A wave of show cancellations is rippling through Toronto’s theatre district and beyond as Ontario production companies contend with a rise in COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant.
Mirvish Productions announced Sunday that the North American premiere of its eagerly anticipated Tom Stoppard play “Leopoldstadt” in early 2022 was being pulled from the schedule at the Princess of Wales Theatre.
Performances were slated to begin Jan. 22 and run until March 13.
In Ottawa, plans to bring the acclaimed “Hamilton” musical to the National Arts Centre’s Southam Hall on Jan. 4 have been postponed until July 12.
The touring company Broadway Across Canada said the move was a response to stricter capacity limits and that it hoped all ticket holders could keep their seats by pushing the shows to next summer.
The cancellations add to a growing number of live theatre shows and concerts that have opted to pull their upcoming dates out of an abundance of caution, rather than adhere to the capacity restrictions found in the latest health guidelines.
Premier Doug Ford said on Wednesday that large indoor venues – including live theatres and concert halls that accommodated 1,000 people – would be subject to capacity limits of 50 per cent to help slow the spread of Omicron. On Friday, Ontario announced a further round of restrictions that limited all live theatres and concert halls to 50 per cent capacity limits.
The announcement left the province’s venues scrambling to make changes for events that had been sold at full capacity. Some chose to give ticket holders refunds while others decided to cancel all shows, saying it was impossible to break even with the new requirements.
John Karastamatis, director of marketing and communications for Mirvish, said its biggest show “Come From Away” is still moving forward with performances, though he described it as an “evolving situation.”
“Come From Away” reopened at the Royal Alexandra Theatre only last Wednesday and faced the reduced capacity rules when they came into effect on Saturday morning. Ticket holders were given the option to hang onto their tickets, exchange them for a future date, get a refund or transfer the funds to a gift card, Karastamatis said.
“We’re dependent on the health of our casts; we’re dependent on the government and medical community’s advice; and the audience’s need or desire to come and see shows,” he said.
“If any of those go, the show will disappear.”
On Broadway, at least two of the biggest musicals have cancelled shows until at least Dec. 27 due to COVID-19. Sellout musical “Hamilton” cited cases of COVID-19 as the reason it would shut down for now, while “MJ,” a musical on the life of Michael Jackson, also cancelled all shows due to “multiple positive COVID tests within the company.”
New York’s “Aladdin” production also announced it was halting all performances until Sunday.
Broadway largely began live performances once more in September.
In contrast, Mirvish took a more conservative approach with its return to stages, only beginning productions again in late November with “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
“We waited longer, thinking that the longer we’d wait, the safer it will be – in fact, the opposite is true,” Karastamatis said.
“We should have gone out much sooner, we would have been able to have many more performances.”
David Mirvish issued a statement on the cancellation of “Leopoldstadt” saying he always knew there were financial risks of bringing the show to Toronto, but that the “sudden arrival” of the variant “made it impossible” to move forward.
He said capacity restrictions, as well the non-essential travel advisory from the federal government with looming border closings and quarantines expected, have complicated logistics.
“More importantly, the health risks involved in bringing a company of more than 30 artists from the U.K. are too enormous at a time when there is more uncertainty than ever before in this pandemic,” Mirvish said.
“But I’m not giving up on `Leopoldstadt.’ I’m determined to present this magnificent play in Toronto some time in the future when it is safe to do so.”
Meanwhile, the Shaw Festival scrapped all remaining performances of the musical “Holiday Inn” after a member of the company tested positive for COVID-19.
“Our thoughts are with everyone involved in `Holiday Inn,’ especially those that are now required to isolate while awaiting clearance from Niagara Region Public Health,” the theatre company said in a statement.
Among the other cancellations, the Barenaked Ladies announced Friday that all remaining performances of “Hometown Holidays with Barenaked Ladies” at the Mirvish-operated CAA Theatre in Toronto were off the calendar.
“In talking to doctors, friends and experts, we feel like it would be irresponsible for us to play these shows at a time when we should all be limiting our gatherings and exposure,” said lead singer Ed Robertson.
“I hate this, I bet you hate this too,” he added.
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