Broadway is back — How spending an evening watching a tragedy left me feeling hopeful
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The lights dimmed, and the excited chatter quieted as the cast took the stage. André De Shields sauntered out in his shiny suit, a smirk on his face and a twinkle in his eye. He looked out into the crowd for the first time in more than a year and ever so slowly opened his arms wide.
A deafening roar of applause overtook the theater before the first note was played. And as a woman yelled “Welcome home!” from the audience, we all felt a small puzzle piece slot back into place.
Broadway is officially back.
Sept. 14 marked the return of Broadway in New York City. While some shows invited audiences back to performances earlier in August and September, Tuesday night was the first time theaters were open to full capacity.
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Masks were required throughout the performance unless you were actively eating or drinking, and proof of vaccination was required to enter theaters.
I went to see the 2021 debut of “Hadestown,” a retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice’s tragic love story from Greek mythology. What better way to celebrate my birthday than experiencing the return of Broadway?
What it was like with the new COVID-19 precautions
Despite the packed theater, I felt safe at the performance. Everyone wore their masks without issues; I only witnessed an attendant have to politely remind someone to put their mask back on after finishing their drink once, and the guest was polite and complied.
Because of the additional entry requirements, I arrived a bit early at Walter Kerr Theatre, expecting a long line similar to other concerts and comedy shows I’ve been to in recent weeks. But I was pleasantly surprised by the efficiency in which the theater staff ushered guests through the door.
A queue with clearly defined lines and multiple attendants wrapped around the side of the building to keep people from clogging the sidewalk in front of the building. Three separate lanes moved quickly as staff checked over proof of vaccination and ID cards. Once you were checked, you entered the theater as usual through a bag checking line and the metal detector.
The different checkpoints in the entry process were all spaced out, which meant no jammed lines and easy social distancing.
While everyone was required to wear a mask, I didn’t witness any unruly guests or argumentative ticketholders. Everyone was already masked up as we shuffled through the line — a refreshing change from other events I’ve attended this summer.
Once inside, you were directed to your seating area, and the magic began.
A warm welcome back
It’s hard to adequately explain the energy in the theater. Electrifying, emotional…hopeful.
Broadway theaters have always existed almost on an entirely different plane of existence than the rest of the world. When you walk through those doors and take your seats, you’re transported into a story and the outside world ceases to exist for a few hours.
More than a year of closed doors didn’t change that inexplicable feeling — in fact, it only magnified it.
The hope in the air was tangible — hope for these two lovebirds we all watched with rapture, but also hope for our own futures. Broadway reopening is a milestone toward that new normal we’ve all been constantly reaching for during the past year and a half.
And while the pandemic isn’t over, the fact that we could welcome back beloved actors, actresses and musicians to the stage was an emotional reminder that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
According to Brian Kelly, his experience at “Hamilton” a few blocks away was just as uplifting.
“The energy was like nothing I’ve experienced,” he said.
Lin Manuel Miranda opened the performance to thank the frontline workers who helped get us this far. The audience was polite and clearly thankful to be back. The performance saw four standing ovations.
A handful of prominent shows reopened last night — including “The Lion King” and “Wicked.” Kristin Chenoweth, who played Glinda in the original cast of “Wicked,” opened the night with a thank you to the cast, crew and all of the theater workers who bring these stories to life.
“There’s no place like home,” she said.
And whether you were in the Gershwin Theatre to see “Wicked,” the Richard Rodgers Theatre for “Hamilton” or the Walter Kerr Theatre like me to see “Hadestown,” it was nothing short of incredible to welcome the cast and crew back home.
Featured photo by Madison Blancaflor/The Points Guy.
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