It wasn’t surprising but certainly disappointing when it was announced late last month that Broadway would remain closed the remainder of the year due to COVID-19. Theaters closed on March 12 – the first time Broadway has shut down due to a health pandemic.
The ripple effect of going dark registered at The Straz as well other performing arts centers throughout the nation, which are rescheduling shows into late winter or early spring and working up protocols to safely bring patrons back into their theaters.
The Broadway League is hopeful performances will resume in New York City on a rolling schedule in early 2021. League president Charlotte St. Martin is “cautiously optimistic” they will soon have protocols that would work “in New York and on the road.”
Of course, not all shows will come back to Broadway after this closure. It already has been announced Frozen, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Hangmen, will not resume when theaters reopen.
At The Straz, the first rescheduled Broadway tour is My Fair Lady, set to hit Morsani Hall December 22-27.
Broadway has experienced closures before in its history – some related to unexpected events and many more due to worker strikes.
In a touch of dramatic irony, while the 1918-19 flu pandemic ravaged the U.S. causing about 675,000 deaths, Hollywood promised it would release no more movies to theaters until the illness abated, while Broadway carried on.
To deter the spread of the flu, the city health commissioner ordered staggered curtain times to cut down overcrowding in New York’s theater district and on the subway.
Here’s a look at some of the significant closures of Broadway:
Musician Strike: September 18 – October 13, 1975 – More than 300 musicians walked a picket line for 25 days, closing more than a dozen Broadway shows. They were seeking a pay increase from $290 to $425 a week. Previous labor strikes occurred in 1919, 1960 and 1964.
Terrorist Attack on America: September 11, 2001 – With the terror and chaos of that fateful Tuesday morning in New York City, that saw the Twin Towers falling after being struck by two airliners, Broadway closed its theaters for two days. Not all shows reopened and the city purchased 50,000 tickets and the state paid $1 million for an ad campaign designed to draw patrons back to Broadway.
Musician Strike: March 7-11, 2003 – More than 300 musicians with additional walks outs of nearly 1,000 actors and stagehands protested an attempt to trim orchestra sizes in Broadway theaters. The League of American Theaters and Producers proposed to reduce a theater orchestra from 24-26 musicians to seven members with an assist from “virtual” musicians. Cabaret, under a different contract, was the only show to remain open where $7 million overall in Broadway revenue was lost. The strike ended when it was agreed to trim orchestras to 18-to-19 musicians.
Stagehand Strike: November 10-29, 2007 – The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local One flexed the power of behind-the-scenes workers, closing 31 theaters and 27 shows. A major contract issue involved the loosening of show load-in rules that included overtime, wage trims and increased stagehand responsibilities. In the end, workers received significant raises plus double pay for working an hour after the curtain fell nightly.
Hurricane Sandy: October 28-31, 2012 – With Hurricane Sandy barreling up the East coast, Broadway shutdown on October 28, 2012 in anticipation of a landfall that could bring destructive winds and rain. Downgraded from a category 2 hurricane, a still incredibly strong Superstorm Sandy struck New Jersey and Manhattan on October 29. Lack of transportation, including buses and the subway, kept theaters dark, reopening on Halloween to limited crowds. Broadway fully resumed on November 1.
Snowstorm: January 23, 2016 – An historic nor’easter hit the tri-state area, dropping up to three-feet of snow in New York City, prompting Gov. Andrew Cuomo to declare a state of emergency. Mayor Bill de Blasio issued a travel ban which closed public transportation and the city’s subway system, keeping people at home rather than at the theater.
Cast members of Hadestown sang outside the Walter Kerr Theatre after most of the west side of Manhattan shut down due to the blackout on July 13, 2019.
Blackout: July 13, 2019 – With all respect to singer Billy Joel, the lights literally did go out on Broadway when more than 20 shows, including Hadestown, To Kill a Mockingbird and Hamilton were cancelled due to a Con-Ed power failure affecting 42,000 customers. Beetlejuice, Burn This, Be More Chill and Beautiful, however, were able to go on with the show, because their theaters – on the opposite side of Broadway – were not hit with power loss.