“There is no higher priority for the Michael Cassel Group than the safety and welfare of our employees, patrons and others connected to the international tour of The Lion King,” a statement from the promoter read. “We have a responsibility to provide a safe environment for our audiences and a safe workplace for our employees. This is something we will not compromise on.”
A similar fate has struck an Australian production of Broadway hit Come From Away, which is scheduled to open in Shanghai on May 8 at SAIC-Shanghai Culture Square. Tickets remain on-sale but the venue’s website states it is closed due to health concerns. The show, which closes in Melbourne on March 21, was to play a season in China ahead of its Sydney season launch in August in order to provide consistent employment for its cast and crew.
Sydney pop singer Ruel, who was scheduled to perform in Beijing and Shanghai next week, also rescheduled dates from the Asian leg of his Free Time World Tour to September, citing “the numerous travel restrictions being put in place as a result of the coronavirus”.
But even performers and productions who’ve so far side-stepped scrapped dates are facing obstacles.
Torben Brookman is co-owner of GWB Entertainment, the company producing Matilda on its Asian tour. The show is due to perform in Macau in April but the venue is closed indefinitely.
“We’re working through that situation; we’ve got a little bit of time,” Brookman said. “We’re having to consider all options at the moment. We haven’t made the call one way or another.”
The cast from Matilda are arriving in the Philippines this week ahead of the show opening in Manila on March 5. Despite logistical challenges with flight cancellations due to the virus, Brookman said “that season is very much progressing”.
The challenge for theatre producers is that rescheduling a tour becomes a complex juggling act since venues and cast and crew members have been locked in months and years in advance.
“It’s not a matter of saying this season isn’t proceeding so we’ll reschedule to three months down the track,” Brookman said. “Most of these tours book sometimes 10 months to 24 months in advance.”
He said the coronavirus fears were having an impact on ticket sales in Asia and the past three months in Australia had also been “pretty tough” due to the bushfires.
“Any time there’s uncertainty, whether it’s leading up to an election or economic uncertainty, all of those times are challenging for selling tickets… It will be interesting to see how long the tail on this is and how long it is on people’s minds for,” Brookman said. “When times get tough entertainment becomes more important for people everywhere.”
The continued spread of the COVID-19 virus through Asia and into Europe, following a sudden spike in Italy, coupled with growing travel restrictions, also leaves vulnerable local music promoters bringing in touring artists. But they’re wary of overreacting.
“It’s not really a concern at this point in time,” said Brinley Stanovsek, marketing manager of Melbourne-based Handsome Tours. Frontier Touring also said the virus had not impacted any upcoming or planned tours in Australia.
Robert Moran is a culture reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age
Josh Dye is a news reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald.