The coronavirus-induced shutdown of Broadway theaters will now officially extend for more than a year. The Broadway League, the consortium of producers and theater owners that govern the industry, has announced plans to extend the theater closure from January 3, 2021, when theaters were previously set to reopen, through May 30, 2021. The industry first closed on March 12 of this year, and the Broadway League had set a rolling series of possible reopening dates — first in April, then in June, then Labor Day, and finally after the end of the year.
This hedging on the producers’ part is partially a cash-flow issue, as theaters will now have to offer refunds and exchanges for canceled performances for the additional months of closure. The choice to set a date in May now seems closer to a realistic assessment of when live performances might be able to return, depending on the variables of vaccine approval and distribution, given that staging theater on the scale Broadway is known for generally isn’t financially feasible if audience sizes are capped for the sake of social distancing. The Metropolitan Opera, which puts on productions that are even larger than Broadway’s, announced in September 2020 that it wouldn’t return until September 2021. Dr. Fauci has suggested that it may be more than a year before people are comfortable going to the theater without masks, even if a vaccine is approved by the end of 2020 or early 2021.
The shutdown extension puts the kibosh on many productions that had announced plans to return earlier this spring. In addition to Broadway’s many long-running shows that are expected to restart performances when they can — your Wickeds and Hamiltons, basically anything except Frozen, which Disney closed due to the pandemic this May — some producers have already announced dates for new Broadway productions that were to begin before next May. Those include productions of Flying Over Sunset, The Minutes, American Buffalo, Caroline, or Change, 1776, and others, which will likely have to be moved back or scuttled.
Update, 12:10 p.m.: Two major productions that had moved their premiere dates to spring 2021 have already announced new timelines, both betting that Broadway won’t really return until next fall. The Michael Jackson musical MJ (which moved from July 2020 to start performances on March 8, 2021) has said that it will now start performances in September 2021. The Hugh Jackman revival of The Music Man (which moved from fall 2020 to start performances on April 7, 2021) is moving all the way back to start performances on December 20, 2021, and open on February 10, 2022. Until then, the giant Music Man marquee at the Winter Garden will just continue to blare its old-timey fonts all over Times Square.