Broadway is back, but is it back to normal?

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People pass through the busy streets of New York, where the Lion King is being shown. Photo by Vlad Alexandru Popa/Pexels

After more than a year in the dark, the bright lights of Broadway are back on and brighter than ever … or at least on the path to be. The COVID-19 pandemic first shuttered the doors of all 41 Broadway theaters in Midtown Manhattan on March 12, 2020. Initial predictions hoped for a return to Broadway in the fall of 2020, which was subsequently pushed to January  2021, then to June and finally to September. 

In May, New York lawmakers gave the go-ahead for Broadway productions to reopen at full capacity by Sept. 14, with some projects given special permission to open before Labor Day weekend. “Hadestown,” the smash-hit musical and winner of eight Tony Awards — including Best Musical — reopened on Thursday, Sept. 2, alongsidethe limited-run revival of “Waitress” with composer Sara Bareilles in the lead role. Of course, the word “revival” should be used loosely here, as the original production closed not too long before the pandemic hit. But now is not a good time to discourage any theatrical works in whatever form they may take.

Both productions opened to packed houses, however, with stringent health and safety regulations imposed to ensure Broadway’s reopening is permanent rather than temporary. Upon arrival, audience members are required to present vaccination cards and ID verification. Face masks are required throughout the duration of the musical or play, and patrons are not allowed to wait by the stage door for pictures or autographs from the cast members.

Some productions are even reworking their entire shows to better accommodate COVID-19 precautions. Several of themhave removed the intermission and condensed the show, so there are fewer chances for COVID-19 transmission throughout the performance. “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” New York and London’s hot-ticket play before the shutdown, used to perform in two parts, with audiences attending the first part in the afternoon and the second in the evening. To prevent audiences from needing to be screened twice upon arrival, the show has been condensed into a one-act play, though the creative team assures the fantastical magic audiences first fell in love with will remain. This redone production will take its first bow on Nov. 12.

While these regulations and reworkings may seem disheartening to any theater fans itching to get back to Broadway, the COVID-conscious reopening is certainly a step in the right direction. New York is just as ready for Broadway to be back as we are. Interestingly enough, Manhattan’s theater industry contributes $11.9 billion annually to the New York City economy, not to mention the business theater-goers bring to the restaurants, shops and hotels of Times Square and its adjacent neighborhoods. Essentially, the Big Apple is counting on Broadway as the final piece of the puzzle to rebuild its economy.

Musical juggernauts “Wicked,” “The Lion King” and “Hamilton,” will return on Sept. 14, alongside Broadway’s longest-running American musical, “Chicago.” These familiar faces will be joined by a slate of new musicals planning to open this fall, including “Flying Over Sunset,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Diana” and “MJ: The Michael Jackson Musical.” “Six,” the British-import chronicling the lives of the wives of King Henry VIII, is a particularly anticipated musical for the New York audience that was just 90 minutes away from its opening night performance when the Broadway shutdown was announced.

Some favorites not returning, however, include “Mean Girls,” the recent revival of “West Side Story” and “Frozen.” It seems that even Disney could not afford to keep the lights on during the dark days of the pandemic.

Though it has been a long road to get to this point, Broadway is back and ready for a revival. We can only hope that as the stage lights turn back on over the next few weeks, they will burn brightly for decades to come without any more interruptions.

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