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.
Three hours before showtime, Lin-Manuel Miranda — the “Hamilton” creator who wrote the music, book and lyrics for the hit musical — burst out of the front doors of the Richard Rodgers Theater with a bullhorn and was met with the shrieks and applause of a crowd gathered on West 46th Street.
He was there to lead a group of Broadway performers in a rendition of “Theme From ‘New York, New York,’” the anthem popularized by Frank Sinatra, creating a sort of mood-setting overture for the night ahead.
“Get a mask, get vaccinated and come see live theater!” said Miranda, who also played Alexander Hamilton in the original Broadway cast.
The appearance was not publicized until about 4 p.m., when Miranda tweeted a photo from inside the theater and announced a so-called Ham4Ham, which, before the pandemic, was a performance by “Hamilton” cast members outside the theater that accompanied a lottery for tickets to see the show. (There would be no free tickets today, Miranda said.)
Well, we’re in the building, so…
Hello hello hello! It’s a big night of re-openings on Broadway… Let’s do a live #Ham4Ham show like the old days? Richard Rodgers,
5PM (and live on FB/Instagram)…
just the show, no live lottery! See you outside in a few… -LMM pic.twitter.com/IaBmHbaKdf
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) September 14, 2021
Passers-by and Broadway superfans rushed to the scene as soon as they saw the social media announcement.
Eva Ferreira, a…