The surge in coronavirus cases is starting to take a real financial toll on Broadway, just as the industry is attempting to rebound from its lengthy shutdown.
The Broadway League, a trade association, said on Tuesday that its theaters brought in $22.5 million last week. That’s a 26 percent drop from the $30.5 million in tickets sold the previous week; in the week before Christmas in 2019, total grosses were $40.1 million.
The drop in grosses is a reflection of the fact that multiple shows have canceled performances when positive coronavirus tests forced cast or crew members to quarantine and there were not enough understudies or replacement workers for the shows to continue.
Last weekend, about one-third of all shows canceled some performances, and this week, multiple shows decided to postpone performances until after Christmas, including “Ain’t Too Proud,” “Aladdin,” “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Hadestown,” “Hamilton,” “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” “The Lion King, “MJ” and “Skeleton Crew.” Plus, “Tina” canceled until Christmas night; “Jagged Little Pill” closed entirely; and “Mrs. Doubtfire” canceled Tuesday night.
Attendance also dropped, given the cancellations: 184,227 people saw a Broadway show last week, down from 240,602 the previous week.
The resulting revenue drop is a real concern for an industry where most shows, even before the pandemic, fail financially. But the damage is not evenly dispersed — some shows that stay open are benefiting by selling tickets to people scrambling for something to see after their first-choice show canceled. This year the Broadway League is releasing only aggregate weekly grosses rather than breaking them down for individual productions, so it is difficult to see exactly how the financial ramifications are unfolding.
Five other shows cited the pandemic shutdown in deciding not to reopen this fall — the musicals “Frozen,” “Mean Girls” and “West Side Story” and the plays “Hangmen” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Two shows cited the ongoing pandemic in deciding to close for good after starting (or restarting) performances this fall, then pausing because of positive coronavirus tests in their companies: not only “Jagged Little Pill,” which announced its closing Monday night, but also the play “Chicken & Biscuits,” which closed last month.
The current crisis is coming at the worst possible time for the industry, because the holiday season is traditionally the most lucrative time of year for Broadway, and many shows depend on the holidays to make up for softer periods.
Charlotte St. Martin, the president of the Broadway League, said she does not envision the industry shutting down again, no matter how many individual shows have to pause. “I do not imagine a shutdown by us, unless every show has people with Covid,” she said. “We’re going to keep as many people employed as we can.”
And New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, at a news conference on Tuesday, was similarly shutdown-averse. “No more shutdowns,” he said. “We’ve been through them. They were devastating. We can’t go through it again.”