The Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center announced Tuesday that it plans to reopen this fall. Its first performance, Broadway’s “Pretty Woman: The Musical,” will take center stage Sept. 28. That’s nearly five months after a previously set date of May 4.
Ron Legler, president of the state-owned facility, said he feels assured the fall date will stick, after multiple scrapped reopening plans. When the theater shut down in March of last year “we thought it was going to last 10 weeks,” Legler said. “We’re really very confident this will be the final time and we will definitely be getting back to Broadway in the fall of ‘21.”
Legler said the Hippodrome was able to reschedule nearly all the productions that had been canceled by the pandemic, including “Hamilton,” which is set to return to Baltimore in October 2022. It was originally supposed to tour this summer. Ticket holders for the earlier shows will keep their same seats in the rescheduled shows, according to a release.
The updated performance schedule is as follows:
“Pretty Woman: The Musical” (Sept. 28-Oct. 3, 2021)
“Tootsie” (Dec. 14-19, 2021)
“The Prom” (Jan. 18-23, 2022)
“Dear Evan Hansen” (March 15-20, 2022)
“Ain’t Too Proud” (May 3-8, 2022)
“Hairspray” (June 14-19, 2022)
“Mean Girls” (July 12-17, 2022)
“Hamilton” (October 4-30, 2022)
“Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” (Feb. 15-20, 2022)
The Hippodrome, a more-than-century-old former vaudeville theater where Frank Sinatra performed as a teen, has been closed for about a year now, and Legler said the building has been suffering as a result. At the same time, staff have been working to upgrade air filtration systems and are examining ways to keep the theater safe and compliant with COVID-era regulations once it opens.
Among other steps they’ve been taking: keeping the old ghost light burning, a nod to a theater superstition that dictates stage managers keep a bulb lit to allow ghosts to fine-tune their performances.
Legler acknowledged the challenges of maintaining safety in a historic theater like the Hippodrome. “There is no pathway for social distancing when you’re in an historic vaudeville house.” Keeping the theater at limited capacity wouldn’t be economically feasible, Legler said. “If we open at 50%, any [Broadway] show would be a financial failure. We just can’t do it.”
The news comes even before The Broadway League has officially announced its return to New York City’s Theatre District. The trade association announced last October that Broadway productions will stay shut through May 30, an extension of an earlier hiatus that was scheduled through Jan. 3. The group announced in January that its Jimmy Awards, which honor high school students, will be presented virtually this summer amid ongoing concerns about COVID-19.
The past year without revenue has hit the institution as well as the union staffers it typically employs in productions. Legler said the building, which costs about $40,000 per month to maintain, has been allocated assistance from the state’s rainy day fund. The theater was awarded more than $480,000 through the state’s emergency relief initiative, while its nonprofit arm received $116,000. “For the first time in our history [we’ve had to] put up a white flag and say: ‘We need help,’” Legler said.