The reopening of Broadway last summer, after its longest shutdown in history, provided a jolt of energy to a city ready for a rebound: Bruce Springsteen and block parties, eager audiences and enthusiastic actors.
But the Omicron variant that has barreled into the city, sending coronavirus case counts soaring, is now battering Broadway, leaving the industry facing an unexpected and enormous setback on its road back from the pandemic.
In December, so many theater workers tested positive for the coronavirus that, on some nights, half of all shows were canceled — in a few troublesome instances after audiences were already in their seats.
Now, producers have figured out how to keep shows running, thanks mainly to a small army of replacement workers filling in for infected colleagues. Heroic stories abound: When the two girls who alternate as the young lioness Nala in “The Lion King” were both out one night, a 10-year-old boy who usually plays the cub Simba went on in the role, saving the performance.
But there’s a new problem: Audiences are vanishing.
During the week that ended Jan. 9, just 62 percent of seats were occupied. That’s the lowest attendance has been since a week in 2003 when musicians went on strike, and it’s a precipitous drop from the January before the pandemic, when 94 percent of seats were filled during the first week after the holidays.
The casualty list is growing. Over the last month, nine shows have decided to close their doors, at least temporarily. “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a huge hit before the pandemic, announced last week that it would close until June; on Sunday “Ain’t Too Proud,” a successful jukebox musical about the Temptations, closed for good.