- Associated Press - Friday, August 26, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - Theater producers in New York decided not to mess with Hurricane Irene’s drama and canceled weekend shows both on and off-Broadway.

All Broadway musicals and plays have been canceled for Saturday and Sunday, as well as “Zarkana” by Cirque du Soleil at Radio City Music Hall and Lincoln Center Theater’s “War Horse.”

It’s the first time Broadway has shut down for an emergency since the blackout in 2003.

When New York officials announced that the city’s transit system will shut down beginning Saturday afternoon, theater closures became unavoidable. Refunds or exchanges were being made.

“The safety and security of theatergoers and employees is everyone’s primary concern,” Paul Libin, chairman of the national trade association the Broadway League, said in a statement.

Other venues announced closings, including 59E59 Theaters and the off-Broadway complex New World Stages, which is home to “Rent,” “Avenue Q” and “Million Dollar Quartet.”

Organizers of The New York International Fringe Festival, which has been offering almost 200 small shows downtown over the past few weeks, also canceled all events Saturday and Sunday, including its closing night party.

Irene is expected to hit North Carolina’s coast sometime Saturday and track up the East Coast. The National Weather Service has issued a hurricane watch for New York City, and the storm is expected to come closest to the city sometime Sunday.