Tour Through Omicron: Broadway Shows Hit Bumps on the Road

The “Mean Girls” tour made it to Oklahoma before it was knocked down by the coronavirus. Initially, production could have continued by bringing in alumni from its Broadway run, but eventually the number of company members who tested positive was too high, so earlier this month, the show. decided to cancel the remaining programs. in Tulsaand then postponed the races that were to take place later in two Wisconsin cities, Madison and Appleton.

When the show hit the pause button, Jonalyn Saxer, the actress who played Karen Smith, found herself on two weeks off and without a home – like many actors, she gave up her New York apartment and stashed away her belongings. when signing a contract to visit. The show offered to take her anywhere she wanted to go, and she chose her parents’ home in Los Angeles.

“I was at home for Christmas, and when I left, I said, ‘I don’t know when I’ll be back,’ she said. “Two weeks later, I said, ‘Hi Mom and Dad! ”

The lucrative touring market for Broadway shows is being rattled by the rise of Omicron, as coronavirus cases rise in parts of the country even as they have begun to fall nationwide.

This past weekend, the production of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” in San Francisco and “The Prom” in Baltimore was canceled because of positive tests in their company.

“Hamilton” has been hit particularly hard: This month, it halted all four of its US tours, during Buffalo, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and San Antoniobecause of positive coronavirus tests.

The phenomenon is in some ways similar to what happened on Broadway, where so many theater workers tested positive in December that half of the shows were canceled on some nights. But there is one key difference: While on Broadway, there were also Ticket sales dropped dramaticallyProducers say that, elsewhere in the country, attendance has generally remained stable.

Jeffrey Seller, lead producer on “Hamilton,” said: “The tour, when we are able to perform, is going to go very well – the audience comes and the audience is enthusiastic,” said Jeffrey Seller, producer. main output of “Hamilton”. “The tour isn’t going to be great when Covid sweeps through our company, which has happened to all of our tours.”

For actors, touring now involves less sightseeing and more risk management than in the past.

“It’s the top of the high, because we’ve been waiting a year and a half to get back to doing what we love to do, but it’s not like that,” said Saxer, who tested positive for the virus. virus in November while on her tour. was in Spokane, Wash., and recovered while in isolation there.

“It’s not like we can say ‘Let’s go check out this great bar’, because the actors around have all lost their jobs because someone tested positive,” she added. “It increases the bet.”

Christine Toy Johnson, an actress on her “Come From Away” tour, said she hasn’t eaten in a restaurant since July.

“In some cities, we are staying in hotels and we are the only ones wearing masks,” she said. “It was very stressful – I won’t lie. But it’s also been an exciting time to be back in the theater, doing art again.”

According to Meredith Blair, president and chief executive officer, there are currently about three dozen performances that move from venue to venue, stopping at a mix of nonprofit performing arts centers and for-profit theater in nearly 300 North American cities. Booking group, a company that arranges touring performances. Shows bring in a lot of money: those with cast members (which also tour with non-clusters) grossed $1.6 billion at the box office in 2018 -2019, was the last full season before the pandemic; That number is only slightly less than the $1.8 billion that audiences attending Broadway shows in New York City during the same period spent, according to the Broadway League.

There seems to be a number of reasons the touring audience remains more stable than the Broadway audience. Most venues showing touring productions depend on locals, not visitors, so they are less affected by the drop in tourism that has blanketed Broadway. Many touring venues with large numbers of subscribers have, notably, maintained their subscriptions throughout the pandemic. And some locations are in parts of the country where people are less inclined to change their habits because of Covid.

Rich Jaffe, Co-CEO of Broadway across America, introduced Broadway tours in 48 North American markets. “On the way, they see these venues as their theaters – it’s an important part of their communities, supporting jobs and generating economic effects for fairly local downtown areas. significantly. If we have a show, the audience is there.”

Many North American tours are skipping Canada because of government-mandated capacity constraints there. But in the United States, where there are generally no capacity limits, venue operators seem pleased with how things are going, despite Omicron’s bump.

Joan H. Squires, president of Omaha performing arts, which hosts touring productions of “Cats” and “Hamilton” in the fall and then “Dear Evan Hansen” in the days before and after the term. new year break. Squires scanned tickets at the door for “Dear Evan Hansen” because so few volunteers opened the door, but she attributes more to the winter weather than the Covid concern.

The biggest brands are, as always, the best sellers. And “Hadestown,” which won a Tony Award for best musical of 2019 and kicked off its tour in October, is off to a strong start. “Hadestown came just as we were starting to see a spike in Omicron, and it far exceeded our goal in terms of numbers,” said Maria Van Laanen, president and chief executive officer of the Fox Cities Center for the Performing Arts in Appleton. attendance and sales.

Presenters in several cities described sales dwindling as Omicron succeeded. “We definitely see a slower buying trend during the holidays – in any other year we could have completely sold out, but that’s clearly not the case as there was some hesitation. ,” said Jeffrey Finn, theater vice president. production and programming at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. “That said, I’m watching for a big change as we head into spring with the hope and expectation that Omicron won’t be what it is.”

Safety precautions vary across the country. Most shows require audiences to wear masks, except in cities where such requirements are prohibited; Spectator vaccination regulations follow local government procedures (actors and other theater staff are required to be vaccinated).

Maintaining tours has required programs to add staff. “Hamilton” now uses seven “universal swings,” flexible performers ready to go wherever they need to go to fill, up from four before the pandemic; “The Lion King” brought in three more turns.

“Come From Away” offers a particularly vivid case study of the creativity also needed to keep shows afloat. The company was hit by Covid earlier this month when it arrived in Minneapolis, where it was expected to spend two weeks.

“We went 15 weeks without any issues, but then Omicron came in and started wreaking havoc,” said Johnson, who has been on tour since 2018. “At one point half the cast. had to sit out.”

Producer cancel three concertsThis gave them enough time to invite actors from California, New York, and Toronto, and the show then continued with a mixed cast that included alumni not only from Broadway but also from manufacturers in Australia, Canada and the UK.

“It’s a Rubik’s Cube that never stops working when it comes to trying to keep a show up and running,” said Sue Frost, lead producer on “Come From Away.”

Among those who flew in was Happy McPartlin, a reserve in the Broadway cast who had just recovered from her own Covid case. “I said, ‘Of course,’ because that’s what we do here,” she said. “I know our situation. We had a bad couple of weeks when the numbers weren’t in our favor, and one of the guys from the tour came and saved us. I said, “If you need me, I’ll do the same for you.”

Not all cancellations are short-lived. In December, “Ain’t Too Proud” canceled for two weeks in Washington; “Lion King” missed 12 concerts in Denverwhile “Wicked” canceled six shows in Cleveland. “Hamilton” was closed for a month in Los Angeles, and when it reopens next month, it is now expected to operate for only six more weeks, instead of operating in the spring as originally anticipated. .

“I almost forgot about Covid for a bit because we were so used to it, and were happy to do the show, but Christmas Eve we had so many positive tests that we couldn’t do the show and We canceled a half hour after it was supposed to start,” said Nicholas Christopher, who plays Aaron Burr in the movie “Hamilton” in Los Angeles. Christopher moved from New York to Los Angeles for “Hamilton”; He, his wife, and their newborn all tested positive in December, and then he found out that the Los Angeles gig was over.

“It’s very eye-opening and very humbling, and makes me appreciate what we do even more, because it’s been taken away so many times,” he said. “It’s almost like PTSD, the show is closed again. It still feels like a dream that I’m ready to wake up from.” Tour Through Omicron: Broadway Shows Hit Bumps on the Road

Fry Electronics Team

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