There are many ways you’re going to know that New York has recovered from Covid. New businesses will pop up, restaurants will re-open, kids will be back in the schools and parks, and many tourist attractions – from the MET to Little Italy – will be teeming with people again. The Mets, Yankees, Jets, Giants, Nets, Knicks, Rangers and Islanders will play to full houses again, (depending on their records). In the fall people will flood to Central Park and in the winter they will ice skate again at Rockefeller Center. But perhaps there is no surer way to understand that the Big Apple is fully recovered than to have the Broadway theaters open again.
On April 4th NY PopsUp, the statewide initiative designed to celebrate and reinvigorate the arts in New York, presented the very first performance inside a Broadway theater for more than a year. This special event was part of the “pilot program” created by The Festival as a large-scale model for how to bring live performance back safely after this prolonged COVID-related shutdown. The venue was the legendary St. James Theatre, the 1700 seat house on 44th Street, home to some of the monster hits of Broadway, including Hello, Dolly!, On The Twentieth Century and Frozen. The limited audience was comprised of mostly front line workers affiliated with The Actors Fund and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
Taking stage for the special performance were two of Broadway’s greatest stars; three time Tony Award winner Nathan Lane and Tony Award winner Savion Glover. The show was directed by legendary director Jerry Zaks. Mr. Lane performed Playbills, a new monologue by playwright Paul Rudnick about a man who has spent the last year cooped up in his studio apartment, laid off from his job and desperately missing his greatest passion: going to the theater. Yearning to be part of an audience again, to experience an event, he shares a true, near-miraculous story, which has given him hope for the city, the world, the TKTS booth and – at long last – a seat on the aisle. Mr. Lane is well known to Broadway audiences from his numerous performances in shows such as Guys and Dolls, The Producers and November as well as memorable film roles in The Birdcage and The Lion King.
Savion Glover performed a special tap piece that channeled his personal experience of a life in the theater, allowing the audience to reflect on what Broadway was, what Broadway is, and what Broadway will be again. He performed to songs from A Chorus Line and Cats and showed off his unique skills to an audience which had been starved for theatrical entertainment for way too long. Mr. Glover performed in and choreographed the long running musical Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk, which began at the Public Theatre before moving to Broadway and running over 1100 performances.
In the 2017/2018 season Broadway brought in $1.83 billion dollars in ticket sales alone. People who attend Broadway shows tend to eat at nearby restaurants and tourists who fly in for Broadway shows tend to stay at nearby hotels. Broadway is more than just entertainment for the city of New York, it is a vital and, until Covid hit, thriving source of revenue. NY PopsUp is an unprecedented and expansive festival featuring hundreds of pop-up performances (many of which are free of charge and all open to the public) that intersect with the daily lives of New Yorkers, as announced by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. The series of events, intended to revitalize the spirit and well-being of New York citizens with the energy of live performance while jumpstarting New York’s live entertainment sector, is a collaborative private / public partnership developed by producers Scott Rudin and Jane Rosenthal, in coordination with the New York State Council on the Arts and Empire State Development. It was launched on Saturday, February 20th and will run through Labor Day.
All photos courtesy of Nina Westervelt