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The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Broadway extends its shutdown for nearly two more months as anxieties rise about its future

An empty Broadway in mid-March. (Jeenah Moon for The Washington Post)
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NEW YORK — Broadway announced Wednesday that the covid-19 crisis will keep its theaters closed at least through June 7, deepening the damage to a New York institution and throwing into doubt the future of some new and long-running productions.

Representatives of numerous productions offered assurances that they plan to reopen once the shutdown ends. But given all the variables — including the expense of restarting, which could run to $1 million or more per show — speculation is rife about the viability of some of them. That is especially true for musicals that depend on tourists, who may be the last to return in robust numbers.

“How many shows can Broadway sustain when Broadway comes back?” asked one longtime insider who did not want to be identified, for fear of industry reprisals. “Maybe it’s not 31 shows. Maybe it’s 20.”

The announcement by Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League, the trade group for Broadway producers and theater owners, erased the previous return date, set for the week of April 13. “Our top priority continues to be the health and well-being of Broadway theatregoers and the thousands of people who work in the theatre industry every day,” she said in a statement.

That a shutdown would be longer for an industry that accounts for 87,000 jobs and sells $2 billion in tickets annually was a foregone conclusion: New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) earlier this week extended the state’s closure of nonessential businesses to April 29. That, too, is subject to change, given the severity of the virus in the nation’s hardest-hit city and state.

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Setting a new return date means that anyone holding tickets for Broadway shows through June 7 will get an email from the website or production that sold them, “with information regarding exchanges or refunds,” the Broadway League said.

The future is up in the air for any number of shows that were running or planning to open in one of Broadway’s 41 theaters. Smash hits such as “Hamilton,” “Come From Away,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Dear Evan Hansen” — not to mention perennial box-office behemoths such as “Wicked” — are not considered to be in jeopardy. But a tier of shows that were displaying signs of weakness may have a more challenging path back, industry observers said.

No long-running show has announced a closing. A spokesman for “Mean Girls,” for example, said tickets to the musical by Tina Fey, Jeff Richmond and Nell Benjamin remain on sale for performances after June 7.

Straight plays that were supposed to open in March and April — including revivals of Richard Greenberg’s “Take Me Out,” with Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and David Mamet’s “American Buffalo,” with Sam Rockwell, Laurence Fishburne and Darren Criss — have no new opening dates. The productions say they still intend to open, but insiders report that the availability of stars who are in demand in other mediums can sometimes complicate such plans.

One immediate casualty is the completion of the run of the musical “Beetlejuice,” whose tenancy in the massive Winter Garden Theatre has to end June 6. That is because another show, a revival of “The Music Man” with Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, has dibs on the house. “Beetlejuice” had found a following after a lackluster start, and it still plans a national tour, a spokesman said. A search for a new Broadway home is ongoing.

By many accounts, the costs of reopening rise as the shutdown continues. Marketing and advertising expenses to reinvigorate the box office can run from about $600,000 to $1 million, industry experts say. Add costs such as rehearsal expenses to get a large cast back up to speed and the price tag increases.

“I’m sure it’s going to be tough,” said Peter Bogyo, a longtime Broadway hand who wrote a how-to manual, “Broadway General Manager,” on mounting and budgeting a Broadway show. “Like the virus itself, the weakest and most vulnerable are the ones that are going to falter. They’re going to have to spend extra money to rebuild.”