(Greg Evans’s article appeared on Deadline, 3/12; via Pam Green.)
To hear the cast of Broadway’s Company tell it, the industry’s shutdown one year ago today was perhaps more shocking than surprising, arriving swiftly but maybe not swiftly enough. For at least a couple of the musical’s preview performances leading up to the city’s historic closing of March 12, 2020, the stage jitters had little to do with the usual pre-opening night nerves. In fact, the show was doing very well – the revival and its biggest star Patti LuPone had been a hit in London, Broadway performances with LuPone and an otherwise new American cast were falling into place, advance ticket sales were strong, audiences were delighted, and the spring Tony Award season had its most anticipated pairing in LuPone and The Band’s Visit‘s Katrina Lenk, one a true icon of the theater, the other one of two or three more recently arrived stars with the talent, the pull and the guts to stand beside her. And all in a revival of a Stephen Sondheim-George Furth masterpiece that had been given a fresh, gender-switching take by the Tony-winning Angels in America director Marianne Elliott.
“Everyone was feeling really secure in their work,” says actor Bobby Conte Thornton, who plays PJ, the Company character formerly named Marta and blessed with one of the show’s tongue-twisting show-stoppers “Another Hundred People.” “But then we heard rumblings about this virus from another continent. There was an usher at Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Booth who had it. I think that was sort of the beginning of the end.”
Everyone knows the rest. Broadway shut its doors and turned out its lights on March 12, 2020, an instant metaphor for Covid-19’s catastrophic impact on business, the arts and New York City itself. In the year since, Broadway has been a bellwether in the city’s ongoing hibernation, as one shutdown extension followed another until even Summer 2021 began to seem like a pipedream.
But now, with the arrival of no fewer than three effective vaccines and for the time in twelve very long months, producers can speak about a 2021-22 Broadway season without sounding like desperate Pollyannas or a mendacious president. “I’m hopeful that in the next couple of months the governor will give us the green light that Fall is possible,” says Company producer Chris Harper, “that around April or May we’ll have clarity as to when Broadway will be able to reopen with full capacity. That’s when we would announce tickets going back on sale.” The plan, Harper says, is to bring Company back in the fall, though Spring 2022 remains a possibility as well.
Until then, the $13 million production will have to sustain itself on what Broadway Journal editor Philip Boroff has reported is an $8.8 million business interruption insurance payout from Chubb, an amount roughly equivalent to nine weeks of 80% potential ticket sales at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.
Even with the cast, crew and musicians off payroll, the past year, Harper says, has been difficult. (The producer would not confirm the specific dollar figures). “We’ve had to make sure that what money we do have is able to last us for a significant period of time,” he says. “It’s been very tricky, a really difficult process to survive.”
“The reason why I feel so confident about bringing the show back is because we had a fantastic advance when we closed,” Harper continued, expressing conviction that the entire Broadway cast will return. “People were booking in very large numbers, but once everything was canceled, all of the tickets were refunded. So we’ll be starting from zero.”
In recent months, Deadline has conducted a series of interviews with all 14 principal cast members of Company, each performer sharing insights, hopes and fears, and a year’s experiences – personally, professionally, economically, emotionally – as they find their way through an unprecedented crisis in their industry and their city.
“My dilemma,” says LuPone, “is, Will I have the energy to go back to work? Will I have the energy, especially, to go back on stage? I mean, I am a descendent of Italian peasants, so I have phenomenal energy. But will I have stage fright? Will I be able to get back on the bike? I don’t know that, and I also don’t know if I even want to. It’s been so long that I’m questioning my desire to continue in this business.”
In this first installment in a multi-part series, LuPone, Lenk, Thornton, Matt Doyle, Christopher Fitzgerald, Christopher Sieber, Jennifer Simard, Terence Archie, Etai Benson, Nikki Renée Daniels, Claybourne Elder, Greg Hildreth, Kyle Dean Massey and Rashidra Scott describe the walk-up to Company‘s first Broadway preview at the Shubert Organization’s Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on March 2, 2020. Opening night was scheduled for March 22, Sondheim’s 90th birthday.