The neon lights will once again be bright on Broadway — but it’ll still take some time.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced May 3rd that the state will lift pandemic-related capacity restrictions May 19 for restaurants, bars, museums, concert halls, and theaters, including New York City's Broadway theaters and other live-performance venues. But given the cost and logistics of mounting plays, productions probably won’t be staged until fall.
Broadway productions can reopen “from a capacity point of view” by May 19, Cuomo said at a press briefing, according to The Hollywood Reporter and other media outlets. 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 Broadway League, the national trade association for Broadway theater, welcomed Cuomo’s announcement but offered some caveats. “We applaud the governor’s recent announcement easing capacity limits on performance venues in New York State,” said a statement from the association. “We are encouraged by this good news, which is a long-awaited indication that New York is truly on the road to recovery. We look forward to reopening at full capacity and are working to safely welcome audiences and employees back to Broadway theatres this fall. As always, we continue to work closely with our elected officials and will share more information as soon as plans become finalized.”
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. 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 reopening 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.
Theaters and other venues will still have to enforce the social distancing rules coming from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with people seated at least six feet apart, unless the venue gives priority to those who have been vaccinated or have recently tested negative for the virus. “If the CDC changes their guidelines, we’ll change our guidelines,” Cuomo said.
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.