The longest shutdown in Broadway history is over.
They are not the first shows to restart, nor the only ones, but they are enormous theatrical powerhouses that have come to symbolize the industry’s strength and reach, and their return to the stage is a signal that theater is back.
Of course, this moment comes with substantial asterisks. The pandemic is not over. Tourists are not back. And no one knows how a long stretch without live theater might affect consumer behavior.
But theater owners, producers, nonprofits and labor unions have collectively decided that it’s time to move forward. The reopening of Broadway comes as a variety of other performing arts venues, in New York and around the country, are also resuming in-person, indoor performances: In the days and weeks to come the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, New York City Ballet, Carnegie Hall and the Brooklyn Academy of Music will all start their new seasons.
“Broadway, and all of the arts and culture of the city, express the life, the energy, the diversity, the spirit of New York City,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference Tuesday. “It’s in our heart and soul. It’s also so much of what people do to make a living in this town. And that makes us great. So, this is a big night for New York City’s comeback.”
Those attending shows on Broadway will find the experience changed: every show is requiring proof of vaccination (patrons under 12 can provide a negative coronavirus test) and every patron must be masked.
Even before tonight, four shows had begun: “Springsteen on Broadway,” which had 30 performances between June and September, as well as a new play, “Pass Over,” and two returning musicals, “Hadestown” and “Waitress,” all of which are still running. None has missed a performance; “Waitress” managed to keep going even after a cast member tested positive by deploying an understudy.
The returning blockbusters opening tonight will be joined by “Chicago,” a beloved musical which this year marks 25 years on Broadway, and a new production of “Lackawanna Blues,” an autobiographical play by Ruben Santiago-Hudson.
At stake is the health of an industry that, before the pandemic, had been enjoying a sustained boom. During the last full Broadway season before the outbreak, from 2018 to 2019, 14.8 million people attended a show — that’s more people than the combined attendance for the Mets, Yankees, Rangers, Islanders, Knicks, Liberty, Giants, Jets, Devils and Nets, according to the Broadway League. And that attendance translated to real money — the industry grossed $1.83 billion that season.
This season is sure to be different. The League is concerned enough about revenue that it has decided not to disclose box office grosses this season.
Lin-Manuel Miranda felt joyful seeing Elmo in Times Square.
Julie Taymor sees visual poetry in a moment where the audience, as well as her characters, are masked.
And Stephen Schwartz is just happy to see audiences again.
The creative minds behind “Hamilton,” “The Lion King” and “Wicked” are delighted that their shows are running again. But, even more important, they’re relieved that theater is back.
“People are ready,” said Taymor, the director of “The Lion King,” “and it’s time.”
Schwartz, the composer and lyricist of “Wicked,” said the long months of streaming have been no substitute for live theater.
“The thing about live theater is it’s a community, not just onstage, but with the audience the whole theater becomes a community, and we’ve just really really missed that,” he said. “You can’t equal that experience on screens — on little screens or even big screens — it’s just not the same as live people and a live audience and what happens every night between them and among them in that theater. That’s irreplaceable.”
The three creators spoke to The New York Times in a joint interview Tuesday afternoon as they prepared for their own shows to open. They had decided to open on the same night to call attention to Broadway and to signal that the industry is open, ready for visitors and prioritizing safety (all theatergoers must be vaccinated, except children under 12, and masked).
“Broadway is a huge part of New York City — what defines New…
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