Broadway braces for Irene

Shows will go on, for now

Broadway is battening down the hatches for Hurricane Irene, and Main Stem shows will go on as scheduled — at least until they can’t.

As of late Thursday, Irene was expected to hit Gotham on Sunday, when many Rialto productions are skedded to play one or two perfs each. It was still unclear just how severe the weather might become over the weekend, but even the threat of such tempestuous weather, much covered in news outlets, looks poised to scare both ticketholders and ticketbuyers away from the city.

Another potential hurdle for showgoers: The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the org that operates Gotham’s public transportation system, was prepped to halt mass transit throughout the city as early as Saturday afternoon, should the weather warrant. “Because of the severity of the wind and rain associated with a hurricane, there may be partial or full shut down of our services to ensure the safety of our customers and employees,” the MTA warned on its website.

Hurricanes don’t often make it to New York — the most recent notable example legiters could recall was Hurricane Floyd in 1999 — but many in the industry likened the meteorological menace to blizzards, which are far more common along Broadway.

Main Stem shows almost never shut down due to weather, or for any reason whatsoever. The entire Street closed up shop for three perfs in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, and all shows were darkened for a night by the Northeast blackout in August 2003. Most productions also were shuttered for multiple performances during the labor strikes of 2003 and 2007.

Although blizzards rarely halt perfs of Broadway shows, past winters have shown that inclement weather can still temporarily put a damper on Broadway sales. Walk-up biz can essentially evaporate, and travelers may be unable or simply unwilling to brave the elements to make it to a show.

On the upside, a hurricane could leave travelers stranded in New York longer than anticipated, with nothing to do on a rainy day but take in a tuner or a play.

Very few definitive plans have so far been made regarding the Rialto’s hurricane contingencies. At some venues, the marquee underslings — placards affixed to a building’s marquee and dangling over the sidewalk — were set to be removed to eliminate any potential danger should gale force winds blow them loose.

As with blizzards, one of the major concerns for Broadway shows during a hurricane is the possibility that weather might prevent cast and crew from getting to the theater. One legiter remembered that being a problem when Floyd hit, but not enough to stop any shows from going on.

Of course, Broadway productions make a habit of staying prepped to deal with absences. Understudies, for instance, can cover for a performer who doesn’t make it to the theater in time for a curtain.

In terms of financial damage, blizzard season — which coincides with the Main Stem’s ultra-boffo winter holiday weeks — is usually poised to wreak greater havoc at the B.O. than hurricanes, which tend to hit in late summer and early fall.

Floyd, for instance, landed in Gotham in mid-September, during the traditional back-to-school slump that sees overall Broadway sales plummet anyway. Irene threatens to weaken a summer frame in which sales are generally robust but still slipping during a late-August slowdown.

For now, the Broadway League has posted notice that all shows this weekend are planned to go on as scheduled. As is often the case with blizzards, any ticket cancellations or exchanges due to weather disruptions will be handled via point-of-purchase orgs.

An increase in ticket cancellations, of course, also means an uptick in ducats that become available at the last minute — and might rep a chance for intrepid theatergoers to score a seat at a hot show.

As one legiter cracked: “Anybody who’s smart will know that Sunday afternoon is your shot to get into ‘Book of Mormon.’?”

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