While the West End has stuttered its way through what have sometimes seemed like interminable announcements followed by actual openings, closings and more openings, activities on the other side of the Atlantic have been more stable.
Regrettably, stability meant a void during which all Broadway theatres were closed for the best part of 18 months. Given that the path of the pandemic has not been vastly different in New York City from London and, if anything, after the first couple of months no worse, this might seem surprising.
The obvious answer is that the politicians and theatre producers there have shown a greater abundance of caution, caring more about the health of their audiences than corporate profits and perceived economic benefits for theatres and all of those operations in the city that feed off them, including the city itself.
It will probably take several years for anybody to take a cool, calm look at the two separate approaches and determine which was wiser, both socially and commercially. In the meantime, it is a pleasure to report that there are signs of life at some of the largest theatres in the centre of Manhattan.
Given that there is virtually no competition and many New Yorkers will have been desperate for a long-awaited theatrical fix, it can hardly have come as the greatest surprise to learn that the re-opening night of Waitress starring wonderful singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles broke all box office records. Even so, it still put a smile on this critic’s face and sent him back to yet another run of the music—in the Sara B recording.
The season is now getting up and running with many theatres taking their time to see how things pan out. For example, the Broadway transfer of Marianne Elliott’s gender-adjusted version of Stephen Sondheim’s Company is not commencing previews (which is as far as it got 18 months ago) until the middle of November with an opening night set three months from now.
UK readers might be interested to learn about the relatively strict conditions attaching to the purchase of tickets for this show.
The anticipated return of Broadway performances is subject to the approval of the NY State Department of Health and the Governor based on the continuing growth of the fully vaccinated population, coupled with an ongoing decline in total COVID-19 cases and positivity rates.
The Department of Health and the Governor will review and approve health protocols in the theater established by the theater owner to assure that the highest safety standards are in place.
Broadway is committed to providing healthy and safe facilities for audiences, performers, and staff. Based on CDC and New York State guidelines at the time of performance, protocols may include mask enforcement, vaccination, or negative test verification, and more as developed by the theater owners in conjunction with the State.
New protective systems—including sanitization and filtration requirements—will be implemented by the theater to align with federal and state recommendations, and if any regulations change, the theater will follow state, and federal guidelines to maintain safety for all.
In practice, this is likely to mean that every theatregoer will have to prove they are double vaccinated or are of school-age with a recent negative COVID test.
A late press release for Chicago on Broadway bears this out.
The Broadway League has announced that the owners and operators of all 41 Broadway theatres in New York City will require vaccinations for audience members, as well as performers, backstage crew, and theatre staff, for all performances through October 2021.
- MASKS REQUIRED: All guests must wear a properly fitting mask over the nose and mouth in the theatre except when eating or drinking in designated areas.
- VACCINATIONS REQUIRED: All guests must be fully vaccinated to enter the theatre and must present digital or physical proof at the door.
- Children under 12 and people with a medical condition or closely held religious belief that prevents vaccination may show proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
- PHOTO ID: Guests ages 18 and older must present a valid government-issued photo ID. Guests under 18 may also show a school photo ID. Guests under 12 must be accompanied by an adult who meets the above requirements.
- Guests who do not comply with these policies will be denied entry or asked to leave the theatre.
This is miles away from the UK version, which now reads (or doesn’t since there is nothing to read) “do what you like and hope for the best”.
As they waited to see the path of the pandemic, London producers quite frequently took the opportunity to present new work on a small scale, accepting that a business model which relied on relatively low costs reduced exposure.
By way of contrast, most of the news coming from Broadway relates to shows that were either up and running or, like Six, just about to launch when the world stopped turning in March last year. This begs the question as to how long it will take producers of high-profile shows on Broadway or in the West End to even think about commissioning new work.
Given that we still currently have approximately 250,000 people falling ill with coronavirus in the UK every week, it could well be that even the most intrepid wish to keep their powder dry until the future nature of the pandemic can be seen more clearly.
Lord Lloyd Webber has been voluble about the problems attaching to Cinderella, which did finally take off but only after much anguish and a property re-mortgage. Having endured 18 months of financial misery, the last thing that strapped producers and angels need is an expensive new show crashing and burning.
In particular, most producers have long known that they can make hay over the Christmas and New Year period but frequently then close in early January. This period will be like no other, so we shall have to see whether that pattern in sees or demand holds up strongly through the winter as well.
It will be fascinating to watch the pattern in both London and New York over coming months and we all have to hope and believe that this might just be the start of something wonderful.