The lights dimmed on Broadway 1 year ago. What will it take to reopen?
Today marks one year since Broadway shut down its theaters because of the coronavirus pandemic – one of the longest closures in Broadway history.
Actress Ashley Loren is a cast member of “Moulin Rouge: The Musical.” Like many who work in Broadway’s 41 theaters, Loren anticipated a brief shutdown at first, only to quickly find herself sickened by the virus.
“It was pretty soon after the shutdown that I got sick,” she says. “A lot of us did. It was in that first week or two.”
Broadway staff and stars say that the magical thing about theater is that on the stage, anything is possible. So, it has taken that spirit for shuttered shows to hang on until they can reopen.
“’The Grand Pause’ I call it. Everything is still in the theater, all the theaters. Everybody turned the lights off and locked the door,” says Tony Award winner David Bryan.
Bryan is best known as the keyboardist and founding member of Bon Jovi. He wrote the music and is the producer of “Diana: The Musical.” It played just nine previews before the shutdown. It is now planning a fall 2021 opening.
“You’ve got to get the world back up. You’ve got to get everybody healthy and everybody safe and then you have to open up New York,” he says.
Sixty-five percent of Broadway ticket buyers come from outside the tristate area, and 20% come from other countries. It will be difficult for Broadway to come back until the tourists do.
But as theaters wait on approval to reopen and play safety protocols, capacity limits will be a key to viability, according to Broadway League president Charlotte St. Martin.
“We’re not set up for [social distancing]. There is no way that we can keep a show open for very long that has a 33% audience,” she says.
The League is the trade association for theater owners, producers and presenters. It has announced theater closures through May 31. St. Martin says that she believes that a gradual reopening beginning in September seems more realistic. Loren says that she is imagining that day.
“That moment when we first stop on stage, I don’t know how anyone’s going to really get through it emotionally. And that first bow is going to be amazing,” she says.
Compounding issues surrounding the reopening include safety issues in the dressing areas, backstage costume changes and the tightly-packed seating areas.