With tourism still significantly down due to the pandemic and heightened concerns over the Delta Variant, what can Broadway producers do to convince locals (including New Yorkers and tri-state area dwellers) to purchase tickets to Broadway shows – including for shows they may have already seen years ago?
The Broadway musicals resuming performances in September alone following the industrywide shutdown include “Hadestown,” “Waitress,” “Chicago,” “Hamilton,” “Wicked,” “The Lion King,” “Six,” “Come From Away,” and “Moulin Rouge!” – in addition to the mega-concert “American Utopia” and new plays “the Lehman Trilogy” and “Lackawanna Blues.”
Among other measures, producers appear to be drawing inspiration from two very successful video ad campaigns from the past that drummed up enthusiasm for Broadway during hard times: the wonderfully catchy and glitzy “I Love New York” campaign commercials of the 1970s and 1980s (which prominently featured Broadway shows such as “A Chorus Line” and “Cats”) and a poignant post-9/11 commercial in which hundreds of Broadway performers sang “New York, New York” together in solidarity in Times Square.
“This is Broadway,” a two-and-a-half-minute short film released online on Monday, is a dizzying and seductive montage of footage and photographs from 99 Broadway shows of the past and present featuring 735 actors – as well as Sandy the Dog from “Annie.” All the while, Oprah Winfrey narrates and makes a direct appeal to theatergoers on behalf of Broadway. “We can’t wait to welcome you home,” Winfrey says, against a soundtrack of familiar hits from “The Lion King,” “Hamilton” and “Wicked” (all three of which reopen on Sept. 14).
It cannot be denied that the jam-packed video is beautifully edited, with seamless transitions from Ben Vereen (the original Leading Player in “Pippin”) to Patina Miller (the Leading Player of the 2013 Broadway revival) and from James Earl Jones (original star of August Wilson’s “Fences”) to Denzel Washington (who led the 2010 Broadway revival).
In a statement, Broadway League president Charlotte St. Martin said that the video “brings together the joy and excitement we all feel for this art form and the rebound of New York City…I am so thankful for all the work that went into creating this moment of unity.”
A similar purpose is served by a two-minute “Welcome Back” video from “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which depicts the cast and crew backstage as they get ready for the curtain to rise. Jeff Daniels, who narrates the film and is set to return to the show in the role of Atticus Finch, declares “we’re turning the lights back on,” which is followed by theater marquees being lit up.
“After well over a year of darkness, Broadway is roaring back to life,” Aaron Sorkin, who wrote the stage adaptation of “Mockingbird” as well as the video, said in a statement. “It’s a historic moment for everyone who cares about this community, this city, or this ancient tradition of telling stories on stage. I feel deeply connected to all three, and I felt a strong desire to mark the occasion. This short film is the result, and I hope it helps galvanize the artists and audiences who fill Times Square eight times each week.”
Less polished, but no less effective, is footage posted online by Disney of the cast of “The Lion King” singing through “The Circle of Life” during a recent brush-up rehearsal in the theater’s lobby. As the performers rise from their seats and begin to sing, they become increasingly emotional and tear up – as does director Julie Taymor, who opines on the opening number’s appeal: “an audience is blown away because they are surrounded by beauty…it’s the reality of what the power of theater is which is to suspend your disbelief.”
Whether or not these videos succeed in securing strong ticket sales, they make a compelling case for the excitement, splendor and emotional power of the live Broadway experience – and all the hard work and professionalism that goes into creating it.