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Broadway is back: Producer says 'pent-up demand' is a 'good harbinger'

·5 min read

“Welcome back to the theater!” That’s how "Hamilton" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda addressed a sold-out crowd from the stage of the Richard Rodgers Theater Monday night, as one of the hottest shows on Broadway reopened after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Great White Way to go dark for 18 months.

“I don’t ever want to take live theater for granted ever again,” said Miranda to thunderous applause. Theater lovers were thrilled to be back “in the room where it happens” following the longest shutdown in Broadway history.

“Broadway is the heart and soul of New York City,” Jill Furman, "Hamilton" producer, told Yahoo Finance Live. “And the fact that we can open and that there’s so much interest, so much pent-up demand — it’s a really good harbinger of things to come.”

Dozens of other shows including fellow Broadway juggernauts “The Lion King,” “Wicked,” and “Chicago” also raised the curtains on Monday.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 14: Lin-Manuel Miranda and cast members from
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 14: Lin-Manuel Miranda and cast members from "Hamilton", "Lion King", "Wicked" and "Chicago" perform "New York, New York" during the "Ham4Ham Lottery" before the show at the Re-Opening of "Hamilton" on Broadway at The Richard Rogers Theater on September 14, 2021 in New York City. (Photo By Bruce Glikas/Getty Images)

Newly implemented COVID-19 protocols didn’t appear to deter theater diehards who came out, masked up with COVID vaccine cards in hand, to see live theater.

Furman said the COVID considerations “definitely add to the overall cost” of mounting a show. “COVID protocols are very expensive,” she said. “We do weekly testing and everyone involved with the show has to be vaccinated. It’s a lot to manage, but of course, safety is our number one priority.”

There are also added costs for upgraded ventilation systems in the theaters, sanitation stations, masks, and other precautions.

Broadway producer Jenny Steingart told Yahoo Finance “the jury is still out” when it comes to how the pandemic has reshaped Broadway’s future.

“I really do think that there's kind of an intentionality now when people are coming back [to Broadway] that they want to say something, they want to do something that is going to make a difference in the world, even if it means the difference is giving someone 90 minutes and a big smile on their face,” she said.

One tradition missing from Broadway’s big comeback—the much loved autograph signings after the show, which actors are known to do when exiting the stage door. Intermission and theater concessions are also gone — at least for now — to avoid congregating in and around the theaters.

Optimism is strong for the reopening of musicals and plays, bringing much needed revenue to not only the theaters, but the surrounding businesses, including area hotels and restaurants.

“This entire industry was devastated and it just feels like we see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Furman.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 14: Michael McCormick, Ginna Claire Mason, Stephen Schwartz. Lindsay Pearce and cast during curtain call of the Broadway reopening of
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 14: Michael McCormick, Ginna Claire Mason, Stephen Schwartz. Lindsay Pearce and cast during curtain call of the Broadway reopening of "Wicked" at Gershwin Theatre on September 14, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Jenny Anderson/Getty Images)

Launching a Broadway show is not for the risk-averse. Musicals typically cost upwards of $10 million and plays cost about half that amount. And there’s no guarantee on a return for your investment. The latest figures reveal just one out of every five shows recoup their investment. Despite those odds, producers are lining up to bring their passion projects to the stage.

There are 17 new productions that will open on Broadway between now and the end of the year, including "Six," "Diana The Musical," "The Music Man," and "Freestyle Love Supreme," the improv hip-hop show produced by Furman and Steingart, and co-created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tommy Kail and Anthony Veneziale.

“We've got some new investors, and we just raised money for 'Freestyle' and it went swimmingly,” said Furman, who is also about to start tapping investors for the female-led “Suffs,” a musical about the women who got the 19th Amendment passed.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 14: The audience at The Re-Opening Night of
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 14: The audience at The Re-Opening Night of "Wicked" on Broadway at The Gershwin Theatre on September 14, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/Getty Images)

The Broadway community will get to salute its own on Sept. 26 when the Tony Awards air on CBS and Paramount+ from The Winter Garden Theatre. 

More than one year after the ceremony had originally been expected to take place, the Tonys have already handed out three "special" honors, recognizing The Broadway Advocacy Coalition, "David Byrne's American Utopia," and "Freestyle Love Supreme." These "special" Tony Awards are given to shows or organizations that the committee believes are deserving of recognition even though they did not fall into any of the competition categories.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 12: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) (L-R) Chris Sullivan, Lin-Manuel Miranda, James Monroe Iglehart, Aneesa Folds, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Kaila Mullady, Andrew Bancroft, Anthony Veneziale and Christopher Jackson at the closing night performance of the improvised Rap and Hip-Hop musical
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 12: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) (L-R) Chris Sullivan, Lin-Manuel Miranda, James Monroe Iglehart, Aneesa Folds, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Kaila Mullady, Andrew Bancroft, Anthony Veneziale and Christopher Jackson at the closing night performance of the improvised Rap and Hip-Hop musical "Freestyle Love Supreme" on Broadway at The Booth Theatre on January 12, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/WireImage)

In the year before the pandemic, a record 14.8 million people attended a Broadway show — that’s more people than the combined attendance for New York area sports teams including the Mets, Yankees, Rangers, Islanders, Knicks, Liberty, Giants, Jets, Devils and Nets, according to the Broadway League. That attendance translated into an industry gross of $1.83 billion.

It may prove challenging to live up to that kind of a performance during the pandemic. The Broadway League is so concerned about revenue that it will not disclose box office grosses this season — proving that there’s no business quite like show business.

Alexis Christoforous is an anchor at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AlexisTVNews.

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