The Broadway musical Mrs. Doubtfire will finish out the week at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, then it will take a nine-week hiatus, beginning January 9th, due to the ongoing impact of Covid-19. The producers say the show will re-open in mid-March, and tickets will be available for purchase from March 15th through November.
Taking a nine-week hiatus is extremely unusual on Broadway, but the producers felt the choice essentially came down to trying this fix now or shutting down permanently. And the producers are hoping, if the pandemic is not so virulent in March, they will be able to then begin selling enough tickets to sustain a run.
The show’s pre-Broadway, out-of-town tryout was very successful financially, suggesting that there’s an audience for the show. (The show broke box-office records in Seattle, during its tryout.) But that was before the pandemic.
As company members began testing positive in December, the show was forced to cancel a number of performances, costing the production a lot of money. And after spending six years developing the show, its creators did not want to see the show die due to Covid-19. So they are trying this nine-week hiatus now, in the hope that it will give the show a chance at long-term viability later.
One seasoned producer, not connected with this show, told me that a lot of industry professionals are worried right now, because with the highly contagious omicron variant surging, it’s becoming harder and harder to make sure that everyone involved in a production–from actors to stagehands to ushers–will be free of infection. And getting 1,500 audience members to remain properly masked throughout a production is challenging as well; many audience members may be positive without knowing it, and audience members whose masks don’t cover their noses–a common failing–will be spreading the virus easily during a performance without realizing it. If a show has to keep cancelling performances, it simply can’t survive. One question this producer asked me was: Will we see other shows following Mrs. Doubtfire’s lead shutting down temporarily while the virus surges, in the hopes of reopening when times get better?
These are tough times. And some potential audience members are simply staying home to avoid risk of infection. Up in Canada, Ontario has just shut down all movie theaters, due to the surge of the coronavirus.
Theater historian John Kenrick notes, concerning Mrs. Doubtfire going on hiatus: “This leaves the cast, crew and theater staffs with no income and not eligible for unemployment.” And there is no guarantee that in March everything will be OK. We all hope things will be better. But if it turns out that we’re dealing with a new variant of the virus in March, and people are still getting infected a lot, and tourists are still hesitant about traveling or going to see shows, the producers may not be able to keep the show going. It’s a gamble. Most cast members, I think, will probably stick with the show, hoping that–even if their lives are on hold right now—they may eventually be part of a long-running show.
This virus is so unpredictable that the producers of Mrs. Doubtfire feel that they had few good options. Taking a hiatus now, they feel, gives them a shot at future success. If conditions are a little better in the spring and they can get some exposure from the Tony Awards, hopefully the show can sustain a run. But a lot, of course, depends on factors beyond the control of any Broadway producers, such as whether new variants of the virus emerge, how the fight against the virus is going, and whether tourists will be willing and able to travel and see shows.