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We were all optimistic when news of Broadway’s reopening first came out in May, but now Delta cases are surging and so are concerns within the theater industry. As CNBC reported today, ticket sales are lagging as theatergoers face a renewed threat from COVID’s latest variant. 

The crew of Hamilton having lunch in front of the Richard Rodgers Theatre today as they return to work. Photo: Phil O’Brien.

Some of Broadway’s biggest hits — Hamilton, The Lion King, and Wicked — are set to reopen at full capacity on September 14, but so far there are plenty of tickets left for all three blockbusters, even during opening week. Hamilton, which was notoriously difficult to get tickets for in pre-COVID times, has only one performance sold out so far through June 5, 2022. 

Broadway theater owners and producers attribute the lackluster sales to uncertainty around the highly contagious Delta variant. With theatergoers hesitating to flock to crowded theaters, some within the Broadway community are beginning to question whether the reopening at full capacity is being rushed. “The theater-going public are voting with their dollars,” John Kenrick, an American theater historian, lyricist, and theater producer told CNBC. “If you rush this, it’s going to cost you a lot more than if you take it slow and steady.” 

Tony Award winning Hadestown opens again next month. Photo: Phil O’Brien.

“COVID does not operate on our calendar,” he continued. “It doesn’t give a damn about our financial needs. Until everybody gets a lot more sensible about that, we’re going to pay a price for it.”

If we open and go for more than two weeks with low occupancy, the likelihood is that many shows would have to close and most likely not be able to reopen”

Charlotte St. Martin

Before the pandemic, only 20% of Broadway productions made a profit on their investment. What chances do they have now with such limited ticket sales? Even though some have a buffer from stimulus payments and state assistance programs, the reality is looking grim. “If we open and go for more than two weeks with low occupancy, the likelihood is that many shows would have to close and most likely not be able to reopen,” Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League, told Bloomberg

We saw long lines for the first preview of Pass Over at the August Wilson Theatre on W52nd Street, and that success continued throughout the week. CNBC noted that the play hasn’t quite sold out but in a recent performance there were only 100 empty seats in a theater of 1,200. 

The line at the August Wilson Theatre for Pass Over‘s first preview performance.

Matt Ross, one of the show’s producers, told CNBC that they hired an epidemiologist to develop intense protocols so that they might avoid “the start and stop again thing.”

And of course, tourism is a major factor here. Tourists typically make up 70% of Broadway ticket sales but that audience isn’t rushing back. The Office of the New York State Comptroller is projecting 36.1 million visitors in 2021, which is still a massive reduction from 66.6 million in 2019.  Hopes of tourists from Canada, UK and Europe returning have been dashed by concerns of the new variant — although Reuters reported last week that plans are being made to allow vaccinated foreigners into the United States in the future.

That could be contributing to why a limited-run, dramatic production like Pass Over is faring better over the larger hits. “Musicals historically outperform plays,” Brian Moreland, the lead producer of Thoughts of a Colored Man, opening on October 31, told Bloomberg. “They’re larger, you can get more people into the theater, and if there’s any type of language barrier, it’s OK to watch the singing and dancing.” But now, “musicals are at risk of suffering because of a lack of tourism — especially when you’re a long-running musical, where possibly you have exhausted the New York audience,” he explained. “Plays have the benefit of being smaller and more on-brand of a time and place” which “can really appeal to the New Yorker or domestic traveler.”

Thoughts of a Colored Man will open at the end of October. Photo: Phil O’Brien.

Join the Conversation

12 Comments

  1. Not mentioned is the requirement to be vaccinated. I recently was refunded for 3 shows, as not everyone in my party is vaccinated, and that is their choice. There should be a testing option.

  2. DeBlasio has ensured 50 percent of the people will not go because they are not vaccinated!
    That is why tickets are not selling!

  3. What will bring people back faster is reassurance extraordinary measures will be taken for their safety and also that theaters REQUIRE vaccination and face masks for admission (and performing, etc.). It has to be that way or I agree, people are going to stay home in droves, while the Delta variant runs rampant. The faster people vaccinate up and mask up, the faster we’ll be DONE. Wouldn’t it be nice to go into the Fall with a successful routing of COVID-19? We can do it, if we care about each other.

    1. I saw “Pass Over.” Wonderful play, brilliant performances. But there were seven people in the audience in front of me and behind me who weren’t wearing masks properly: I saw the ever popular chin strap, I saw masks being worn below the nose and on the top of the head like sunglasses. They can hire all the epidemiologists they want to consult on protocols, but if they don’t enforce them, Broadway will be forced to shut down again.

  4. What will bring back people is if the theaters would lower prices to a reasonable level. With the current fears, the fact that theaters are continuing to charge pre-Covid ridiculously high prices makes people think twice of three times about venturing back. Give folks a deal and I’ll bet they come back faster.

    1. I said it before, I say it again. These are extraordinary times. They require exta effort. Play to the audience you have. Imexpect ere are great numbers of people in the tristate area who are vaccinated and have never seen a Broadway show. During this time of change, flexibility is key. Lets figure out what works, together. Yes, it will cost the producers, but, you may grow your audience, which I hesr is the biggest issue in keeping theatre alive in general, even before COVID. Art should be valued and artists must be paid the value they deserve, but, today…lets focus on bringing in the next generation and the current generation, including artists, who cannot afford to go.

  5. Lets keep in mind that most of the shows reopening, or which were supposed to open pre-Tonys and couldnt, got $8-10 million grants. Thats enough to re-open, and run 3-4 months at least, even with low sales. The grant money ahs to be spent on the show – it cant be given back to investors. So closing in a few weeks would be really bad business. Most of these articles being written about BRroadway are very ill informed.

  6. I have to say that I think a big part of the low ticket sales is that most people will not pay a high ticket price for a reduced production. Many shows have reduced show content, and that is, in my opinion, not a good move.

  7. Most Broadway productions are not worthy of reopening anyway. They are just overhyped juke box reviews, children musicals or over amplified three chord rock musicals which sound like they were written by a stoned high schooler. Not to mention the outrageous ticket prices, of which only tourists who don’t know better fall for. Without these out of town suckers, these shows don’t have a chance. Good riddance!

  8. Di blasio ruined city again with vaccine mandates. If people have to wear masks and some vaccinated people can still get covid and transmit covid wouldn’t testing also make sense as a requirement?

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