A third of all Broadway shows were canceled on Sunday because members of the company or crew tested positive for Covid, the latest in “a raft of cancellations unlike any in history,” evidence of the surge of infections, including among the vaccinated, “We are seeing a very substantial rise in the number of cases in a way we haven’t seen previously,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said yesterday, the third day of a record number of daily cases in New York – which, as in the first wave of COVID-19 in March 2020, is the American city hardest hit at the outset of this fourth wave. Due to the highly infectious variant Omicron,Anthony Fauci, the nation’s infectious disease expert, predicts that, “it is going to be a tough few weeks to months as we get deeper into the winter.”
The sharp rise in cases,is not surprising because of Omicron, New York Governor Kathy Hochul said, but she added “This is not March of 2020. We have defenses….We have the tools to fight this virus and its variants: Get vaccinated, get the booster and wear a mask.” The governor has increased the number of pop-up testing sites.
And de Blasio said “we expect Omicron to be a fast and temporary phenomenon.”
This is a problem that goes way beyond Broadway (and Off-Broadway), of course. But, from the producers’ perspective, the timing couldn’t be worse, coming at the start of the holiday season (USA Today:” ‘What a mess we are all in’: Travelers scrap plans to visit New York City as omicron shutters performances.”) This helps explain that odd effort of reassurance in most of the cancellation announcements that they come “out of an abundance of caution.”
The Broadway League, the trade organization of theater owners and producers, has announced a new website BwayToday.com, “to help fans access shows playing each day” – to see the Christmas week schedule (which is under any circumstances different from the usual week) and (though left implicit) to see what shows have been canceled . But the best that can be said of the site is that it’s not (yet?) very helpful. It doesn’t actually say the word “canceled” anywhere. “MJ the musical,” for example, which announced it won’t resume performances until December 27, is simply not listed
For theatergoers like me, the cancellations seem not an abundance but the right amount of caution. “When it comes to the performing arts, our full-scale return to the audience requires the pandemic equivalent of a trust fall,” Jessica Gelt writes in the L.A. Times. “We have to trust that most people no longer venture out while sick, that they are not manufacturing fake proof of vaccination, that they are careful and considerate with their health in the course of their daily lives. In these polarized times, that’s a whole lotta trust.”
It’s important to note that theater lovers have another option — digital theater. While the Radio City Music Hall’s annual Christmas Spectacular has canceled the rest of its performances, some half dozen of the other annual holiday shows are being presented either exclusively online, or in the hybrid model of either in-person or online, as is the case with both George Balanchine’s famed Nutcracker Suite at Lincoln Center, and the new Jim Henson musical at New Victory Theater, “Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas.” This last show was among those that canceled in-person performances over the weekend.
Other shows that canceled weekend performances: “Ain’t Too Proud,” “Aladdin,” “Hadestown,” “Hamilton,” “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” “Jagged Little Pill” (through Dec 21), “MJ” (through Dec 26), “Moulin Rouge!”, “Mrs. Doubtfire” “Tina,” and Off-Broadway, “Little Shop of Horror” at the Westside Theater, MTC’s “Morning Sun,” “Cheek to Cheek” at the York, “Trevor Musical,” which is now ending January 2, and “Kimberly Akimbo” at the Atlantic Theater.