Cassel said he was confident restrictions would be eased by the time the show opens and that his company is moving through the pre-production phase with the March opening in mind. Fortunately, the bulk of the auditions had already been conducted before social restrictions were introduced and offers have been made for 24 of the 34 roles in the show.
“The remainder of the auditions are being conducted by Zoom workshops and one-on-one auditions,” he said.
Moulin Rouge, which has been shuttered on Broadway, was in a similar position, with some auditions already having been conducted and others happening online. The US creative team had been due to arrive shortly before the lockdown began in Australia to inspect the Regent Theatre, but that inspection was held online.
“It has been a real revelation that it can be done and keep the process going,” the show’s producer Carmen Pavlovic said. “As we are replicating an existing design, we can build a model that is specific to the Regent and get that costed and begin building it when we reach that point.”
But she agrees the tick of approval from government and health authorities for people to gather in full houses will be essential for the show to go ahead.
“It doesn’t make economic sense unless the costs of running the show halved correspondingly,” she said. “I don’t think it would be an overly enjoyable experience for the audience.”
Disney has confirmed playing to limited capacity houses did not make financial sense nor would it be an ideal experience for audiences. However, the company’s production of Frozen is perhaps in the best position to raise the curtain given the entire casting process was completed before the lockdown.
The organisation recently announced the Broadway production of the show would not re-open when theatres are allowed to operate in New York, freeing up costumes and sets for other productions around the world.
Disney Theatricals president Thomas Schumacher said the decision to move the show’s opening by five months presented enormous challenges, but he is confident it was the right decision to make.
“In fairness, it is very complicated to do that and, in fairness, we haven’t achieved it yet but the good thing was the enthusiasm of the audience saying, ‘Yes, we want to see it’ and, ‘Yes we are happy to wait’. We will be ready to roll, I hope, in December but there are some quarantine issues we are going to have to work through,” he said.
“We were never going to cancel; that would have been devastating.”
Producer John Frost was on the verge of starting rehearsals for Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 The Musical when theatres were shut down in March. He is not planning on remounting the musical until July next year and will only do so if he can be guaranteed a full house. “The biggest problem we’ve got, or will have, is social distancing,” he said. “If you [usually] play 2000-seat theatres, you can’t make any money if you play to a 700-seat theatre. That’s the big sticking point – if they let us play to full capacities, great, that will solve a problem.”
Musicals generated $400 million in 2018, according to Live Performance Australia, while attendance was estimated at 3.9 million people, 14.9 per cent of the industry total.
Nathanael Cooper is a senior culture writer at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age with a focus on music.
Louise is Editor of S and TV Liftout at The Sun-Herald