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Broadway’s back! End of the intermission as Wicked, The Lion King and Hamilton reopen to huge cheers

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Broadway’s biggest musicals returned to the stage last night in front of rapturous audiences after 18 months away.

A number of special guests made surprise appearances as the curtains rose to mark the reopening of Hamilton, The Lion King, Chicago and Wicked as emotions ran high among the cast and crowd.

Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda received a standing ovation when he appeared on stage before the start of his Tony Award-winning hip-hop show about America’s founding fathers.

The Lion King cast appear at the curtain call following their first show back after the Covid-19 shutdown, at the Minskoff Theatre

Audience cheer for the actors at the Richard Rogers theater at the end of the first return performance of Hamilton

Audience cheer for the actors at the Richard Rogers theater at the end of the first return performance of Hamilton

Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda received a standing ovation when he appeared on stage before the start of his Tony Award-winning hip-hop show

Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda received a standing ovation when he appeared on stage before the start of his Tony Award-winning hip-hop show

Chicago along with three other major musicals reopened after being closed for 18 months due to the coronavirus pandemic

Chicago along with three other major musicals reopened after being closed for 18 months due to the coronavirus pandemic

Fighting back tears, the star told the crowd: ‘I don’t ever want to take live theater for granted ever again, do you? It’s so sacred. 

‘I’m so grateful to you and I hope you go see as many shows as you can and keep supporting our industry.’ 

Meanwhile Kristin Chenoweth surprised the crowd at Wicked by appearing onstage for a speech on the same stage where she became a star years ago. 

‘There’s no place like home,’ she said, lifting a line from the musical. The emotional crowd hooted, hollered and gave her a standing ovation. 

At The Lion King, director and costume-designer Julie Taymor congratulated her audience for the courage and enthusiasm to lead the way. ‘Theater, as we know, is the lifeblood and soul of the city,’ she said. ‘It’s time for us to live again.’ 

Actors greet the audience at Hamilton as the musical about founding father Alexander Hamilton returned to rapturous applause

Actors greet the audience at Hamilton as the musical about founding father Alexander Hamilton returned to rapturous applause

Audience pose for pictures as they exit the Richard Rogers theater at the end of the first return performance of Hamilton

Audience pose for pictures as they exit the Richard Rogers theater at the end of the first return performance of Hamilton

Kristin Chenoweth surprised the crowd at Wicked by appearing onstage for a speech on the same stage where she became a star years ago

Kristin Chenoweth surprised the crowd at Wicked by appearing onstage for a speech on the same stage where she became a star years ago

Broadway was one of the first institutions to close when the pandemic hit in mid-March 2020 and is the last to re-open in the United States. 

At The Lion King, the opening song The Circle of Life was virtually drowned out by cheers and clapping, while every star in Hamilton had to pause to let the entrance applause die down enough to be heard again. 

Richard Saenz, who was in the audience for The Lion King, said: ‘I didn’t think I would be so emotional, but you really felt everything in such a different way coming back in. Being back on Broadway was amazing.’ 

It has taken months to upgrade air filter systems and audiences, actors, musicians and backstage crew must show proof of full vaccinations and wear masks.

Ticketholders to all three mega-hits had to prove they were fully vaccinated with an FDA- or WHO-authorized vaccine

Ticketholders to all three mega-hits had to prove they were fully vaccinated with an FDA- or WHO-authorized vaccine

Broadway was one of the first institutions to close when the pandemic hit in mid-March 2020 and is the last to re-open in the United States

Broadway was one of the first institutions to close when the pandemic hit in mid-March 2020 and is the last to re-open in the United States

Every star in Hamilton had to pause to let the entrance applause die down enough to be heard again

Every star in Hamilton had to pause to let the entrance applause die down enough to be heard again

Linda Diane Polichetti, an usher at Hamilton, said she was proud to back at work. ‘I’m just glad to be back because the world I was in, I wasn’t recognizing,’ she said. ‘I love my show. I love my cast.’

Ticketholders to all three mega-hits had to prove they were fully vaccinated with an FDA- or WHO-authorized vaccine and masks must be worn at all times, except when eating or drinking in designated areas.

Vaccine checkers in bright T-shirts inspected phones and cards as the crowds made their way into the theaters. 

‘Thank you for getting vaccinated and wearing a mask,’ Miranda said, to roars of approval. 

The crowds were very compliant with the new rules, only lowering their masks for the obligatory selfie. 

Taymor joked in her speech that the performers often wear masks. ‘Guess what? You get to wear masks tonight.’

At The Lion King, the opening song The Circle of Life was virtually drowned out by cheers and clapping

At The Lion King, the opening song The Circle of Life was virtually drowned out by cheers and clapping

All Broadway shows are requiring patrons be vaccinated and masked except when eating or drinking

All Broadway shows are requiring patrons be vaccinated and masked except when eating or drinking

At The Lion King, director and costume-designer Julie Taymor congratulated her audience for the courage and enthusiasm to lead the way

At The Lion King, director and costume-designer Julie Taymor congratulated her audience for the courage and enthusiasm to lead the way

Before the pandemic, Hamilton, The Lion King and Wicked were the biggest box office earners, each taking in more than $1million a week before 40 theaters were forced shut, throwing thousands of actors, stagehands, musicians and dancers out of work.

‘Every single nerve is tingling with joy and world peace. How lucky we are to be back at work,’ Hamilton producer Jeffrey Seller said on Tuesday.

‘It has been 700,000, 100 and 25 minutes since we’ve last been able to perform for a live audience.’

Musicals Hadestown and Waitress returned 10 days ago, and the first new play, Pass Over, opened its doors in August. The discount TKTS ticket booth in Times Square also re-opened on Tuesday.

Actors across Broadway say they’re itching to get back on stage after more than a year of waiting, trusting the health experts to make the process safe. The bulk of Broadway’s theaters will be reopened by Thanksgiving. 

Before the pandemic, Hamilton, The Lion King and Wicked were the biggest box office earners

Before the pandemic, Hamilton, The Lion King and Wicked were the biggest box office earners

Another sign that Broadway is inching back to normalcy is the re-opening of the famed TKTS booth in the heart of Times Square

Another sign that Broadway is inching back to normalcy is the re-opening of the famed TKTS booth in the heart of Times Square

Friends Adam Schaefer and Isabella Phillips of Philadelphia attend the opening of Wicked at the Gershwin Theatre

Friends Adam Schaefer and Isabella Phillips of Philadelphia attend the opening of Wicked at the Gershwin Theatre

The crowds were very compliant with the new rules, only lowering their masks for the obligatory selfie

The crowds were very compliant with the new rules, only lowering their masks for the obligatory selfie

Another dozen musicals and plays will re-open during September, bringing back one of the city’s biggest cultural attractions.

City authorities hope their return will spur tourism and revitalize once-crowded restaurants, bars and hotels near Times Square.

‘It’s a little bit like when you’re on an airplane and there’s turbulence,’ said Sharon Wheatley, a veteran actor in the show Come From Away, which resumes its Broadway run September 21. 

‘I have to trust the pilot, I have to trust the air traffic controllers. I feel nervous, but I have to understand that I don’t know as much as these people do.’

Hamilton, which opened six years ago, Wicked, which opened 17 years ago and The Lion King, which opened 23 years ago, form the bedrock of modern Broadway, virtually immune to downturns, shifts in tourism and rivals.

Another dozen musicals and plays will re-open during September, bringing back one of the city's biggest cultural attractions

Another dozen musicals and plays will re-open during September, bringing back one of the city’s biggest cultural attractions

City authorities hope their return will spur tourism and revitalize once-crowded restaurants, bars and hotels near Times Square

City authorities hope their return will spur tourism and revitalize once-crowded restaurants, bars and hotels near Times Square

Hamilton, which opened six years ago, Wicked, which opened 17 years ago and The Lion King, which opened 23 years ago, form the bedrock of modern Broadway

Hamilton, which opened six years ago, Wicked, which opened 17 years ago and The Lion King, which opened 23 years ago, form the bedrock of modern Broadway

Another sign that Broadway is inching back to normalcy is the re-opening of the famed TKTS booth in the heart of Times Square, where visitors can get same-day and some next-day discount Broadway and off-Broadway tickets.

‘It’s such a big step forward,’ said Victoria Bailey, executive director of the nonprofit Theatre Development Fund, which runs the booth. ‘To get it open and such a symbol to people that theater is coming back.’

Bailey says Broadway’s return will be less like a flick of a light switch and more like a dimmer, with a slow build to regular attendance. ‘We’ll know so much more in two or three weeks, but you can’t swim unless you can start by dog-paddling.’

During the pandemic, Miranda saw his visionary show turned into a critically hailed filmed version for Disney+, but said there no substitute for seeing it live.

‘It’s one thing to see something on the screen. And I’m thrilled Hamilton was was available on a screen in a time when we couldn’t go to a theater. 

‘But I’m even more thrilled that now it can be experienced the way it was meant to, live in front of an audience, the final collaborator every night.’

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