Hurricane Sandy Broadway Weathers the Storm
The superstorm canceled Broadway shows for days, necessitating refunds for Broadway ticket holders.
Hurricane Sandy devastated many areas of New York City in October 2012, resulting in loss of life and massive property damage. The hurricane also had a major impact on NYC businesses and industries, including Broadway theater.
Hurricane Sandy Closes Broadway
With Hurricane Sandy due to hit New York City on Monday, October 29, it was decided that the city's public transit system should protect itself by completely shutting down, a decision that would have a major impact on Broadway.
Sunday, October 28 - The lengthy process of shutting down the subway system began Sunday night, resulting in the decision to cancel Broadway performances scheduled that evening (matinees that day went on as usual). Though the hurricane hadn't hit yet, the lack of transportation would have made it impossible for many ticket holders to get to their Broadway shows.
Monday, October 29 - The Broadway League had already announced the day before that performances were also canceled for Monday. Fortunately most shows don't have performances on Monday evenings, so the cancellations weren't as disruptive to Broadway show schedules as they might have been on another day. The storm hit that evening.
Tuesday, October 30 - As the destruction wrought by Sandy became apparent in the light of day on Tuesday morning, it was announced that Broadway would keep its doors shut that day as well. With NYC transit slowly starting up again (first with limited bus service that evening), The Broadway League announced that most Broadway shows would resume performances on Wednesday, October 31.
Wednesday, October 31 - On a more subdued Halloween than usual, almost all Broadway shows resumed performances (though a few didn't perform their matinees that day). A few subway lines started up service again, but transportation was difficult overall and massive traffic delays were common throughout the city.
Thursday, November 1 - All Broadway shows finally resumed their usual schedules.
Ticket Refunds Issued For Canceled Broadway Shows
Although the standard policy is "No refunds or exchanges" when buying Broadway tickets, naturally they can't charge for a performance that is completely canceled, so people holding tickets for the canceled performances were offered refunds or exchanges. Those who had purchased tickets with a credit card through Ticketmaster or Telecharge received refunds automatically. People who had purchased directly at the box office had to return to the box office to receive their refunds, and they also had the option of getting their canceled tickets exchanged for a later date.
Once Broadway shows resumed on October 31, tourists stranded in the city due to flight cancellations at last had a good entertainment option. But the partially-functioning New York City public transit system and various tunnel closures (due to flooding from the Sandy storm surge) made transportation difficult for many other Broadway ticket holders. Since the performances weren't canceled, they couldn't count on an automatic refund. But Charlotte St. Martin of The Broadway League stated that, "As always, the safety and security of theatregoers and employees is everyone's primary concern, so for those who can't get in to the city as a result of the suspension of public transportation by government authorities or additional safety precautions that were implemented, they should contact their point of purchase for questions about exchange or refund policies."
Overall the situation was quite reminiscent of Hurricane Irene in 2011, when Broadway shut down during a potentially lucrative end-of-summer weekend (Saturday, August 27 and Sunday, August 28). As with Hurricane Sandy, the crucial issue had as much to do with the transportation shutdown as the storm itself. And as with Hurricane Sandy, ticket holders were offered automatic refunds for the canceled Broadway show performances on August 27-28, 2011.
Post-Sandy Broadway Discounts
As soon as performances resumed on Wednesday, some Broadway shows immediately began offering special ticket discounts in the hopes of coaxing people to go 'the extra mile' to get to Broadway and see shows. In this case, that might have meant springing for a cab (which were hard to get, and often required sharing), taking the trouble to drive into the city, suffering through lengthy public transit delays, or to, quite literally, walk a mile to get to the theater.
Nice Work If You Can Get It, The Performers, and Chaplin were among the Broadway musicals and plays that advertised special Sandy discounts to draw people into the theater. On the Wednesday that performances resumed, the Roundabout Theatre Company's revival productions of Cyrano de Bergerac and The Mystery of Edwin Drood offered $20 tickets to anybody who showed their NYC transit Metrocard at the theater box office.
The Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy on Broadway
Sandy had multiple effects on Broadway. As October is a busy time for new fall shows beginning, two shows (A Christmas Story and Dead Accounts) had to delay their first preview performances as a result of the storm. Shows that had the misfortune to have just begun performances right around the time of the storm, such as The Performers and Scandalous, had a really rough financial start, and in the case of both those shows, they ended up closing within just a few weeks.
If you had been wanting to get a face value ticket to the perpetually sold out hit The Book of Mormon, the week of Hurricane Sandy may have seemed like the ideal time to take a trip to the box office. But apparently many people had that idea, because, shockingly, Book of Mormon still sold out as usual (102.63% capacity, to be exact, the same as previous weeks) the week of the hurricane, despite transportation difficulties. However, the average paid admission was $10-$15 less than usual that week, indicating that the show had to have sold some tickets (almost certainly the high-priced premium seats) for a little less than the show usually demands. Despite those numbers, though, the show may have been playing to only half the usual number of people in the audience. Many New York and New Jersey locals still had no power or phone service that week, making it impossible for them to even call the box office and cancel their Book of Mormon tickets - meaning their seats would have been sold, but empty. This was surely a shock to the cast of the popular musical, who would have been used to playing to a completely full house, but because of the chaos of Hurricane Sandy, likely found themselves looking at a half-attended theater, despite the fact that the show was technically sold out.
Broadway's total monetary loss that week was considerable, as total ticket sales dropped to less than $14 million for the week (previous weeks had been around $20 million). Fortunately, though, with the holiday season around the corner, the Great White Way managed to get back to business as usual within a few weeks.