Broadway reopening date is just a guess at this point

A sign in the window of Broadway's 'The Lion King' on March 14 announces the suspension of the show.
A sign in the window of Broadway's 'The Lion King' on March 14 announces the suspension of the show.(Cindy Ord/Getty Images)

So when is Broadway really coming back? I’m not talking the earliest possible restart date of Sept. 7, mostly designed to keep things upbeat and manage the outflow of refunded cash from an upended entertainment industry. I’m talking reality.
The shortest, clearest answer? Nobody knows.
Still, there are three popular scenarios, all of which are dependent on numerous interlocking factors. When will Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio sign off on indoor gatherings of 1,000-plus people? Can Broadway change its ancient practices and rituals for audience and actor safety? And will audiences return in sufficient numbers to make reopening commercially viable?
And there is more than one audience. You’ve got highly selective New Yorkers who prefer hot but risky new plays and trendy attractions. And then there are the tourists who fly in to New York (yikes!) and prefer brand-name shows such as “The Phantom of the Opera” or “The Lion King.” Opinions vary on which audience is coming back first — assuming one is coming back at all.
Manye (Rafiki) in Disney's "The Lion King"
Manye (Rafiki) in Disney's "The Lion King" (Joan Marcus)
So what are the current scenarios?
One, viewed as Pollyanna-ish by some but possible by others, believes in Thanksgiving.
That’s appealing since the weeks between Turkey Day and the New Year are the most lucrative. Even in a normal year, openings rarely crank up until at least October. And If shows can get back up by mid or late November, that would an actual season, with a Tony Awards next June.
Theater owners are the most eager to get Broadway back in gear; top producers are more cautious, since they are the ones who lose their shirt over diminished demand. All acknowledge that the Broadway inventory will have to be smaller and leaner to survive. That’s why Disney Theatrical pulled the plug on “Frozen” on Thursday: they would rather try and sell two family shows in this environment than three. More producers will do the same.
The downside is that international tourism is unlikely to have returned by November. And even domestic tourism to the city looks doubtful.
Scenario two — the most popular among the top producers with whom I spoke — is next spring.
By March, the hope goes, Broadway can emerge from its forced cocoon just as school groups and spring-breakers coming to the city. That’s why you are seeing shows lining up with spring openings, such as “Plaza Suite” with Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker.
Scenario three? Even later than that.
But if we’re headed toward Doomsday, otherwise known as a prolonged wait for a vaccine that might never arrive, it’s generally agreed that few current Broadway attractions would survive. And you could say the same for most every bar and restaurant on Ninth Ave.
A key is how much Broadway can change adapt social distancing. Beyond adding hand sanitizers and cutting capacity, it is poorly positioned to do so, with small lobbies, fixed seating, packed bathrooms at intermission, crowded dressing rooms and an aesthetic inextricably linked with standing room only crowds. In many producers’ minds, ideas like temperature checks on the way into the theater are horrific.
“What would you do if someone had a fever,” said one venue operator, “give them an instant refund or call the health authorities? And what about the rest of the party?”
If theaters look like health care facilities, the thinking goes, the good night out will be destroyed. Better maybe to wait. And hope.
Fiscal necessity might force hands. Maybe 25 percent of capacity is better than nothing. But who wants to see “The Book of Mormon” with the wind whistling down empty rows of muffled mask wearers? How is that a good time for anybody?

Meanwhile, the labor force that actually puts on Broadway worries that the crisis will result in an attempt to cut compensation for the industry’s true workhorses. Producers fret that the great era of $800 premium tickets has been vaporized.

Both parties are probably right. Everyone will have to come together and accept change. But in May 2020, the way forward is hard to discern.

And that’s also why the phrase “after everyone has been given a vaccine” is also a common response to the main question on Broadway.

They’d be saying it at Sardi’s, if only Sardi’s hadn’t gone dark.

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