Economic Impact of SARS Prompts Toronto Producers to Shut Down Mamma Mia! for Summer

News   Economic Impact of SARS Prompts Toronto Producers to Shut Down Mamma Mia! for Summer The Toronto hit, Mamma Mia!, will go on a summer hiatus July 2-Sept. 29 due to fears that business will slump because of SARS, the communicable disease that has, according to The World Health Organization, had an impact the Canadian city.

The hiatus was announced late June 4.

Only days earlier, Toronto producers Ed and David Mirvish (who also present Mamma Mia!) announced The Lion King would close in September at the Princess of Wales Theatre, but the phrase Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was not attached to that announcement. The loss of Mamma Mia! would leave the market with one major musical for Torontonians and tourists to focus on this summer. The Mamma shutdown, unintentionally, would be a boon for Lion King, which is on its last legs.

"With the collapse of tourism this summer along with the local community away on vacation from the city, the hiatus is necessary for the long-term viability of Mamma Mia!," Mirvish Productions said in a statement Thursday.

The summer loss of the ABBA-song-filled Mamma Mia!, a huge hit and year-round crowd-pleaser, is something of a shock, particularly since it comes from producers who marketed their shows very aggressively when the shadow of SARS appeared earlier this year. Some tourists may view the Mirvish move as a legitimization of the fears.

In April, when The World Health Organization advised people that Toronto should be visited only for essential business, the local tourism community (including the Mirvishes, who operate several shows and venues) cried foul. The Mirvishes ran a sale on tickets to encourage tourism and business. The WHO travel advisory was lifted a week later, when the outbreak was under control. A recent wave of cases in Toronto has prompted more fear, but according to the WHO website, there is no travel advisory warning people against visiting Toronto.

Originally booked for a limited six-month engagement, the North American premiere of Mamma Mia! met with enormous popularity when it first opened in Toronto in May 2000.  By the time the show takes its summer break, it will have played more than 1,300 sell-out performances. More than two million people have attended the staging. It is the longest-running show in the 96-year history of the Royal Alexandra Theatre.

"From its very first performance in Toronto, it was clear Mamma Mia! had struck a chord with audiences," David Mirvish, the owner of the Royal Alexandra, said in a statement. "While visitors were equally beguiled with the show, it was Torontonians who embraced Mamma Mia!, many seeing it two, three and four times."

French-Canadian actress Louise Pitre starred in the show in Toronto and moved to the Broadway staging, snagging a Tony Award nomination. She's still strutting her stuff as Donna in the show at Broadway's Winter Garden.

Tickets for Mamma Mia! are on sale for the period Sept. 30-Dec. 21. Those who hold tickets for previously scheduled summer performances at the Royal Alexandra Theatre between July 2 and Sept. 29, should call TicketKing at (416) 872-1212 or (800) 461-3333.

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The Toronto Star reported that WHO officials decided a travel advisory is not needed for Toronto although the city has 64 "active probable cases, four more than the minimum in the U.N. agency's travel advisory criteria."

For more information about SARS, visit www.who.org. For more information about Mirvish projects in Toronto, including the fall 2003 Toronto production of The Producers, visit www.mirvish.com.