Technically speaking, Broadway has been in the process of “reopening” following its lengthy COVID-19 shutdown for quite some time already. “Springsteen on Broadway” and “Pass Over” played Broadway over the summer, while the musicals “Hadestown” and “Waitress” returned earlier this month. And looking ahead, the reopening process will continue through the end of the fall.
But for all intents and purposes, Broadway, as one of New York City’s iconic commercial and cultural institutions, reopened on Tuesday night with the simultaneous return of four blockbuster musicals – “Hamilton,” “The Lion King,” “Wicked” and “Chicago” – plus the first preview performance of Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s one-man show “Lackawanna Blues.” To mark the occasion, I went theater-hopping to catch as many pre-curtain speeches and opening numbers (many of which can also be viewed on social media) as possible.
Kristin Chenoweth, who originated the role of the good witch Glinda in 2003, made surprise appearance before the show and quoted Dorothy: “There’s no place like home.” The packed audience at the Gershwin Theatre then proceeded to cheer and roar throughout the opening number, especially when Glinda (currently played by Ginna Claire Mason) said her well-known first line: “It’s good to see me, isn’t it?” At curtain call, songwriter Stephen Schwartz appeared with the cast.
The Lion King
Stage and film director Julie Taymor took off her face mask and gave a precurtain speech thanking the reopening night audience for having “the desire, the enthusiasm, the courage to lead the way because as we know, theater in New York is the lifeblood and soul of the city.” She quoted various lyrics and lines from the show, even one from Rafiki (“It is time”), and suggested that wearing face masks made sense at “The Lion King” since the performers in the show wear masks and carry puppets to represent wild animals. The crowd-pleasing opening number, “The Circle of Life,” was streamed live on TikTok.
Before the curtain rose, director Walter Bobbie paid tribute to his collaborator, Ann Reinking, who died in December. Reinking choreographed the long-running revival in the style of Bob Fosse and played Roxie Hart opposite Bebe Neuwirth’s Velma Kelly when it opened in 1996. “Tonight, Ann Reinking, wherever you are, you are on this stage,” Bobbie said. The show will celebrate its 25th anniversary in December.
Three hours before the show began, Lin-Manuel Miranda appeared outside the Richard Rodgers Theatre to host a live edition of the “Ham4Ham” show. He marked the occasion by singing “New York, New York” with cast members of “Hamilton,” “Wicked” and “The Lion King.” Later, in his precurtain speech, Miranda made a point of thanking frontline workers and The Actors Fund for its support of the theater community during the pandemic. He also quipped that wearing face masks allowed audience members to mouth along to the show as much as they desired.
Manhattan Theatre Club officially reopened the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Theater officials were joined by S. Epatha Merkerson, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney. “I am really, really grateful that I get to be an audience member tonight, and I get to feel that hope and joy that they’re going to be spreading to the entire crowd,” Mitchell said.