New York’s famed Broadway theater district resumes shows on Tuesday for the first time in 20 months, with big hitters Hamilton, The Lion King and Wicked all back on stage.
The 41 theaters of Midtown Manhattan’s Theater District are once again welcoming guests, after intense rehearsals and testing of equipment and costumes left untouched for nearly two years during COVID closures.
Both theatergoers and performers must be fully vaccinated to participate, and everyone must also wear a mask unless they are eating or drinking.
But the road to get back on the podium has been long and difficult.
Theaters were closed on March 12, 2020, leaving the sets, costumes and performers untouched for 18 months.
Hamilton, which opened six years ago, Wicked, which opened 17 years ago, and The Lion King, which opened 23 years ago, are the foundation of modern Broadway, virtually immune to downturns, shifts in tourism, and rivals.
They are scheduled to return to the stage today with a full audience.
The Broadway show Waitress, starring Sara Bareilles (pictured in a yellow apron) is one of several shows back on stage as Broadway reopens this month
Performers on the Pass Over stage (now playing) had to get the show up and running. Many Broadway performers had to work hard to get their bodies, stamina and voice back in shape after an 18-month absence
Another big step for Broadway is the reopening of TKTS booths in Time Square, where visitors can get discounted tickets to shows the same day or the next day.
“It’s such a big step forward,” said Victoria Bailey, executive director of the non-profit Theater Development Fund, which runs the stand. ‘To get it open and such a symbol for people that theater is coming back.’
De Blasio also called tonight a “big night for New York City’s comeback.”
Despite the comeback, shows like Six — a reimagining of Henry VIII’s six wives as pop stars — had to completely redo their costumes, despite being wrapped in blankets for safekeeping, according to The New York Times. The show’s plastic-and-foil costumes were destroyed, and the bright and pretty shades faded into dingy pastels from being locked up for so long.
Other shows like Hamilton took the time to upgrade lighting and technology while also doing a thorough cleaning of the theater.
American Utopia moved to a new theater, causing the show to completely rebuild the set and curtains to fit the new stage; and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child brought the two-part show together in one sitting.
Crews test every light, turn on all the equipment and pray it works before the crowd fills the seats again.
“We didn’t want to be in a situation where we would have problems after the public comes back,” Guy Kwan, who works for Juniper Street Productions, told The New York Times.
“If you turn your car or computer off for 18 months and then turn it back on, you don’t know what problems you might encounter.”
A costume store employee had to repair one of the outfits featured in The Phantom of the Opera. Other shows like Six – a reimagining of Henry VII’s six wives as pop stars – found their patrons dingy and unusable after being wrapped in blankets for so long
An actor stands in an empty theater wearing a mask as performers prepare to reopen. It cost shows between $1.4 million and $4 million to rehearse
However, the biggest hurdles theaters face in reopening are the performers.
Untrained and out of shape, performers have been given limited time to get back to eight shows a week six nights a week.
Many shows have opted for vocal training classes for their performers through Columbia University and New York University.
Artist Kevin Clay, who worked on several productions of The Book Of Mormon before settling into Trader Joe’s orbit when the shutdown happened, was used to pushing himself physically and mentally to get ready for the show.
“I was doing the show eight times a week and training five days a week, and then I went from that to nothing,” Kevin Clay told The New York Times.
He, like many artists, fears they may get back into pre-lockdown form and it’s been an uphill battle to do so, especially as he’s continued to avoid the gym due to COVID fears.
“I was much more nervous than excited because I couldn’t shake the thought that I would never get back to where I was. It wasn’t until we had the whole show from start to finish and I was feeling good that I was like, “OK, now I can see it and I’m excited to keep going until we get there.”
Performers smiled on opening night as theaters reopened in early September. Many had to retrain their voice and body to be ready for the shows
However, just as the excitement settles, so does the fear of another lockdown.
With the Delta variant taking its toll in the US, many performers fear theaters will shut down again as the colder months approach.
“Every day I just wait for an email or a phone call or another big shutdown,” Samantha Pauly, who plays Katherine Howard in Six, told The New York Times. “I think a lot of people think that way, unfortunately.”
A new lockdown could put thousands of artists out of work again. Not to mention the estimated $1.4 million to $4 million it costs to rehearse shows, according to the Broadway League.
That was a struggle in itself, with rehearsal facilities accustomed to welcoming only a few soon-to-be-opening shows at a time and suddenly being confronted with every play on Broadway seeking space.
Audience members, as well as actors, must be fully vaccinated to attend shows, in accordance with NYC guidelines
Theatergoers trickled in as theaters reopened. Audiences can expect a more diverse collection of shows – including seven new plays from Black playwrights
In addition to the expensive cost of retraining everyone, Broadway has lost five shows, including Frozen and Mean Girls, both of which opted for touring.
Despite losing large numbers, blockbusters Hamilton, Hadestown and the new show Six are reportedly selling strongly, despite the Broadway League choosing not to disclose ticket sales figures this year.
Regular plays without music numbers would do less well. Two-thirds of people who come to shows are mostly tourists, but ongoing travel bans have drastically reduced the number of visitors to New York from abroad, forcing theater promoters to advertise for seasoned theatergoers in the Northeast.
As audiences pour into theaters, they’ll notice more than just new stages, but a more diversified cast and crew.
The Hadestown band has made a public pledge to diversify its band, with members pledging that two of their five replacements are people of color.
In addition, seven new works are making their way to Broadway written by black playwrights, and some theaters are even named after black performers.
Broadway is back up and running and here’s the list of shows joining the lineup
Broadway is back and ready to perform 44 shows between now and March 2022.
Here’s the list of what’s coming to Broadway through October.
- Pass Over – Until October 10
- The lionking
- Lackawanna Blues – Opening Night: September 28
End of September:
- Six – Previews begin: September 17, opening night: October 3
- American Utopia – September 17
- Come From Far – September 21
- Chicken & Biscuits – Previews begin: September 23, opening night: October 10
- Moulin Rouge – September 24
- Is This A Room – Previews begin: September 24, opening night: October 1
- The Lehman Trilogy – Previews Begin: September 25, Opening Night: October 14
- Aladdin – September 28
- Thoughts of a Man of Color – Previews Begin: October 1 Opening Night: October 31
- Dana H. – Previews begin: October 1 Opening night: October 17
- To Kill a Mockingbird – October 5
- Freestyle Love Supreme – October 7
- Tina – October 8
- Caroline, of Change – Previews begin: October 8, opening night: October 27
- Girl from the North – October 13
- Ain’t Too Proud – October 16
- Jagged Little Pill – October 21
- mrs. Doubtfire – Previews begin: October 21, opening night: December 5
- The Phantom of the Opera – October 22
- Trouble in Mind – Previews begin: October 29, opening night: November 8