by Mo Brady
Next month, five new Broadway musicals will close. Most of them are musicals with large ensembles: The Prom (with 23 ensemble actors) as well as The Cher Show (with 21), King Kong (34), and Pretty Woman (22).
These closures will happen just after two other large-cast musicals that have closed in the last month: My Fair Lady (which employed 29 ensemble actors at its closing) and Kiss Me, Kate (with 15). Along with Be More Chill (which has no chorus contracts and, therefore, no ensemble actors), seven Broadway musicals will have shuttered their doors between June and August.
Add this to the just-announced closures of long-time Broadway tenants Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (with 15 current ensemble actors) and Waitress (with 14), and it looks like it's going to be a quiet Autumn on the Great White Way.
What does this mean for the community of performers who generally work in Broadway ensembles? Potentially nothing. As theatre lovers know, a crashing wave of closing notices is not unusual. Eight musicals closed in the first three months of 2015, including shows with healthy runs like Once and Rock of Ages.
What’s strange about this culling of Broadway offerings is that there’s relatively little announced in the pipeline to take their places. So far, nothing has been announced to take up residency in Brooks Atkinson, Longacre, Lyceum, Nederlander, Neil Simon or Stephen Sondheim Theatres. Other houses that are often home to musicals, like the Jacobs, Studio 54 and the Vivian Beaumont will be housing straight plays this fall.
In the nine musicals closing between June and January, there will be 173 actors working under Actors Equity chorus contracts out of a job. Of the 549 actors who have worked on Broadway under chorus contracts so far this season, 26% will have found themselves filing for unemployment by Labor Day.
The newer shows that are sticking around are those with small ensembles (Hadestown employs nine) or without an ensemble at all, like Come From Away, Dear Evan Hansen or Oklahoma!
Of course, there are 38 ensemblists are announced to join them this fall in the companies of Jagged Little Pill and West Side Story, in addition to the 26 ensemblists currently employed by Moulin Rouge! The Musical. Plus, the upcoming production of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical will employ an unannounced number of chorus contracts as well (the still-running London production has 18 actors credited as ensemble or swings). That’s approximately 82 jobs to replace the 173 we are losing.
This winter, there will be almost 100 fewer jobs available in Broadway ensembles than there were when summer began. In an community where there are less than 600 actors working at any given time, that decrease is significant.
This ebbing and flowing of Broadway offerings is not unusual. Shows open, shows close. It’s the circle of (Broadway) life. But with so few musicals announced to be opening this season, it could be a very rough year for actors who make their living in ensembles.