This story is regularly updated for relevance. Last updated: March 24, 2021
Twelve months after Broadway went dark, shutting down everything from Hamilton and Mean Girls to Phantom of the Opera and Aladdin, it’s still unclear when the Great White Way will reopen to fans who hunger to see live theater.
But Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, has some relatively optimistic news about when Broadway might turn on the lights during the coronavirus pandemic (he reiterated that again in March 2021). That same month, New York officials said event spaces could open to one-third of their capacity, including “select Broadway theaters.”
If the COVID-19 vaccines work like they should and enough people take them to get to herd immunity (which would require vaccinating at least 70% of the population and maybe as much as 85%) by the fall of 2021, Fauci said, “By the time we get to the early to mid-fall, you can have people feeling safe performing onstage as well as people in the audience.”
According to Broadway World, Fauci said that if theaters have the proper ventilation, people could start returning to their seats, though they still might have to wear masks. It’s unclear if theaters would require patrons to show proof of their vaccination, the way you might have to in the future if you’re traveling via airplane, but Fauci said he could see shows reaching “almost full capacity of seating.”
That, after all, is what’s happening for Broadway shows in Australia.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in February that the state could allow theaters to open again, most likely with a cap on the side of the audience and a negative COVID-19 test requirement. “Would I go see a play and sit in a playhouse with 150 people? If the 150 people were tested, and they were all negative, yes, I would do that,” Cuomo said, via CNBC. “I think reopening with testing is going to be the key.”
Cuomo also said, “We’re going to be smart, but also aggressive about it.”
In mid-March 2021, Charlotte St. Martin, the president of The Broadway League, said shows could open by early September. As for what shows could open first, long-term mainstays like Phantom of the Opera, The Lion King, and Wicked could be a possibility.
“We believe that some of the longer-running shows may be first to come back, because a lot of the cast has muscle memory,” St. Martin told NBC New York.
It would, of course, be a much-needed change for the arts community. According to the Americans for the Arts, via the New York Times, the arts industry has lost an estimated $14.8 billion during the coronavirus shutdown. Many other “nonprofit arts and cultural organizations” have had to lay off or furlough their staffs since March.
Broadway employed about 97,000 people that have been out of work since everything shut down, and The Actors Fund reportedly raised more than $14 million for 12,000 workers last April.
And some of the popular shows that reigned before the pandemic won’t be returning, including Mean Girls.
Meanwhile, the company that much of Broadway uses to dry clean its costumes, Ernest Winzer Cleaners, is still trying to crawl its way through the pandemic.
Even when Broadway does reopen, it might not be easy to attract a sold-out crowd. According to Fortune, about 65% of Broadway audiences are tourists from out of town. The Broadway League estimates that it might take until 2025 before tourists fully return to Broadway shows.
Still, Fauci seems enthusiastic about the reopening of Broadway.
“We’ll be back in the theaters—performers will be performing, audiences will be enjoying it,” Fauci said. “It will happen.”