The neon lights will once again be bright on Broadway — but it’ll still take some time.
Two days after announcing that New York State will lift pandemic-related capacity restrictions May 19 for restaurants, bars, museums, concert halls, and theaters, including Broadway and other live-performance venues, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that Broadway can reopen at full capacity September 14. The latter is a more realistic date for shows to be ready anyway, given the cost and logistics of mounting them.
Broadway productions can reopen “from a capacity point of view” by May 19, Cuomo said at a Monday press briefing, according to The Hollywood Reporter and other media outlets, although theaters will still be subject to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regulations on social distancing and mask-wearing at that date. But theaters and producers “may make their own economic decision as to when they reopen,” he added. Financing, casting, rehearsals, advertising, ticket sales, and other considerations will factor into that decision.
The Wednesday announcement, however, means that theaters can reopen in September at 100 percent capacity, Broadway.com reports. The state still must assure that each theater offers a safe environment.
“We are thrilled that Governor Cuomo clearly recognizes the impact of Broadway’s return on the city and state’s economy and the complexity of restarting an entire industry that has been dormant for over a year,” Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League, a theatrical trade association, said in a statement. "We remain cautiously optimistic about Broadway’s ability to resume performances this fall and are happy that fans can start buying tickets again.”
The Actors’ Equity Association issued a statement as well. "Today’s news means we are one step closer to the safe reopening of not just Broadway, but jobs for thousands of workers in the New York area,” said Mary McColl, executive director of the labor union. "We look forward to continuing our conversations with the Broadway League about a safe reopening and know that soon the time will come when members can go back to doing what they do best: creating world-class theater.”
New York City and its state were hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and Broadway theaters have been dark since March 12, 2020. There were 31 productions running on Broadway at the time, including eight in previews, and eight were in rehearsal preparing to open that spring. Now the state has the greatest percentage of adults vaccinated against the virus of any highly populated state, Cuomo said Monday. About 7 million residents, or a third of the population, have been fully immunized, and about 9 million have received their first vaccine dose.
Still, his Monday announcement blindsided many in the theater world. One “theater insider,” asked by The Washington Post if the move surprised anyone, emailed back “YES. EVERYONE” in all caps. The Post did not disclose the insider’s identity.
Given the challenges of mounting shows, especially musicals, long-running, profitable productions such as Hamilton and Wicked are likely to open ahead of others, Forbes notes. Some of the most hotly anticipated shows coming to Broadway are revivals, such as The Music Man, starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, set to begin previews in December; Stephen Sondheim’s Company, with the lead character switched from male to female (no dates announced yet); and Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s Caroline, or Change (again, no dates announced).
New shows expected to make a splash include Diana, a musical about the late Princess of Wales, set for December, and a musicalization of The Devil Wears Prada, with music by Elton John and book by Paul Rudnick, yet to be scheduled.