Broadway may finally be getting its rhythm back, which will also be good news for Long Island's regional theaters that have been closed since March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Wednesday that Broadway theaters can reopen at 100% capacity starting in September. "Broadway is at the core of our New York identity," he said, "and a big part of our economy which employs countless performers and show creators, and beginning this September, the show will go on."
Shortly after Cuomo spoke, it was announced that on Thursday theaters would begin selling tickets for performances with a start date of Sept. 14. "We are thrilled that Gov. Cuomo clearly recognizes the impact of Broadway’s return on the city and state’s economy and the complexity of restarting an entire industry that has been dormant for over a year," said Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League. "Nothing beats Broadway."
St. Martin added that theater owners, producers and other Broadway League members will work with the state Department of Health and the governor's office to reopen with the necessary health and safety protocols.
"We remain cautiously optimistic about Broadway’s ability to resume performances this fall and are happy that fans can start buying tickets again," St. Martin said.
Long Island's regional theaters that have been mirroring the Broadway model for reopening can start planning their fall seasons, too. "It's all good news, it's all moving in the right direction," said Richard T. Dolce, producing artistic director of the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport. "We've already started the machine to get ready for a fall opening as far as getting the theater prepared, ventilation-wise and air quality-wise."
The news comes a few days after Engeman announced it was canceling its summer production "Anything Goes," which would have opened in July when theaters were still restricted to 33% capacity seating. Engeman plans to present a summer concert series, a strategy being followed by other venues such as Theatre Three in Port Jefferson and The Argyle Theatre in Babylon, which will also present comedy shows.
"Then, hopefully, by mid-September our plan is, boom, we’re back open with our theatrical productions," said Dylan Perlman, who co-owns The Argyle Theatre in Babylon with his father, Mark.
Though its schedule is still in the works, Argyle is looking to reopen with "Cabaret," which had just begun its run when the theater shut down on March 15, 2020, and present "Elf" for the holidays, Dylan Perlman said.
Gateway Playhouse in Bellport is planning some smaller musicals this summer for limited-capacity audiences as a lead-in to a full-scale musical in September. "I'm assuming, as Broadway is as well, that by the time we get to September this social distancing will no longer be a thing," said Paul Allan, Gateway's executive artistic director.
Theatre Three, which is presenting the eight-person musical "The Fantasticks" this summer, can now consider doing larger-scale shows in the fall. "It means we can look at creating a normal season, not one designed for limited capacity, which is very different," said executive director Jeffrey Sanzel.
Even if safety protocols such as mask wearing are still in place come September, Sanzel doesn't think that audiences hungry for live entertainment will mind. "I think people are ready to come back to live events, to theater, to concerts," he said. "I think there’ll be people who’ll test the waters this summer, but by September I think everyone will be ready."
Added Perlman: "Once theater comes back to the community, we’re going to see life come back to the community."