A stage production of “Frozen” made its international debut last month, as Disney resumes its worldwide theatrical roll-out.
“Frozen” opened on Dec. 10 in Sydney, Australia, where the show has been playing to mask-wearing audiences at 75% capacity. This is the first of five “Frozen” productions Disney plans to have running in 2021, and Disney Theatrical President Thomas Schumacher expects each to inform the eventual reopening of Broadway.
“It looks like we’ll be opening other parts of the world before Broadway opens,” Schumacher said. “And I think we’ll learn a lot by the time we get there.”
Planned “Frozen” productions in 2021 include a production in London in June, as well as in Tokyo, Hamburg and the resumption of the North American tour.
Of the Australian safety protocols, Schumacher, who supervised the opening after a 14-day quarantine, said he was most taken by the QR code check-in system, which was used during tech rehearsals to keep track of all members in the building. During regular performances, audience members are asked to register using QR codes before entering the theater. Schumacher sees this as a possibility for Broadway productions, both as a means of contract tracing and to ensure building safety.
Still, he notes that each theatrical locale will have different requirements for reopening. In New York, theaters will have to receive clearance from Gov. Cuomo to reopen and then may face further guidelines on vaccinations and rapid testing, Schumacher said.
“We don’t know what the obligations are going to be for the vaccine. We do not know what the obligation is going to be for testing,” he said.
The Australian production of “Frozen,” which began previews at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre on Dec. 1, was originally scheduled to open in July 2020, but was postponed due to the pandemic.
In addition to the QR-code system, the theater’s protocols include deep-cleaning the building after every performance, requiring audience members over the age of 12 to wear masks, setting specific arrival time windows for audience members and specifying the order in which they can exit the theater.
The plan was recently tested by a recent COVID-19 outbreak in the Northern Beaches area of Sydney. The outbreak led to the cancelation of “Frozen” for three days beginning the week of Dec. 21. Performances resumed Dec. 26. Audience members from the Northern Beaches area are currently being asked to reschedule their tickets for a later date.
Disney Theatrical praised the Australian government’s handling of the situation, while cautioning that shutdowns may be part of any reopening strategy.
“The impressive and thorough testing and tracing operation undertaken by the New South Wales government — which has allowed Sydney’s live entertainment to resume after a brief shutdown — is the latest demonstration of their strategic leadership during the pandemic. The fact is, these occasional pauses are the new normal as cities reopen theatres and we will always work closely with local leadership to protect our audiences, casts and employees,” Disney Theatrical said in a statement.
The theater was granted an exemption to play at 85% capacity, but has been thus far been limiting the audiences to 75% capacity to ensure audience safety — the limit for most theaters in Sydney. On the night of the first paid preview, Schumacher said it was “deeply moving” to see a responsive audience made up of patrons of all ages.
When Broadway does reopen, Disney Theatrical will be working to remount “Aladdin” and “The Lion King.” The company announced in May that its Broadway production of “Frozen” would not be returning.
“We made a choice, right off the bat, to not try to keep ‘Frozen’ and ‘Lion King’ and ‘Aladdin’ all on deck to reopen in New York, because I think we realized the depth of what we were facing pretty fast,” Schumacher said. “And it meant two things: one, with a reduced audience in New York, which I think is obvious, to have three Disney-branded shows that are in the family pocket is probably too much, but it also meant if we made the decision promptly, we could take those assets from New York and deploy them into other productions.”