Sandy and immediately after the 9/11 attacks — a shutdown of this duration is unprecedented.

The wide suspension or premature closing of national tours of Broadway productions — the latest being The Book of Mormon, which was originally scheduled with engagements through the summer — takes a further bite out of Broadway revenues.

The industry is bracing for a difficult recovery period since audiences may understandably be wary about crowd exposure even after theaters reopen, while the tourist traffic that constitutes much of Broadway's bread and butter looks certain to be slow to return. Some are wondering whether after years of stratospheric financial growth the prolonged blackout might result in a market correction with an impact on Broadway's notoriously high running costs and ticket prices.

The New York theater community has been personally impacted by the pandemic with the loss to coronavirus complications of playwright Terrence McNally, actor Mark Blum, composer Adam Schlesinger and former Drama Desk president William Wolf, among others, while a number of beloved stage performers including Brian Stokes Mitchell, Gavin Creel and Aaron Tveit have tested positive for the virus.

On Monday, the Society of London Theatre announced that West End venues would remain closed through May 31, extending the shutdown beyond the previous date set for suspended shows of April 26.