Disney’s Frozen has become Broadway’s first long-running casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic and industrywide shutdown. The production, which opened March 22, 2018, at the St. James Theatre, announced today that it will not return when Broadway reopens — whenever that might be.
In the closure announcement, producers said the musical will not re-open “as a result of the industry-wide shutdown and resulting economic fallout.” The production’s final performance was Wednesday March 11, having played 825 performances and 26 previews.
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“In the summer of 2013 when Frozen began its road to Broadway,” said Thomas Schumacher, President & Producer Disney Theatrical Productions, “two things were unimaginable: that we’d soon have five productions worldwide, and a global pandemic would so alter the world economy that running three Disney shows on Broadway would become untenable.
“The extraordinary contribution of Broadway’s original company,” he continued, “plus those who have joined more recently cannot be overstated. Frozen, like all shows, is wholly dependent on those who create and perform them but this was an uncommonly close and talented group and they’ll be missed. Finally, I have to acknowledge our incredible audiences; night after night, the fans showed us how much they loved this show and we look forward to seeing them at Frozen around the world.”
Over its two-year Broadway run, Frozen, which cost close to $35M to mount, grossed more than $150M, with total attendance topping 1.3M people. (Disney does not disclose whether a show has recouped its investment, but the Frozen figures would not seem to suggest the musical had become profitable.) A North American tour is expected to resume performances at an undetermined date, while productions in Australia, the UK, Japan and Germany are scheduled to open by next year. (Producers said the Broadway costumes and scenic elements will be repurposed for future productions to reduce cost and waste.)
Based on writer-director Chris Buck’s Oscar-winning 2013 film that unleashed the Oscar-winning song “Let It Go” on the world, Broadway’s Frozen was directed by Michael Grandage and choreographed by Rob Ashford. The show was nominated for a Best Musical Tony Award, as well as for its book and score, but lost all three (the year’s Best Musical was The Band’s Visit).
Actors’ Equity saw the closing of a popular musical as very troubling, to say the least. “Today’s news should be an all hands on deck moment for Governor Cuomo, Mayor De Blasio and Congress,” said Mary McColl, Executive Director of Actors’ Equity Association. “The arts and entertainment sector drives the economy of New York, just like it does in cities and towns across the country. Decisions made in the days and weeks ahead will shape the future of the arts sector for years to come. Public officials at all levels must think much more boldly about supporting the arts or our entire economy will be slower to recover.”
Frozen, which opened to mostly favorable, if well short of rave, reviews, was a solid enough box office performer prior to the shutdown, not quite in the stratosphere of Hamilton-Hadestown-Dear Evan Hansen or its Disney stablemates The Lion King and Aladdin, but often grossing in the 80%-90% of box office potential. For the week just before the shutdown – a slow week for an already skittish Broadway – Frozen grossed $798,610, about 70% of its $1.2M potential. The show had hit 98% of potential just the month before, though, and a big $2,186,427 for the holiday week leading up to New Year’s Eve 2019.
Still, even in its better weeks, the show underperformed compared to Disney’s Lion King and Aladdin, leading to Disney’s decision to choose Frozen as the least necessary third wheel in what will no doubt be an entirely new, no doubt constricted, Broadway landscape.
Equity sees the musical’s closing as proof that the recent federal HEROES Act that would help the arts and entertainment sector isn’t nearly enough, providing an emergency $4 billion in supplemental funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities and Corporation for Public Broadcasting, low interest loans for theaters that don’t qualify for NEA funding, restoring the business tax deduction for the purchase of live entertainment tickets and the passage of the bipartisan Performing Artist Tax Parity Act.
A statement released by Equity notes that in New York City, Broadway attendance surpasses by more than 4.6 million the 10 professional New York and New Jersey sports teams combined. The union points out that during the 2018-2019 season, the Broadway industry contributed $14.7 billion to the city’s economy and supported 96,900 jobs. The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies reports that 7.5% of New York’s gross state product lies in the arts and cultural sector.
Equity cites statistics indicating that the average nonprofit arts attendee spends another $31.41 per person, per show beyond the cost of admission, including money spent at restaurants, for parking and even on the babysitter. Nationally, notes the union, the spending supports 2.3 million jobs, provides $46.6 billion in household income, and generates $15.7 billion in total government revenue.
In an interview with New York’s NY1 TV channel earlier this week, Broadway League President Charlotte St. Martin also indicated that the relief bills are inadequate. “Unfortunately, nothing the government has done has helped our members that produce shows and theater owners who have to keep these historic monuments open and successful,” she said. “We certainly would love to see an extension of the employment benefits for our workers and ideally support for healthcare beyond when they will be covered through whatever their contract says. But for the producers, we need tax credits, we need opportunity for loans at low interest or no interest, because Broadway is a very risky business. We anticipate anywhere from 6 months to 2 years of losses. So we are reaching out to government officials, hoping that in their next round of relief that somewhere we will be included.”
Aside from A Soldier’s Play, The Inheritance, and Beetlejuice – three productions that were nearing the ends of their runs when the shutdown came, and so missed their planned closing nights – only two other Broadway productions had announced cancelations, but both – the Scott Rudin/Barry Diller/David Geffen production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? starring Laurie Metcalf and Rupert Everett, and playwright Martin McDonagh’s Hangmen – had yet to officially open when the March 12 shutdown arrived.
A slew of other previewing or upcoming productions have since announced postponements, most recently MJ, the Michael Jackson musical that will now begin previews next March, an eight-month postponement announced by producers yesterday.
In the immediate aftermath of the shutdown, some productions scheduled moves from Spring 2020 to Fall 2020 – announcements that already seem unduly optimistic: although the Broadway League of Theater Owners and Producers announced this week that ticket refunds would now cover seats already purchased through Labor Day – a de facto acknowledgement that Broadway will not be open this summer, the likelihood of Broadway reopening anytime before 2021 is looking increasingly dim.
Both Caroline, or Change, the revival of the Jeanine Tesori-Tony Kushner musical starring Sharon D Clarke, and Birthday Candles, the Noah Haidle play starring Debra Messing, announced postponements from their Spring 2020 openings until Fall 2020, as did Lincoln Center Theater’s Flying Over Sunset, a new musical by James Lapine, Tom Kitt and Michael Korie that had been in previews when the shutdown came. Producers for those shows have not yet announced further postponements.
More recently, the high-profile Broadway revival of Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite, starring Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker and directed by John Benjamin Hickey, confirmed that it will postpone its first preview at the Hudson Theatre by more than a year, from the original March 13 2020 to March 19 2021.
The permanent closure of Frozen, though, represents a significant new development in the damage done to Broadway by the pandemic and shutdown, the first casualty of a show that had been up, running and healthy before COVID-19 hit the city.
Guests holding tickets for Frozen who purchased via Ticketmaster will be refunded automatically within 30 days. Those who purchased through other channels should return to their original point of purchase for more information on refunds.
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