West End Musicals May Not Reopen ‘Until Early Next Year,’ Warns Producer Cameron Mackintosh

Phantom of the Opera Broadway
Courtesy of Jeremy Daniel

London’s West End and New York’s Broadway theaters may be unable able to stage major musicals until early next year, according to leading theater producer Cameron Mackintosh.

Interviewed by Michael Ball on BBC Radio 2 on Sunday, Mackintosh — whose Delfont Mackintosh theater chain staged “Dear Evan Hansen,” “The Book of Mormon” and “Phantom of the Opera” in the West End — said it looked as if the West End and Broadway “are going to be the last to go back” compared to many other countries.

Mackintosh said he was already planning to open shows in other parts of the world from September as other lockdowns ease, and noted that “Phantom of the Opera” has just reopened in South Korea, which has managed to keep a lid on coronavirus transmissions.

He said the West End and Broadway would come back eventually, “but it takes months and months to get huge shows like the kind we do up and running.”

“All major producers are all talking to each other on both sides of the Atlantic. The truth is, until social distancing doesn’t exist anymore, we can’t even plan to reopen. From the moment social distancing has gone, it will take us four to five months to actually get the actors back together, to redo the mothballed theaters — it is a huge, huge thing. Each big musical has about 200 people working on it, in that one building.”

Mackintosh added: “We will be back, but we need time to get back. If we don’t hear [about lockdowns lifting] in a few weeks, I think the truth is we won’t be able to come back until early next year. I think that’s quite clear.

“And the longer it is until we can say social distancing is gone, the longer it’ll be for the theater to come back.”

Mackintosh went on to say that theaters re-opening with audiences spaced out with social distancing guidelines in place would be a “horrible experience.”

“We want the audience to feel safe, and we want the actors to feel safe,” he said. “An audience going together, spaced out, would be a horrible experience. It’s the experience that makes it so unique…We can never do it with social distancing.”

In the U.K., all West End performances have been canceled until at least 31 May.

“It’s bizarre. I love putting things together. For me, after 50 years in the theater, not to be able to make a plan because none of us know when theater can go back into action, because we’re one of the last public entertainments to go back,” said Mackintosh. “I’m not depressed, I’m certainly frustrated though.”