If anyone can reawaken Broadway from an unprecedented shutdown that has left many insiders fearful for the theater industry's future, it's Hugh Jackman.
Producers Scott Rudin, Barry Diller and David Geffen on Wednesday confirmed that their large-scale revival of Meredith Willson's The Music Man, which will star Jackman alongside another returning Broadway treasure, Sutton Foster, is now scheduled to begin previews April 7, 2021, at the Winter Garden Theatre. Official opening night has been set for May 20.
The eagerly anticipated production originally was announced for the fall and had been logging brisk ticket sales before Broadway went dark on March 12 as part of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's pandemic mandate to suspend all large gatherings in an effort to flatten the curve of COVID-19 infections.
That original shutdown was put in place through April 12, with subsequent extensions pushing the closure back to June 7 and then again through Labor Day. An announcement is expected from trade organization the Broadway League this week extending the blackout into January, though most insiders are looking at March/April as a more realistic period for reopening.
While many productions are waiting in the wings, keeping their casts and creative teams together through the unprecedented work stoppage, the announcement of firm dates for a show on the scale of The Music Man sends a clear signal that Broadway is gearing up to get back in business.
Whether appearing in plays or musicals, Jackman has proven himself the biggest star on Broadway in the past two decades. Having such a reliable box office draw lead a splashy remounting of one of the most beloved shows in the American musical canon is perhaps the best kickoff Broadway could hope for to resuscitate the sector at this most challenging time in its history.
"Performing on Broadway is a great honor for an actor, in fact, one of the greatest," said Jackman in a statement. "No two shows are exactly alike, in large part due to the audience. Show One is filled with anticipation, fear and excitement. It's like an opening night eight times a week; the energy in the theater is palpable. It is those same feelings that happen every show thereafter — and you and I are going through it together."
"The change of dates will not take any of that away," continued Jackman. "What it will do, however, is help to ensure that The Music Man audiences, and our company, are in a completely safe environment. Can't wait for that day!"
"We're obviously profoundly disappointed to be unable to start rehearsals for The Music Man as scheduled," added Rudin. "But safety is safety, and it has to take precedence over every other consideration — for both our audience and for our company. Despite the postponement, we are sticking together as a company, and we are grateful to be able to do so. And so we look forward to arriving at the Winter Garden — with a beautiful, heartening Music Man in tow — at the beginning of April, and to being just one part of what we expect will once again be a vibrant and exciting Broadway."
New York has now entered Phase 2 of the state's reopening plan, including restaurants with outdoor dining and some retail stores. Indoor dining establishments and other nonessential businesses are due to follow in Phase 3, the timeline for which has not yet been set for the metropolitan area. Broadway theaters are included in Phase 4, along with other arts, entertainment and recreation enterprises, placing them in the final stage of the city's reopening.
"The plan of course is to follow the New York State health and safety protocols being developed right now, which will be the baseline of how shows will return," Rudin told The Hollywood Reporter.
Projections for reopening are being based on increased testing and lower infection rates — not on the expectation of a vaccine. Rudin has high praise for the leadership of Cuomo and his task force — which includes top scientists, health care and infectious disease experts and industrial hygienists — calling them "astonishingly forward-thinking and cooperative" in working with Broadway industry leaders to map a path forward.
The Broadway economic model is not conducive to theaters making allowances for social distancing. While Rudin speaks only for his own productions, he said those shows will be sold at full capacity, albeit with the expectation of a slow start before business gets back even close to where it was before.
"It's going to take a lot of grit and fortitude to hang in until it's back, because I don't think it's going to come back that quickly," said Rudin. "I think we'll play to low grosses for a while and we have to be prepared to withstand it. And then as people understand that it's safe, more people will come back. It was also true after 9/11. Now 9/11 came back fairly quickly, but it didn't come back at capacity or anything like it right away."
The producer confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that his other shows that had been running prior to the shutdown, West Side Story, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Book of Mormon, all will reopen between mid-March and early April.
The future of The Lehman Trilogy, which had been selling well in previews before Broadway went dark, remains uncertain due to a booking conflict in the spring at the Nederlander Theatre, where it had been running. Rudin said the company remains eager to bring back the limited engagement to New York as planned, but that now depends on finding a suitable theater available.
Both Jackman and Foster have signed on for a year with The Music Man, which reassembles the creative team of Rudin's smash Tony-winning 2017 revival of Hello, Dolly! That includes director Jerry Zaks, choreographer Warren Carlisle, production and costume designer Santo Loquasto, lighting designer Natasha Katz, sound designer Scott Lehrer and dance music arranger David Chase. Joining the team are Jonathan Tunick on orchestrations and Patrick Vaccariello as music director.
The cast also will feature Tony winners Jayne Houdyshell, Jefferson Mays, Marie Mullen and Shuler Hensley.
In theory, the new dates for The Music Man would position it outside the window for Tony Awards consideration, since its official opening will take place after the traditional late-April eligibility cutoff. But given the anomalous nature of both the 2019-20 season and 2020-2021, most industry pundits expect the awards season to be pushed back to accommodate later openings. The Tony Awards administration has said only that this year's honors would be rescheduled to a later date to be decided once Broadway reopens.
Rudin said he is setting firm opening dates in March and April for his shows in order to release his casts from Actors' Equity's suspend and extend agreement, thus allowing them to seek other work in the interim months now that film and TV production are starting up.