‘Hamilton’ and other Broadway shows cancel performances through Christmas
By Michael Paulson
Several of Broadway’s biggest shows, including “Hamilton,” “Hadestown” and “Aladdin,” are canceling all performances until after Christmas, and “Jagged Little Pill” announced it was closing for good, as a spike in coronavirus cases batters the performing arts throughout North America as well as in London.
The cancellations, prompted by positive coronavirus tests among cast or crew members, come at the worst possible time for many productions, because the holiday season is typically the most lucrative time of year.
It has been a trying week for the performing arts.
On Saturday and Sunday, about one-third of Broadway shows canceled their performances.
On Monday, “Jagged Little Pill,” a rock musical featuring Alanis Morissette songs that had paused performances Saturday after positive tests, said it would not reopen at all. The musical had still been finding its financial footing when the pandemic hit, and then was rocked again by the omicron variant; its producers said in a statement that “the rapid spread of the omicron variant has, once again, changed everything.”
And, with the omicron variant driving a surge in cases, there were multiple COVID-prompted cancellations off-Broadway, as well as in Chicago, Houston, Denver, Los Angeles and other cities.
“Hamilton,” a sold-out juggernaut that had been the top-grossing show on Broadway, cited breakthrough COVID-19 cases in its company as the reason for the cancellation. The show has been dark since Dec. 15 — the matinee went on as scheduled that day, but the evening performance was scrapped — and the first possible next performance is Dec. 27.
“Hadestown,” a contemporary retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, also canceled performances until Dec. 27, as did “Dear Evan Hansen,” about a high school student with anxiety; “Ain’t Too Proud,” about the Temptations; “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” a sequel to the novels; and “MJ,” a new musical about Michael Jackson that is still in previews. And “Aladdin,” which weathered a 12-day shutdown in October, announced Monday that it would be closed until Sunday.
Most shows are still running — there are currently 31 productions on Broadway, and at least two-thirds of them, including long-running hits like “The Lion King,” “Wicked” and “The Phantom of the Opera,” continue to perform. And a strong-selling revival of “The Music Man,” starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, started previews Monday night.
The news of the last few days has been grim for those hoping the performing arts had finally moved past the devastatingly long pandemic shutdown.
The timing was particularly terrible for the Rockettes, who last week canceled all remaining performances of their annual Christmas Spectacular, a holiday staple for many tourists. Other holiday shows were affected, too: A production of “A Christmas Carol” at the Center Theater Group in Los Angeles canceled all performances until after Christmas, while in Houston two performances of the Alley Theater’s production of the Christmas staple were canceled as well. In Ontario, the Shaw Festival Theater canceled all remaining performances of “Holiday Inn” and cut capacity in half for “A Christmas Carol.”
A performance of Handel’s “Messiah” at Carnegie Hall by Musica Sacra that was scheduled for Tuesday was postponed after a small number of positive tests, the ensemble announced.
Britain has been dealing with a raft of cancellations — so much so that the National Theater in London simply shut down until January.
Concerns about the omicron variant are also starting to take a toll on future productions: The first North American production of Tom Stoppard’s acclaimed new play, “Leopoldstadt,” was canceled entirely; it had been scheduled to begin a seven-week run in Toronto on Jan. 22. And in Ottawa, Ontario, “Hamilton” postponed a scheduled run by six months.
The pandemic is once again hitting touring Broadway shows: “Ain’t Too Proud” postponed its run at the Kennedy Center in Washington by two weeks; “Pretty Woman” canceled its final several performances in Chicago; “The Lion King” has canceled several performances in Denver and “Wicked” has done so in Cleveland.
In the dance world, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater canceled performances at New York City Center, while Mark Morris canceled performances over the weekend at Zellerbach Hall at the University of California, Berkeley.
In sports, the NBA and NHL announced a round of game postponements, and the NFL adjusted its testing policies, to address a surge in cases.
The film world offered evidence that audiences are still willing to gather. The industry had a great weekend, thanks to Spider-Man. But not all theaters were joining the party: Metrograph, citing the pandemic, said it would close its Lower East Side theater until Christmas, and Spectacle Theater, in Brooklyn, closed until Jan. 4.
Off-Broadway, there were multiple shows down over the past week, often canceling at the very last minute. “Trevor,” a new musical at Stage 42, canceled its Sunday matinee and then Monday said it would shut down, canceling the remaining two weeks of performances. And among those that canceled at least one performance were “The Alchemist” at Red Bull Theater, “Cheek to Cheek” at York Theater Company, “Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas!” at New Victory Theater, “Hear/Now:LIVE!” at Keen Company, “Kimberly Akimbo” at Atlantic Theater Company, “Morning Sun” at Manhattan Theater Club and “While You Were Partying” at Soho Rep.
Although the cancellations have been prompted by the testing of arts workers, there are indications that safety protocols for audiences are likely to shift: The Metropolitan Opera announced last week that it would require COVID booster shots for patrons, as well as employees, starting in mid-January. The Public Theater said it would require not only proof of vaccination, but also a negative COVID-19 test, for entry; in the short-term that new policy will only affect audiences at Joe’s Pub, which is the only part of the Public with performances scheduled over the next few weeks.
And, in a flashback to earlier pandemic practices, some organizations are rethinking live audiences. “Saturday Night Live” last weekend performed without a live audience. Play-PerView, a streaming platform born in the first weeks of the pandemic, canceled a live reading in Los Angeles on Monday, opting to stream only, while a New York cabaret space, the Green Room 42, said Monday that it would begin livestreaming all of its shows, while still continuing to welcome in-person patrons, “until this wave passes.”