By Bill Hirschman
In a carefully calculated but hopeful sign of the recovering world of theater, Broadway Across America has scheduled the resumption this fall of its tours in 47 cities with full auditoriums and no social distancing, but with every other preventative measure.
The announcement Friday came with the new list of shows slated for the Broward Center for the Performing Arts beginning Nov. 3 under the banner Bank of America Broadway in Fort Lauderdale.
Some shows that were slated for last season such as Tootsie and Pretty Woman are back on the new schedule. Some like Hamilton and The Band’s Visit are postponed to another season and replaced by Come From Away, Frozen and Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations.
The Arsht Center in Miami, also part of the tours, plans to announce its schedule on Feb. 4.
The new schedule locally and nationwide is the fourth or fifth internal scratch paper version of complex coordination melding logistics and a paramount concern for safety that had evolved with the changing health situation, said Susie Krajsa, president of Broadway Across America, which presents the tours. While the effort is now moving into a more advanced concrete stage, everyone involved acknowledges that a new spike or other development could prompt another reboot.
“This is still very fluid. This has been 10 months of working with Kelley (Shanley, president and CEO of the Broward Center) and his team and the producers of national tours and other representatives from the shows to get us to this point of where we have a level of confidence in saying that we will be back at the Broward Center in November,” she said.
The decisions are based on intensive discussions and advice with national health experts on the virus – predictions based on available information at the moment.
Shanley, who has been part of those national discussions, said, “So we’re getting ready for conditions that don’t yet exist because we’re having confidence that they will exist when everybody is ready to go. So you’ve got to kind of live in both places all the time…. But this is the first time in I don’t know how long that we’ve had any level of certainty about a point in the future. It’s like the most refreshing thing that’s happened to us in a long time is to feel like there’s a point in time that we can almost count on and feel good about and look forward to the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel for us.”
The reasons for going ahead with putting dates on a calendar include encouraging detailed advice from those medical experts. “Our number one focus is to make sure when we are back (that) it’s safe and people feel comfortable and they can enjoy the show,” Krajsa said.
But another reason for moving ahead now is the logistics to resume tours require significant lead time, she said. “In order to be ready for that moment, we’ve got to act now to make all those decisions, get all those things in place and get the tours remounted, get them back out on the road, get people ready to roll so that we can hit the ground running when we’re given permission to do so, as opposed to gearing up at that point.”
A key issue all along has been that the presenting houses like the Broward Center and the Arsht cannot host tours or other major events in their large auditoriums from a financial standpoint with reduced capacity percentages currently required by local governments for social distancing.
Shanley, who has been involved with a nationwide committee of his peers about the health aspects, said, “There’s a lot of consensus around the idea that by the time fall gets here, we’ll be ready to sit side by side in theaters safely.” This assumes that theaters follow the scores of preventative and safety measures already planned by the Broward Center with the advice of Cleveland Clinic, local health authorities and the Centers for Disease Control.
Indeed, some of the other venues on the national tour will be opening for the tours and other events in October and possibly September.
The nagging question, say artistic directors around South Florida, is whether people will feel comfortable coming, especially if a theater needs full houses to stay out of the red. For much of last summer, local theaters’ surveys of patrons found about a third were willing to come back today, a third wanted to wait until the situation developed more clearly and a third said they would come back when patrons were vaccinated.
But that may have changed since the vaccines began becoming available, especially to the older patrons who form the core of many theaters’ audiences.
“What you saw happen over the last month or so is everybody moved into the category of ‘I’ll return when I’ve been vaccinated,’ whereas before it was kind of, ‘Well, I want to wait and see’ or ‘I don’t really know’,’’ Shanley said.
He added, “And here’s the other really good news: More than 90 percent of theatergoers nationwide have expressed interest in getting the vaccine. And you’ve probably heard, that the percentage of the general population that is willing to get the vaccine is much lower than that… The theaters are probably going to have the highest percentage of vaccinated people on earth.”
The subscription fans appear to be anxious to return. Krajsa said, “Across the country we have seen 98 percent of the people have stuck with us. And it’s the same thing with the Broward Center. We’ve got our current base of subscribers that are very supportive, very anxious and interested in returning to the theater.”
The other holdup that the tours are betting against is the lack of a definitive blessing from Actors Equity Association and other unions that won’t let their members go back to work on most projects yet. Protracted discussions continue as the unions seek to protect their members from harmful conditions.
“We won’t be able to do this if they don’t sign off. So those conversations have continued, (but we) certainly feel confident there that everything is going to line up. Everyone’s very anxious to get back on the road,” Krajsa said. “I’m sure that they will be (in agreement) by the time we get ready to go.”
The announcement has a broader implication for the resurrection of South Florida theater. The Broward Center, which hosts the Slow Burn Theater Company and scores of events monthly, could slowly ramp back up in the early fall depending on scheduling, Shanley said.
Speaking of the tours, “I mean I think we could have gone in October if we had the right show…. We’re looking at a variety of other things in the October, November timeframe… If things go better, things move at a faster pace, we’d be willing to” present other events in the summer. “But we’re not going to go before it’s time.”
The new national tour lineup currently is:
Come From Away (November 3 – 14), the infectiously popular and upbeat musical based on the true story of 7,000 stranded passengers and the small town in Newfoundland that welcomed them when they were grounded by the tragedy of 9/11. Cultures clashed and nerves ran high, but uneasiness turned into trust, music soared into the night, and gratitude grew into enduring friendships.
The Prom (December 14 – 19), the joyous Broadway hit, recently made into a film, about self-absorbed Broadway actors trying to find worth by helping a lesbian student take her girlfriend to her high school prom in the conservative Midwest. This, along with Cats, are “subscriber options,” which are additional shows that are not part of the standard subscription, and which run only one week.
Tootsie (January 11 – 23, 2022) is a musical based on the Dustin Hoffman-Sidney Lumet film, here written by Robert Horn and David Yazbek (The Band’s Visit, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels).
Ain’t Too Proud: The Life And Times of the Temptations (February 8 – 20, 2022) is a revue tracing the history of the classic soul group from the streets of Detroit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The Broadway edition won the 2019 Tony Award for Best Choreography.
Disney’s Frozen (March 9 – 20, 2022) the Tony-nominated Best Musical, which features some impressive special effects, has added songs beyond the score of the beloved film.
Cats (April 5 – 10, 2022) The other subscriber optional add-on.
Pretty Woman: The Musical (May 4 – 15, 2022) A show based on the hit Julia Roberts/ Richard Gere film.
Subscriptions for a new five or six-show package are on sale now at www.BroadwayInFortLauderdale.com or by calling (800) 764-0700 during business hours weekdays. Current season ticket holders will automatically be moved into the new show dates. If anything is to change for any reason and a subscription has been paid in full, a credit, refund or donation opportunity for the value of the subscription will be available.
Broadway Tours Set ’21-’22 Schedules For Broward & Nation
By Bill Hirschman