When I first heard last week that Hurricane Sandy was heading to New York, I quipped to a friend that I didn’t realise that Sandy Duncan was flying back to Broadway again with Peter Pan. But as we now know, Sandy was no laughing matter, though the front page of the Evening Standard on Tuesday was a bit extreme, with its huge front page headline screaming “MANHATTAN SUBMERGED”.
New York is my home from home, in every sense – earlier this summer my partner and I bought a small studio apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, three blocks from Times Square, and I’ve had a friend staying there recently. He was due to return to London overnight on Sunday, but his flight was cancelled and he was trapped there – so was in our apartment when the storm hit.
I got a text late on Monday evening: “Just in case… is there a torch in the flat?” In fact it wasn’t needed. But a tale of two cities emerged in the wake of the storm: according to a story in the New York Times yesterday,
The dividing line between north and south in the city was 25th Street.
South of 25th, the streetlights on the West Side were not working, and the buildings were completely dark. There seemed to be no stores there, no Starbucks, no places to charge a phone and no idea when the lights would go back on. South of 25th, the effects of the storm were deeply felt. Not so uptown.
“I just biked down from Hell’s Kitchen, and it is like a Friday night up there,” said Chris Degner, who lives in TriBeCa. “And then you get down here and it is like entering a zombie movie.”
And on Tuesday evening, a London theatre director who was staying in New York called me in a panic: he was in the part of New York without electricity, and wondered if he could move to my place for a couple of nights. Unfortunately, I told him, it was already occupied.
Broadway, meanwhile, was also all shut down – for three full days, before, during and after the storm, finally resuming business yesterday. By contrast, following 9/11, Broadway lost just two performances before resuming – “a sign to the world that New York was open for business”, as Michael Riedel put it in a column in the New York Post yesterday.
As Riedel also noted,
The loss of even one performance can wreak havoc with a show’s finances. Because of steep weekly running costs, most shows make their weekly profit in the eighth performance. Anything less than that, and they’ll have an unprofitable week.
The perennials — Mamma Mia!,The Lion King, Wicked — won’t notice the loss.
But marginal shows could be thrown into turmoil. And several of the new shows this season are marginal, barely holding their heads above water before the Hudson overflowed.
Chaplin, The Performers, Scandalous and The Heiress could, like the Atlantic City boardwalk, be washed away by Sandy.
In fact, the last three are yet to open, with The Heiress officially opening tonight, so I assume their pre-opening press performances have been thrown into disarray. Meanwhile The Performers doesn’t open till November 14 and Scandalous till November 15. The next couple of weeks also brings openings for the new production of Annie (opening November 8), Glengarry Glen Ross (November 11) and The Mystery of Edwin Drood (November 13). I’m scheduled to be in New York myself next week, so am hoping to catch up with some of these, and more.
Another friend is due to go ahead of me today, but yesterday was waiting to find out if flights were going to resume. The problem is not so much flying into JFK as getting from JFK to midtown, with tunnels closed and subways not running. Manhattan could yet be shutdown by the lack of transport into it. Which, even if Broadway is up and running again, could mean disaster for the theatre.