Why Are So Many Broadway Shows Closing?
Phantom and Beetlejuice and Music Man, oh my!
For many theatre fans and workers, one of the worst parts of 2020 was the Broadway shutdown that closed New York’s theatre district for over a year, the longest the lights had ever gone dark. While we got delightful homemade shows like Ratatouille the musical and the Unofficial Bridgerton musical during that shutdown, it still greatly affected the micro-economy that surrounds live theatre, not just the actors, but the stage crew, lighting designers, musicians, costumers, makeup artists, all the positions that make live theatre as magical as it is.
Yet there was hope! Vaccinations were underway within a year and many shows started reopening in fall of 2021. But suddenly, in the last few weeks alone, so many shows are now closing or announcing upcoming closures, for good this time—barely a year after the grand reopenings.
Two months ago, Dear Evan Hansen, Come From Away, and Tina were announced to be closing. All of them were award-winning, popular musicals, veritable pre-pandemic hits. But at the same time, closures and changes are nothing new for Broadway and some shrugged it off as the shows having run their course. Then went The Music Man revival, announcing it would be closing its doors on January 1st 2023.
Now Phantom of the Opera, which has been running on Broadway since 1988, announced it would be closing in February of next year, which shocked the industry. Beetlejuice the Musical announced its final show would be on January 7th of 2023, mere days after Phantom’s announcement.
Phantom in particular is shocking due to the fact of how long it’s been playing; it’s the longest-running show in Broadway history, and many of us assumed it would just kind of always be there. So why are some of Broadway’s most successful shows closing all at once?
Simply put, live theatre is expensive and Broadway shows tend to be the most expensive of all. Between inflation and the general strain many of these productions have felt from repeated delays, even some of the most successful shows are now in the red due to ballooning costs. Phantom of the Opera had apparently been losing $1 million a month since reopening.
Of course, costs wouldn’t be so difficult to manage if they were able to counter them with massive ticket sales. But unfortunately, tourism is down in New York City, which is not great for many industries that depend on it, like Broadway. About 1.7 million fewer tourists visited the city than expected, which has an astronomical impact on areas like Broadway that depend on tourists. As the Smithsonian magazine points out, many locals will have seen Phantom of the Opera during its 35-year run, meaning the lack of tourism hurts the long-running shows especially.
There’s also the fact that while many people have become desensitized to COVID-19, it is still greatly affecting the worlds of live entertainment. NPR ran an article just yesterday about how a single case of COVID can upend a band’s tour and Broadway has struggled with similar issues, having to delay openings, cancel performances, and refund tickets due to exposures.
There’s also the fact that now more than ever, shows need big names to draw in big crowds and what else can you do when the big-name actors you sold your show on leave? This may be what is happening in the case of the Music Man as rather than recast Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster after they leave, the show has decided to close the revival altogether.
It could also be a marketing scheme to encourage people to see more Broadway shows; Phantom of the Opera reportedly raked in $2 million in ticket sales after the announcement they were closing. AMNY also reminded us that Phantom is very much an anomaly on Broadway and maybe for good reason—space being so limited on Broadway, they wondered how many shows got passed over having any time on Broadway in favor of keeping Phantom in the Majestic Theatre.
In any case, the touring shows, the cast albums, and the *cough cough* slime videos will always remain to remind us of the splendor.
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