Broadway casts, crews and musicians were being told to show up for their 7:30 PM curtains, though some rehearsals Friday afternoon were cancelled.
At approximately 4:11 PM (ET) Aug. 14, a power outage left a sweaty New York, and millions of others in the northeastern United States, southern Ontario and parts of the Midwest, without air conditioning, lights, refrigeration and some public transit. It's been billed as the worst blackout in U.S. history.
The heart of American theatre stopped beating that night as stage managers and company managers made desperate calls to casts and crews to inform them the show wouldn't go on.
Calls from stage management went out to some companies shortly after noon Aug. 15, giving personnel plenty of time to find creative ways to get to the midtown theatre district.
Subways are halted and may not be operational well into the night, according to new reports the afternoon of Aug. 15. Buses have been packed, and cabs are busy. Theatre folk in outlying areas may very well be walking to their jobs. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has urged New Yorkers to stay home and allow services to be restored, but Broadway's mantra has traditionally been "the show must go on." There are tourists and ticketbuyers eager to be entertained the day after the largest blackout in U.S. history.
Ticketholders to Off-Broadway and other shows should inquire about the status of performances at the point of purchase.
Public radio announced Aug. 14 that those with Broadway tickets the night of Aug. 14 would get a chance to use them at a future date, but that could not be verified Aug. 15, when power came back on Queens, where Playbill On-Line offices operate out of the Playbill production center, where hardcopy Playbills are printed.
Life in New York was chaotic from the moment power failed. Communication in the hours after the blackout was difficult, even in the age of the cell phone. Some people reported an inability to leave or retrieve voice mails with cell phones. In homes, many people now have cordless phones that require power, which meant many phones were virtually dead if there households lacked multiple extensions. Old-fashioned phones that are plugged directly into phone jacks require no power.
Carol Linnea Johnson, a company member of Broadway's Mamma Mia! went to a drug store to buy a cheap plug-in phone so she could call out and let relatives know she wasn't stuck underground in a stalled subway car (from which people were evacuated over several hours' time) or in a darkened elevator (firefighters and building supers and handymen helped rescue the trapped).
Johnson said her stage management got through to her, but others couldn't be reached to hear official word that her show, like some two dozen Broadway shows also in the dark, was indeed dormant for the night.
Johnson improvised dinner that night: Instead of cooking with gas in a hot apartment, she and an actress friend ordered tacos from the streetside taco truck, an urban phenomenon. Mister Softee, the ubiquitous ice cream truck on New York streets, was doing a booming business, too.
Bars were busy, even though ice was running low and credit cards and cash registers could not be used properly.
All afternoon and into evening, cast and crew members of Broadway shows called stage management to see what the plan was. Artists and technicians who live in Westchester County and outlying areas knew at some point they would not be able to make it in even if power came on by 6 PM. Subways and train stations were jammed and local traffic was snarled by the loss of traffic lights.
Along with Broadway, shows Off-Broadway and in the scrappy New York International Fringe Festival were darkened. One imagines stories will emerge about Fringe shows going on with flashlights only. After all, local eateries were seen operating in little more than candlelight.
In Chelsea, at New York auditions for Seattle Rep's upcoming Misalliance, an actor was in mid-scene when the room went black. Another actor was freed from an elevator in the building.
Some shows did go on in the East Coast: In tiny Ivoryton, Connecticut, a staging of The Good Doctor was seen, although in the next town over, the lights were dead.