SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
After many Broadway shows were shut down because of breakthrough omicron cases, things are on a more even keel this last week with no cancelled performances. But as temperatures and tourism plummet, fewer people are seeing shows altogether. Several productions closed for good because of COVID, and three shows have closed in the hopes of returning in the spring, as Jeff Lunden reports.
JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: There were very few people at the half-price TKTS booth in Times Square last Tuesday night. And many of the 21 shows still playing on Broadway were offering discounts. Roger Wilson from Sweden was looking for bargains.
ROGER WILSON: I understand the industry is really struggling. On the other hand, it's easier for someone like me to get last-minute tickets.
LUNDEN: Wilson scored tickets to "Moulin Rouge," where, like all Broadway shows, the audience, cast and crew have to be vaccinated. But as Broadway's discovered, breakthrough infections can cause havoc. Six musicals and plays closed permanently.
BRIAN MORELAND: Omicron literally took us out in the span of a week.
LUNDEN: Brian Moreland produced "Thoughts Of A Colored Man." At one point, so few actors were available that the playwright had to go on stage with script in hand. But when more people got infected, Moreland made the painful decision to close the show.
MORELAND: We were not going to be able to sustain a 10-day closure. It wasn't financially possible to be without performances for 10 days.
LUNDEN: There is no insurance to cover COVID-related closures, so producers are on the hook. At the new musical "Mrs. Doubtfire", omicron spread like wildfire, says Jenn Gambatese, who plays the leading role of Miranda.
JENN GAMBATESE: I have said that "Doubtfire," as a show, was the canary in the corona mine shaft.
LUNDEN: Within a week of opening in December, so many people in the cast and crew were infected that producer Kevin McCollum shut down the show for 11 days, at a loss of about $3 million. The show reopened but struggled to find audiences. So McCollum says...
KEVIN MCCOLLUM: I had to close the show. What I did differently is I told everybody, I know I'm not under contract with you, but I'm going to do everything I can to reopen the show.
LUNDEN: Which means 115 people were laid off. Within a few days, the producers of "To Kill A Mockingbird" and "Girl From The North Country" made similar announcements.
KATE SHINDLE: If one show does something, it's unique. If two or three shows do something, it's maybe catching on and could become a trend.
LUNDEN: Kate Shindle is president of the union Actors' Equity.
SHINDLE: Officially, those shows are closed. And we hope that they reopen. We also hope that they bring people back at the contractual terms that they had at the time the show shut down.
LUNDEN: Because Broadway has never dealt with this particular kind of crisis before, there are not a lot of contractual mechanisms between the producers and 14 unions, says Kevin McCollum.
MCCOLLUM: Speaking for myself and for "Mrs. Doubtfire," I wish I had more tools in the arsenal that could have kept everybody under contract for a cost that had some reasonableness. It's impossible to sell tickets for this show right now.
LUNDEN: Actress Jenn Gambatese is planning to return to "Mrs. Doubtfire" in March if it reopens. She's been in touch with a lot of Broadway performers who say things are slow.
GAMBATESE: There's just not that many auditions yet because, you know, everybody's kind of waiting to see. There's readings and maybe a workshop here and there. But in an industry that is already challenging to be a working actor, now it's, like, even more so.
LUNDEN: And Group Sales ticket representative Scott Mallalieu says while business has been slow, with only two-thirds of Broadway seats filled, he's feeling hopeful for the spring as omicron seems to be on the wane.
SCOTT MALLALIEU: I still get calls from people that says, I hear Broadway's canceled again. And I'm like, well, not really. And actually, now's a great time to book tickets for April and May because shows have availability.
LUNDEN: Which means you might even be able to get tickets to "Hamilton." For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY SHOT")
LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: I am not throwing away my shot. I am not throwing away my shot. Hey yo, I'm just like my country. I'm young, scrappy and hungry, and I'm not throwing away my shot.
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