Usually, I would be using this time to report on the latest Broadway shows. There are — or were — some 16 new ones set to open before the Tony nomination deadline in late April. Well, all that is history, of course, with this virus causing the curtains to (temporarily) come down. It’s fair to say that Broadway is New York’s defining cultural treasure. Some 14 million people paid to see a show in the past year, and the city is almost $2 billion richer because of that. You do the subtraction.
Already, some 10 off-Broadway productions have made the decision not to continue their runs, even when things return to normal. These include a Manhattan Theatre Club Production (“The Perplexed”), “Endlings,” the buzzed-about new piece at NY Theater Workshop, and a lovely original musical at Playwrights Horizons (“Unknown Soldier”).
On Broadway, even the successes are having to face the consequences of what could be an eight-week blackout. The lead producer of “Hadestown,” Dale Franzen, said “we are all taking a deep dive, waiting to hear from the unions and the Broadway League, and coordinating everything.” Her show won the Tony last season and is starting a national tour, so she can take a bit more comfort in future ticket sales. But there are no guarantees, and who knows if or when there will even be a Tony Awards ceremony this year?
On Friday, "Hangman," starring Dan Stevens, was the first Broadway show to announce that it would not reopen after the shutdown. The producers told Deadline that they do not "have the economic resources" to resume performances.
The good news: many companies and websites are opening up their hearts, and products, for people to enjoy via streaming. We read books these days by listening to them, so here are some ways to enjoy theater that comes to you.
- BroadwayHD – This site seems to offer the largest number of theatrical events. (“Stream your favorite Broadway hits!”) And you can try it out with a week-long free trial.
- L.A. Theatre Works — Founded in Los Angeles in 1984, this media powerhouse includes a long list of recorded plays, many of which travel nationally, that are available for streaming. These include a mix of original works and great classics. (Highly recommended: “The Importance of Being Earnest.”)
- New York companies — Check out what your favorite nonprofits are offering. Rattlestick Playwrights, for example, is streaming its latest production, “Siblings Play.” Primary Stages has a whole plan in place, including master classes with well-known theatrical names. And we can venture further. Berkeley Rep, a highly respected company, is offering some of its shows via streaming. Likewise, the McCarter, in Princeton, has a huge trove of archives ready to be brought back to virtual life.
- Industry sites like Broadway World and Theatermania offer up-to- date news and streaming suggestions. Broadway Licensing has hundreds of shows available geared to younger viewers.
- PBS — Yes, the supposedly old-fashioned network is more Broadway-attuned than ever before. "Great Performances" is filled with what feels like live entertainment. You will be surprised how many productions are there awaiting your click (including “Hamilton’s America”). At pbs.org
- Watch a movie about, or based on, plays — “All About Eve,” “A Chorus Line,” “Birdman,” “Chicago,” and “My Fair Lady” — there are obviously countless choices. Since you are not going to see the reimagined, controversial “West Side Story” on Broadway anytime soon, watch the original movie and cheer Jerome Robbins’ unforgettable (and inimitable) choreography. The best books about theater run the gamut from Moss Hart’s “Act One” to Alexandra Jacobs’ recent biography of Elaine Stritch. Both make you feel you are right there with those who gave us some great work on stages large and small.
Do I lament not going to theaters four times a week? Well, perhaps not at this moment, when I hear only the sounds of silence and the sounds of sirens. But I surely miss the feeling of anticipation when the lights go down, the curtain goes up, and I am ready to travel to some mysterious place with a lot of strangers. Hopefully, a month or two from now, the 30-plus suspended shows will be back where they belong, and this dreadful intermission will be behind us.
Michele Willens’ “Stage Right ... or Not” airs weekly on the NPR affiliate, Robinhoodradio.