When the Show Doesn’t Go On: Broadway Is Rattled by Covid Cancellations

Theater actors have pride in performing despite injuries and infections.

No more.

The theater industry used to think that show must go on, but the coronaviruses have changed that. The result was a lot of canceled.

The musical about Tina Turner and the stage sequel to the novels were both canceled on Wednesday. A new musical adaptation of Mrs. Doubtfire had already canceled four performances between Sunday and Wednesday, as well as Lin-Manuel Miranda's troupe, "Freestyle Love Supreme" and "Ain't Too Proud." The revival of "Little Shop of Horrors" was a hit at the Off Broadway theater.

Covid was cited all the time.

In each case, at least one member of the show's cast or crew tested positive for the coronaviruses, and either because of a lack of enough people to replace those who test positive or a concern about the spread of the disease, performances had to be canceled. They were not the first, and almost certainly won't be the last, as the persistent Pandemic continues to pose a challenge to an industry struggling to get back on its feet after a lengthy and damaging shutdown.

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A theater representative spoke with disappointed ticket holders after a performance of the musical about Tina Turner was canceled.

Broadway has taken many precautions, but nobody lives in a bubble, and frequent testing is turning up a steady stream of breakthrough infections. The Metropolitan Opera said Wednesday that it would require booster shots for employees and audience members in January.

Those who test positive are not allowed to return until they are no longer contagious.

Hunter Arnold, a producer whose shows this season included a new comedy, "Chicken & Biscuits," that had to close for 10 days last month because of coronavirus cases in its company, said that there was going to be some percentage of performances lost to this.

The cancellation of shows is disruptive to consumers and costly to producers, who already struggle to achieve profitability in an industry where far more shows fail than succeed. Each missed performance would mean a loss of about $125,000 for a show grossing $1 million a week, and it would be especially painful if the show was canceled on the weekend because Broadway traditionally sees an attendance spike during the holiday.

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The new musical adaptation of Mrs. Doubtfire has been canceled.

The Covid cancellation ate up all of the profits from last week at Mrs. Doubtfire, according to Kevin McCollum, the show's lead producer. He said that he was optimistic that many of the people who had their tickets canceled would rebook for a later performance.

The business of gathering is a challenge for all of us in the industry. We cannot pretend no one has Covid when they have it. I hope this will be put into the level of the common cold in the future, but until then, we have to respect it.

The production of "Chicken & Biscuits" was canceled because of the costs of the infections that hit it at the box office.

The industry's leaders say that cancelling shows their commitment to safety.

The executive director of Actors' Equity, a labor union representing performers, said that they hoped that it wouldn't happen in the numbers that it's happening, but it was contemplated. The fact that cases are being caught and that performances are being paused shows that both sides are paying attention. I hope that makes audiences feel more secure.

The Broadway League, a trade organization representing producers and theater owners, agreed that the cancellation is not a surprise, but also noted that most shows are continuing to run. Since plays and musicals returned in late summer, there have been 2,351 Broadway performances, seen by 2.3 million people.

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The play "Chicken & Biscuits," which had to close for 10 days last month because of coronaviruses in its company, cited the cost of missed performances as the reason for ending its run early.

Charlotte St. Martin, the League's president, said that the industry has not shut down despite the current rash of breakthrough cases. I have bruised my knuckles, but so far we are still open, and a two- or three-day shutdown, now and then, I think is to be expected.

Fans have been upset but also understanding.

Karleigh Kebartas, a 21-year-old psychology student at Pace University, had a ticket to the canceled Saturday matinee of "Little Shop" and said she was not insane. When the show was canceled, Ms. Kebartas was already at the theater and the audience was held in the lobby until an announcement was made with no explanation. Ms. Kebartas was able to buy another ticket on Tuesday so she could catch Jeremy Jordan in the show before heading home for the holidays.

The closings began after Broadway reopened. The Disney musical "Aladdin" resumed performances at the New Amsterdam Theater on Sept. 28, but the show was closed for 12 days due to breakthrough cases.

There have been a number of closings at other shows since then, including a lengthy shutdown at Chicken & Biscuits and a shorter Covid-related shutdown at Chicago. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater canceled its performances on Wednesday and Thursday because of positive coronaviruses.

There have been more cancellation of "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" and "American Utopia" that the producers said were not related to Covid.

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Lin-Manuel Miranda joined the cast of "Freestyle Love Supreme" when they resumed their performances after they canceled several performances this week.

Ted Chapin, the former president of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, said that canceling random performances can hurt. It would be nice if Covid could calm down, but it seems as if we may be in this longer than we would like.

Patrons seem to be going to shows. Victoria Bailey, executive director of the Theater Development Fund, said that the cancellation is still a small number of performances. We all have this underlying anxiety that we need this to last. We need this to last. We need this to continue. The average consumer isn't much.

Some shows are continuing. There aren't enough replacements ready to go on new shows.

Tom Kirdahy, a lead producer of "Little Shop", said that certain shows have to think about how much coverage they have, and how much they can afford. If one person tests positive, the entire production shuts down, that model is unsustainable.

There is one unresolved question about compensation. Most shows have paid company members even when performances have been canceled, but it is not clear if that practice will continue.

There are also cancellation happening elsewhere. In London, theaters have had less stringent safety rules. A performance of the ballet "Don Quixote" was canceled in Paris because of positive cases in the company. In Australia, reopened shows were forced to close.

The performances of "Freestyle Love Supreme" had been canceled on Saturday, and that's when the graphic designer found out. She said that she didn't have to buy a plane ticket or get a hotel to go to the show. This is the age we live in.

Ben Ratner, a 29-year-old digital producer, got an email 90 minutes later saying the performance was canceled after he scored a rush ticket to that day's Mrs. Doubtfire. He said that he was annoyed but also understanding. I will not blame a production for doing the right thing.