LONDON (Reuters) - Shows including "Hamilton" and "Les Miserables" will not return to the London stage until 2021, producer Cameron Mackintosh said on Wednesday, blaming uncertainty over when the British government would lift social distancing measures.
Theatres, cinemas and other entertainment venues were shut down in March as part of efforts to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, which has claimed more lives in Britain than in any other European country.
An influential figure in London's West End entertainment district where he owns several theatres, Mackintosh has produced hit musicals for decades.
He said he had taken the "heart-breaking" decision to delay the return of his four current London shows, which also include "Mary Poppins" and "The Phantom of the Opera", to ensure that his business could survive.
The decision could lead to redundancies for all employees on the productions, and an internal consultation process had begun.
"Despite the government engaging with the desperate pleas from everyone in the theatre industry, so far there has been no tangible practical support beyond offers to go into debt which I don't want to do," he said in a statement.
"Their inability to say when the impossible constraints of social distancing will be lifted makes it equally impossible for us to properly plan for whatever the new future is."
Mackintosh said his companies' reserves had been massively depleted by the complete closure of the industry, and that he had to take drastic steps to ensure his shows could restart next year.
Culture minister Oliver Dowden said he had spoken to Mackintosh and others in the industry, and the government was working to resolve the challenges they faced.
"It is going to be exceptionally difficult for theatres to open consistent with social distancing, and that is why I continue to have discussions across government to see what further support we can give theatres," he said at a news conference.
(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Stephen Addison)