The Boss is back on Broadway – and way ahead of the pack.
Bruce Springsteen will be the first act in a Broadway theater at full capacity since the industry shut down last March. The show, a concert-memoir titled Springsteen on Broadway, will start performances on June 26, more than a month before the next reopening marquee. It will also be a revival of sorts, bringing the famed New Jerseyan back to the Rialto after he shattered box office records in 2018.
His is also the first show to announce a Covid vaccine mandate for audience members. Some, like Hamilton, will require vaccines for its cast and crew. But Springsteen is setting a precedent many industry players seem ready to follow.
“Vaccines should be mandatory for everybody,” said producer Barry Diller in an earlier interview. “It’s crazy to think otherwise. The only way that any of us are going to get protection against each other or feel protected, is if you’re vaccinated and the person you’re inches away from is vaccinated.”
Alongside fellow billionaire David Geffen, Diller has, by his own estimation, sunk $50 million into theatrical projects hoping to reopen, including To Kill a Mockingbird and West Side Story. But guidance across the industry is muddled, with its leading trade organization, the Broadway League, coyly declining to take a public stance.
However, the League’s president, Charlotte St. Martin, has made her personal position refreshingly clear: “Anybody who doesn’t get vaccinated is an idiot.”
Springsteen will be an exciting, if imperfect, way to gauge the industry’s return. His initial Broadway bow was the definition of success. For 58 weeks he sold out the Walter Kerr Theatre, grossing $113 million, and setting the record for the most expensive seat on Broadway at $512. Great reviews were a nice garnish, and the effort garnered him a special non-competitive Tony Award.
However, it was also outlier in almost every sense: a concert event (not a musical), by one of the world’s most renowned musicians (not a cast of fresh faces), with a built-in rabid audience of millions (not a fragmented demo requiring heavy marketing to parse and reach).
There’s no reason to believe this stint won’t garner feverish demand, too. Undoubtedly, the event of a safe, fully operational, sold-out Broadway house is unbeatable PR as other shows plan their return. Whether that translates into boffo sales for anyone besides The Boss remains to be seen. Advance sales across the industry are currently slow, but revving up as shows begin their re-marketing campaigns in earnest.
Springsteen’s return will also test the conventional wisdom that live recordings of Broadway shows cannibalize sales. For years, producers have been resistant to plunk down money for polished recordings, fearing buyers will stay home instead. But the pandemic has changed the calculus for many, with at least five shows recorded and available for streaming by the end of the year. (Hamilton’s debut on Disney+ last summer proved that demand for filmed theater is potentially huge, and lucrative.)
Bruce’s Broadway show has been available for streaming on Netflix
In-person tickets for Springsteen on Broadway go on sale Thursday, June 10.