‘The Universe Hit Pause’: The Ripple Effects of Broadway’s Shutdown

The artists Lori Nix and Kathleen Gerber built and photographed a model of David Korins’s set for “Mrs. Doubtfire,” imagining it with a ghostlight illuminated and the title character’s wig resting on the stage of the Stephen Sondheim Theater. Credit...Nix + Gerber Studio for The New York Times

 ‘The Universe Hit Pause’: The Ripple Effects of Broadway’s Shutdown


“Mrs. Doubtfire” got through three performances before the pandemic intervened. This is the story of what happened next.






Wuhan. Bergamo. Seattle. New Rochelle.

By the time cast, crew and fans assembled on March 9 for the first preview of a new musical version of “Mrs. Doubtfire,” the coronavirus was at the stage door.

All over Broadway, theater operators were installing hand sanitizer dispensers and scrubbing armrests. Ticket holders were beginning to bail.

“Hadestown” barred stage-door greetings. An usher who worked at “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “Six” tested positive for Covid-19. And “Moulin Rouge!” canceled a day’s performances because a company member was feverish.

“Mrs. Doubtfire” got through three performances before Broadway shut down.

“Our house manager texted us and told us to hold on, and then she said, ‘Don’t come, don’t come, don’t come’,” recalled Lisa Berger, a “Doubtfire” usher. “It wasn’t a total surprise, to be honest. I just didn’t think it was going to happen that quickly.”

Now two months have gone by, and almost everyone associated with the production — about 150 people — is out of work: actors and musicians, obviously, but also bartenders and box office workers, carpenters and choreographers, designers and dressers, programmers and propmasters. A few vendors — the publicists, for example — were furloughed and then rehired under the federal Paycheck Protection Program — but even they expect to be unemployed when that money runs out after eight weeks.

“People think of Broadway as very glamorous, but I don’t think they understand how many families and lives depend on it,” said David Korins, the show’s set designer. He was forced to lay off most of his employees after all 24 productions his company was working on, including “Hamilton,” “Dear Evan Hansen” and “Beetlejuice,” abruptly stopped.

“Everything went away,” he said. “It was a cascade. And, by the way, I fully endorse it. But, literally, our income went to zero.”



To read Michael Paulsen's entire article in the May 10, 2020 issue of The New York Times:






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