Covid is sweeping the cast of musical theater shows in Sydney and Melbourne, forcing major live productions to cancel performances.
At least 90 artists have tested positive for the highly contagious virus and entire companies have been forced into isolation.
The Sydney festival production of Qween Lear, a musical adaptation of King Lear set to open in the Hordern Pavilion on January 7, has been canceled due to a Covid outbreak among the cast.
Frozen the Musical at Her Majesty’s Theater in Melbourne on Wednesday announced Covid positive cases and canceled some performances.
Opera Australia confirmed “more than 20″ [Covid] cases about the performing company” and said it still planned to go ahead with the New Year’s Eve performance of La Bohème at the Sydney Opera House. “We juggle the cast. But it is still possible,” said a company spokesperson.
The Sydney productions of Come From Away and Hamilton have already canceled several gigs in the run-up to the new year.
Many more casts rehearsing in Sydney this week – including the Sydney festival production of A Chorus Line – are now experiencing Covid outbreaks or being forced into isolation as close contacts.
“It’s grim,” a Sydney-based music theater performer told Guardian Australia on Tuesday. The artist, who wished to remain anonymous, painted a sobering picture of the magnitude of the problem, saying that more than a dozen members of the Hamilton cast had been affected by Covid, as well as sizable parts of the cast of Come From Away and the Alanis Morissette. musical Jagged Little Pill.
On Wednesday, three other prominent music theater insiders confirmed to Guardian Australia specific numbers of infected cast members in each production, adding that there could be more cases since Tuesday.
A producer, who asked not to be named, said there had also been multiple cases among the cast of A Chorus Line and Qween Lear.
An artist who tested positive in Sydney this week, and also preferred not to be named, told Guardian Australia: “Almost all the artists I know who are positive have only mild symptoms and we are optimistic about returning to the stage. We will have antibodies, so hopefully this won’t happen again. It’s frustrating because we were so strict. We wore masks until we got on stage, but it’s so contagious.”
Hamilton ticket holders will be contacted with offers for a full refund or to rebook their seats. Hamilton’s performances, which were suspended on December 22, will resume on January 5.
“We definitely plan to reopen the show as soon as possible,” said a spokesperson for the show’s producer, Michael Cassel.
Guardian Australia reached out to producers for Jagged Little Pill, Hamilton, Come From Away, A Chorus Line and Sydney Festival for comment, and they all declined to provide specific details on the number of positive Covid cases, citing privacy concerns.
‘We must minimize risk’
Meanwhile, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, another Michael Cassel production – currently set in Melbourne – is “business as usual”.
The producers of Jagged Little Pill, which ended in Sydney on December 19, gathered on Wednesday for the show’s scheduled opening in Melbourne on January 4. “We’ll see where it is and how the performances go,” said a company spokesperson.
Frozen the Musical at Melbourne’s Her Majesty’s Theater confirmed in an Instagram post on Wednesday that performances on December 29 and 30 were canceled due to Covid cases in the troupe.
Also in Melbourne, Moulin Rouge! The musical is proceeding as advertised.
Covid also affects the independent theater sector. In Sydney, an open-air production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It has his Orlando in seclusion as close contact of a positive case. The show continues with a new actor in the role.
The 2022 Sydney festival, which kicks off on January 6, said it planned to go ahead despite Qween Lear’s cancellation and the “unforeseen disruption” of the musical theater show. 宿 (stay), the latter of which two performances have been canceled but are now expected to continue from January 12.
“Given the evolving nature of the current Covid-19 outbreak, changes to some performance schedules are expected,” the festival organizers said in a statement. “Covid remains an ongoing challenge. However, it is one for which the festival is prepared, and the safety of the public, staff and performers is and will always be our number one priority.
“All changes to the program will be implemented and announced as required. We will monitor the situation, work closely with the government, and follow any advice or orders if they change.”
Festival producers are taking extra steps to ensure their shows continue. Actors live in bubbles – where possible in single rooms in the same facility. Casts are supplemented with additional understudies to cover sudden absences.
The State Theater Company of South Australia presents its Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? from January 13 at Sydney Opera House and from January 5 co-presenter of the musical Girl from the North Country at Theater Royal.
“We have understudies for every role in Girl From the North Country and we’re bringing in understudies for Virginia Woolf. This is an additional cost of about $60,000 to $100,000 for theater companies,” said the company’s artistic director, Mitchell Butel.
“We all have cast members in a bubble in corporate accommodations in Adelaide and Sydney so they don’t stay with family or friends. Nobody mixes and they do rapid antigen testing.”
Butel said theater audiences were still relatively safe compared to many other venues, adding that most theaters still require audiences to check in, prove their dual vaccination status, and wear masks during the show.
“A theater audience is not there to talk or mingle with as many people as possible, they are there to witness a show,” he said.
“To our knowledge, there has not been a single case of broadcast in any theater in Australia. But we must minimize the risk. People take off their masks to drink in the foyer. The industry may need to bring back rules banning drinking or eating in foyers to keep everyone safe.
Covid outbreaks affect musical theater productions around the world. On Wednesday, Australian recording artist Hugh Jackman, who is currently starring in the Broadway revival of The Music Man, announced that he had tested positive for Covid in New York.
In a social media video, the 53-year-old Hollywood star announced that he had mild symptoms “like a cold… a scratchy throat and a bit of a runny nose, but I’m fine… Once I’m off, I’ll be back on the stage.”