Wuhan. Bergamo. Seattle. New Rochelle.
At the time of the distribution, the team and the fans met on March 9 for the first preview of a new musical version of “Mme. Doubtfire ”, the coronavirus was at the door of the scene.
Across Broadway, theater operators were installing hand sanitizer dispensers and scouring armrests. The ticket holders were starting to bail out.
” Mrs. Doubtfire “had three performances before the closing of Broadway.
“Our house manager texted us and told us to hang on, then she said, ‘Don’t come, don’t come, don’t come,’ recalls Lisa Berger, a“ Doubtfire ”usher. “It was not a complete surprise, to be honest. I just didn’t think it was going to happen that quickly. ”
Now, two months have passed and almost everyone associated with the production – about 150 people – is unemployed: actors and musicians, of course, but also bartenders and ticket employees, carpenters and choreographers, designers and commissioners, programmers and propmasters. A few vendors – publicists, for example – have been put on leave and then rehired under the federal paycheck protection program – but even expect to be unemployed when that money runs out after eight weeks.
“People think Broadway is very glamorous, but I don’t think they understand how many families and lives depend on it,” said David Korins, set designer for the series. He was forced to fire most of his employees after the 24 productions on which his company worked, including “Hamilton”, “Dear Evan Hansen” and “Beetlejuice”, suddenly stopped.
“Everything is gone,” he said. “It was a waterfall. And, by the way, I fully endorse it. But, literally, our income has dropped to zero. “
Broadway, of course, is a pinnacle for theater makers, a symbol of New York and a big company that, until now, had had a prolonged boom. Last year was the busiest ever, with 14.6 million customers; Broadway collectively posts $ 1.8 billion in revenue.
The closure put an end to this prolonged evening. And of the 39 plays and musicals arrested, 16 never made it to the opening night, including “Doubtfire”.
“Doubtfire” was a big gamble, aimed squarely at Broadway’s sweet spot: a $ 17 million musical, adapted from a blockbuster movie, which was intended to be funny, poignant and family-friendly.
Now the Doubtfire family has dispersed across the country – some as close to Times Square, others as London – trying to stay safe and sane. They, like the rest of their theater colleagues, have no idea when New York will settle into a new normal, no idea when Broadway will return. They are worried, but also hopeful – a microcosm of a distressed but determined industry.
“We are doing the right thing. “
” Mrs. Doubtfire “is a family story. One family, really: The Hillards – Daniel, Miranda and their three children. The parents separated, and the father (portrayed in a memorable way in the 1993 film by Robin Williams) is so determined to spend time with his children that he claims to be a woman to get a job as a cleaning lady.
Hilarity ensues. The problem is looming. Lessons are learned.
After a presentation five weeks before Broadway at the 5th Avenue Theater in Seattle, the stage adaptation headed for Broadway in the face of headwinds – critics in Seattle were mixed, changing gender politics had made men in dresses a line of laughing unreliable, and a scenic adaptation of “Tootsie” had just collapsed. In addition, every Broadway show is extremely risky, as most of them fail.
But the producers, led by Broadway veteran Kevin McCollum (“Rent”, “Avenue Q”), felt confident as they headed for an opening night on April 5. The Seattle audience seemed to like the show. And lead actor Rob McClure, who scored a nomination for Tony for playing the title role in “Chaplin”, starred in “Honeymoon in Vegas”, and was most recently featured in “Beetlejuice”, nailed its bifurcated performance.
Then McClure said, “The universe has paused.”
On this last day, the cast met for an afternoon rehearsal knowing that at any time, Broadway could close its doors. “I will never forget to check my phone during our performance on Wednesday evening and see that the N.B.A. had suspended the season and knowing what was going to happen, “said Brad Oscar, twice nominated for Tony for” Something Rotten! “And” The producers “.
Jenn Gambatese, actress with Miranda (a role played in the film by Sally Field), was in the center of the scene, repeating a new blockage for her big solo number, when a stage manager told the company to prepare for a closing announcement. It continued for another 90 minutes.
“I felt calmer than I had been for a while, and I felt like I could concentrate better,” said Gambatese, who had been so upset by the drumming of viral news that she brought a suitcase to work in case her commuter train line was closed and she got stuck in Midtown. “Every day was getting more and more frightening,” she said.
In the middle of the afternoon, McCollum and the director of the show, Jerry Zaks, assembled the company and told everyone to get their things and go home.
And just like that, it was over. The costumes were stored in the locker rooms. The tote bags and souvenir cups were locked in a wardrobe. The ghost light – a naked bulb placed on stage when a theater is empty – was on.
Many expected them to return in four weeks – the original expected length of the shutdown. “I remember placing my pencil on my script and saying to myself,” This is so weird – this pencil is going to be in exactly the same place when we come back in a month, “said designer Philip S. Rosenberg lighting. .
McClure returned home to Philadelphia. Tara Llewellyn, a dresser, joined her grandmother in Connecticut. Ensemble member KJ Hippensteel fled to his stepfather in Cleveland with his wife and two sons.
“We have both lost our jobs so far, and we have no reason to stay,” he said. “Really, we panicked and we had to take steps to feel in control. Looking back, I think we were very fortunate to have been able to go out when we did. “
Among those who stayed: Peter Bartlett, an actor, comedian and the oldest member of the cast, who plays a television host named Mr. Jolly. “At 77, these are the real stages of terror,” he said.
Most of the time, Bartlett was locked up in his one-bedroom apartment at Hell’s Kitchen, supported by savings, social security and union pensions, talking to friends, reading, cleaning his kitchen and washing his hands. “Have I ever thought about watching a dog rescue on YouTube?” Now, I’ve watched hundreds, “he said. “Everything to distract me.” “
Others find their own distractions, like making ice cream or practicing yoga. “The destruction leaves a lot of creative space to occupy,” said Akilah Ayanna, a member of the ensemble working on an album.
So Alexandra Matteo, a multi-part company member, is podcasting. Tommy Kurzman, the creator of make-up and prosthetics, adopted a dog. Paul Woodiel, the solo violinist, sings cowboy songs with his wife (they are both violinists).
“We have beautiful harmonies going on” Keep on the Sunny Side “,” he said, “if only I could get through the lyrics without choking. “
“It has changed our lives. “
Broadway is a coveted corner of the theater world for many reasons – prestige, large audience, enormous talent. But this is important for a much more materialistic reason: in a low-paid, high-unemployment field, it is a place where theater artists can earn good wages. The basic salary for Broadway actors is approximately $ 2,200 per week.
But the closure has thrown thousands of people out of work. Most union members received a few weeks’ wages after the close, but that has long since ended. And the usual downturns when stage shows are scarce – television, movies, even waiting tables – are not available during this phase of the pandemic.
“Almost everyone I know plans not to pay their rent, because how should we do this?” said Cameron Rasmussen, one of three guitarists on the show.
Several members of the company are married to other members of the industry, which means that they are now facing double loss of income. Michael Rico Cohen, stage manager, is married to an independent television producer. “We will have to wait a few months before each of us reviews a real paycheck,” he said. And Colleen Dietz, the show’s music copyist (who prepares the score for individual musicians), is married to music director Zachary Dietz. “I know we will be back, but it will be a long and difficult road for New York and for our family,” she said.
Among the most complex situations is that of the family of 9-year-old Lily Tamburo, who was chosen as an understudy for Natalie, one of the three Hillard children. Lily lives in the Setaukets, Long Island, with her mother and three older siblings; when late night trips proved too exhausting at his age, his mother, Lauren Zummo, rented an apartment in town for the two of them. But when the pandemic hit, Zummo was forced to close the Pilates and yoga studio she runs on Long Island, and, of course, Lily lost her income. Zummo was able to get away from the Manhattan sublet, but not from the studio, where his owner insisted on being paid.
“The virus put us bankrupt, of course,” said Zummo.
This pandemic is primarily a public health crisis, and Broadway has been hit hard by the disease – several members of the “Moulin Rouge!” the cast fell ill, as did a number of theater artists, producers and publicists. The Doubtfire family was relatively lucky on this front, but not unscathed.
Korins, the decorator, lost his uncle at Covid-19. He was 80 years old and had just moved in January from Florida to Yonkers, New York, where he fell ill in a nursing home and died in a hospital. “He died alone, without talking to anyone for several days,” said Korins. “It was one of those incredibly tragic moments. “
Others ended up treating people who were infected. Calvin L. Cooper, a cast member, saw a friend test positive for Covid-19, and then another fell ill.
“For nine long and frightening days, I helped my friend get back to a stable level,” he said. “It’s probably called positive. I am probably asymptomatic. “
And the two members of the show’s choreographic team – Lorin Latarro, the choreographer, and MJ Slinger, his partner, are associated with doctors who have worked with Covid patients. Latarro is married to a neurosurgeon who has been redeployed to Covid care; she and their 2-year-old daughter moved for several weeks to avoid infection. “I know some families are worse,” she said. “We are back home together now. “
“I can’t control if my voice changes. “
Maria Dalanno was one of the last people to join the cast of “Doubtfire”. She was 18 years old and was still in high school in Ohio when she submitted an audition video shot by her mother; five days later, she reserved a voice role for Hillard’s eldest daughter, Lydia.
She left high school, postponed college and moved to New York. Now she is back home, playing with her dog and painting.
“I made my preview debut and then went home in the middle of a pandemic,” she said. “Now I worry about following the social distancing guidelines, being able to pay for my apartment, and when I see my new friends and comrades again.”
For the six performers playing children in the cast of “Doubtfire” – each character has a double – the stop was particularly difficult to understand.
“Taking a break on Broadway, especially for a child, is nothing short of a miracle,” said Shanna Sell, whose 9-year-old daughter Avery Sell made her Broadway debut as Natalie, the girl Hillard. The Sells lives in Florida and Avery is now back in New Port Richey. “Removing the rug from under her little feet just weeks before her debut was heartbreaking,” said Shanna Sell.
Jake Ryan Flynn, the 13-year-old Massachusetts boy who plays Hillards son Christopher, has his own concern – that if the Broadway shutdown lasts, he’ll age out of the role. This is his second Broadway show – he was one of three boys who alternated in the title role of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, and he knows that contracts allow producers to replace children when they grow too much.
“My parents tell me to only care about what I can control,” he said. “But right now, I feel like I have no control over my life. I can’t control if I grow up. I cannot control if my voice changes. I can’t control when I see my casting comrades again. I cannot control if the creators and the producers look at me in a few months and dismiss me because I am too tall. It just makes me sad. ”
“It was like a miracle that we were all able to connect. “
The invitations came from Mark Evans, a Welsh actor embodying Stuart Dunmire, the new lover of Miranda Hillard.
Put on something fun. Have a snack or drink. Turn on your computer.
Instead, on April 5, the night of Doubtfire’s opening on Broadway, the company gathered online and presented the show – from start to finish – just for each other.
They called it their Fauxpening. Eighty-two people participated. Kaleigh Cronin, a member of the ensemble taking refuge with her husband and dog in her parents’ home in New Hampshire, wore the dress of her 8th grade dance, which she found in her childhood closet.
There were speeches and stories, songs and skids – Evans was so busy planning that when the second act rolled around, he forgot his lines. On the screen, the actors sang their songs. In the discussion section, some of the stage managers have typed in clues.
“Zoom was still new, as opposed to the norm,” said Evans. “It was like a miracle that we were all able to connect. “
There are also other forms of connection. Felicia Shulman, the guardian responsible for the protection of the child actors of the series, tried to bring together the four youngest members of the distribution through group texts and FaceTime. “I think it’s very important to keep them all in touch during this time of the unknown,” she said.
There is also a kind of newsletter. Aaron Kaburick, an actor who plays several minor characters including a “Chef Louis”, distributes a weekly email. It was originally called “Chicken on the Block”, a reference to the show’s spatchcocking scene; it’s now called “Chicken on the Couch,” because of his forties. The post only contains a few sentences – fabricated gossip, internal jokes, ensemble member Doreen Montalvo’s recipe for “Quarantine Coquito” and a workout routine inspired by Casey Garvin’s “Doubtfire” choreography, a lining .
And there are meetings going on. The counterfeiting took place three weeks and three days after closing. So, at Gambatese’s suggestion, the company decided to schedule a new meeting every three weeks and three days. The second was late last month. “It was adorable,” said McClure. “We yelled at each other. “
“It’s so empty, it’s unreal. “
The Stephen Sondheim Theater, where “Doubtfire” was staged, presents many of the complexities of Broadway real estate. Its history and facade on West 43rd Street dates back to 1918, but the interior, which opened in 2009, is underground, beneath the 55-story Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park.
The 1,055-seat theater is operated by a non-profit organization, the Roundabout Theater Company, which leases it to the commercial producers of “Mme. Doubtfire. ”
The building still carries the “Doubtfire” brand, with a marquee and posters in pastel colors to promote the show. But there are also signs of the times: Anita’s Way, a pedestrian crossing next to the theater, has become, with the disappearance of pedestrians, a place of rest for the homeless.
The only person who goes inside regularly is Deosarran, a 58-year-old Guyanese immigrant whose first name is named and who works for Roundabout as a building engineer.
Once or twice a week, Deosarran – everyone calls him Dino – gets into his car and drives to Times Square from his home in Harrison, New Jersey, to tour the four theaters of the roundabout in Midtown . It starts early – around 5 am – to increase the ease of getting away from home, and it checks building temperatures, humidity, plumbing, and even roofs.
“At first I was nervous, but I bought masks and gloves and I don’t mix with anyone,” said Deosarran, who moved to the United States at the age of 14, took a gas pumping job and worked in Broadway theaters for most of his adult life. “It is very strange to see these theaters without a show. On 42nd Street, you see one or two people walking. It’s incredible. “
There are other eyes on the building – security, the cops and a few less expected observers. Connie Robinson, director of theater operations for Roundabout, monitors by video camera from her Bronx home while preparing a storm – sweet potato buns, banana pudding cheesecake, pancakes. “It’s so empty, it’s unreal,” she said.
And James Kabel, the wardrobe supervisor, leaves his apartment in Times Square. He looks at the Doubtfire images on the theater windows, just “to make sure it’s not just a dream. “
“I’m not going to imagine anything but it will happen. “
It was one of the first scenes concocted by the writers: in the depths of the second act, Daniel Hillard would have a nightmare in which he is haunted by several Mrs. Doubtfires, forcing him to face his feelings of inadequacy.
The power rock song, “You’ve Created a Monster”, was sung with enthusiasm, wild to watch (a scene from Doubtfires!), And regularly received applause. But gnawing at the creative team was the feeling that it stopped the story.
The problem: the number as written suggested that Daniel Hillard’s great fear was that Mrs. Doubtfire was better than him. But the musical is fueled by his more basic terror: that he would lose his children.
So, in one of the surest signs that the “Doubtfire” team fully expects the show to return, the now dispersed creative team, which has previously collaborated on “Something Rotten!”, Revised the song via Skype. Wayne Kirkpatrick, back home in Nashville; his brother, Karey Kirkpatrick, in Los Angeles; and John O’Farrell, in London.
So they decided to refocus the scene. “You can’t have a song that doesn’t advance history,” said Karey Kirkpatrick. “So we did it for the kids – they’re no longer dressed in Doubtfires, and there are word changes to support the narration. “
And they started to shorten the end of the musical. “You want to let them want more, instead of saying you are doing it already,” said Karey Kirkpatrick.
Cutting wasn’t easy because in the last 12 minutes, McClure has six costume changes, from Hillard to Doubtfire and vice versa – and each takes at least 23 seconds. But the writers now have a series of cut suggestions that they want to test every time they come back on stage.
“If you listen, the show will tell you what it needs,” said Karey Kirkpatrick.
We don’t know what will happen next. Industry leaders say September is the first date on which they can imagine Broadway resuming performance, but shows may not return until next year.
Broadway has multiple vulnerabilities: high costs, tight seats, and a fan base that includes many tourists and the elderly.
The longer the closure continues, the more salons are expected to close before it even opens, succumbing to cash flow and economic problems. Zaks, four times winner of Tony directing for the 25th time on Broadway with “Doubtfire”, even refuses to consider that this program could be among the missing. “I will not imagine anything but it will happen,” he said.
He can comfort McCollum, the main producer, who swears “Doubtfire” will return. “I am sad that everyone has to wait, but the show is ready to start, and when people come together, we will be ready to open,” he said. “We are creating this new piece, and I can’t wait to show it to the world. “
As for McClure, the star of the series, he practices a combination of patience and optimism.
“I don’t think it would be in Broadway’s best interest to open up too early and be part of another wave of this – I don’t think anyone in our industry is interested in this,” he said. -he declares. “But when I think of the first night back, when the opening begins and the curtain rises, I choke. I really do. It’s the culmination of everything we need – more than singing and dancing and this great form of American art, it’s a bunch of people telling a story and a bunch of people getting a story . We aspire to the collective experience of being human. And that’s the theater. ”
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