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Cameron Mackintosh: West End and Broadway shows ‘last to go back’

Theatre impresario Cameron Mackintosh believes West End and Broadway theatres will be closed until next year after rejecting the notion of their reopening under social distancing rules.

Mackintosh, whose Delfont Mackintosh group owns eight London theatres, said in a BBC Radio 2 interview that major musicals “are going to be the last to go back” after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

West End performances are currently cancelled until May 31, and will continue to be cancelled on a rolling basis while operators await further guidance from government. Broadway, which has been shuttered since March 12, will remain closed until at least June 7.

Billionaire Mackintosh, who has produced a strong of hits in London and New York City over the last five decades, said 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.”

He added that he was already preparing to open shows in other parts of the world from September, noting that the Phantom of the Opera has just reopened in South Korea.

He said: “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 theatres — 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 theatre to come back.”

He said the idea of spacing audiences out in a bid to maintain social distancing rules would be a “horrible experience”.

Mackintosh continued: “We want the audience to feel safe, and we want the actors to feel safe. 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.”

A total of 41 theatres are located in the Broadway district in Manhattan and support nearly 90,000 jobs. Thirty-one productions were cancelled on the opening day of the shutdown alone, with concerns increasing about the financial impact for stakeholders.

Last month, Society of London Theatre (SOLT) teamed up with Equity to support theatre contract workers during the Covid-19 blackout of West End shows and other live events. The two entities have agreed to offer extended contracts to those appearing in long-running shows, limited-run productions and those still in rehearsals. Under the new agreement, when theatres reopen, casts will be able to continue working with the same productions.

Image: Steve Collis