Bruce Springsteen talks return to Broadway, says his voice 'actually improved with age'

·6 min read

Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa reopened Broadway on Saturday.

They didn’t just mail it in.

Springsteen on Broadway,” on stage at the St. James Theatre through Sept. 4, reflects the extraordinary events that have happened over the last two years since the show ended its run at the Walter Kerr Theatre in December 2018.

“There’s been too much history since I’ve done it last,” Springsteen told the USA TODAY Network New Jersey. “The past two years have been, what can you say?”

A worldwide pandemic, a national reckoning on race and the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol have taken place since the last “Springsteen on Broadway” performance.

The scene outside:Anti-vaccine protesters demonstrate outside show

Bruce Springsteen onstage June 26, 2021 at the St. James Theatre for 'Springsteen on Broadway.'
Bruce Springsteen onstage June 26, 2021 at the St. James Theatre for 'Springsteen on Broadway.'

To reflect that, the St. James theater version of the show has new dialogue and new songs.

“It just happened very naturally, it’s organic,” said Springsteen in a phone interview. “The minute I started rehearsing the show, things started to change. You begin to go over your spoken sections and other things suggest themselves related to what’s been going on for the last couple of years of your life or in general.”

“American Skin (41 Shots),” originally written about the 1999 shooting death of Amadou Diallo, a 23-year-old unarmed immigrant from Guinea by four New York City plain-clothes police officers, has been added to the show. Its performance evokes the May 2020 death of George Floyd at the hands of four officers in Minneapolis.

“It was a song I wrote a long time ago, but it just remains relevant and I found a really nice arrangement for just myself and the guitar," Springsteen said, adding that seeing all the young people out for the Black Lives Matters protests was "very inspiring."

“I’ll See You in my Dreams,” from Springsteen's latest album, “Letter to You,” now closes the show instead of “Born to Run.”

“It’s only a couple of verses and a chorus, but it really packs a punch for its brevity and it really ends the particular story that I’m telling on this leg of this show,” Springsteen said. “It’s actually much more appropriate than ‘Born to Run’ was in that spot. It really takes all the ideas in the show and sums them up in that one short piece of music. So it’s exciting to play that at the end of the night.”

Broadway reopening:Boss in spotlight of COVID comeback

Patti Scialfa and Bruce Springsteen in "Springsteen on Broadway"  June 26, 2021 at the St. James Theatre.
Patti Scialfa and Bruce Springsteen in "Springsteen on Broadway" June 26, 2021 at the St. James Theatre.

“Springsteen on Broadway” is partly a eulogy for those who have passed on. In Springsteen's life, that includes his father, bandmates Clarence Clemons, Danny Federici and Bart Haynes, and the Cichon brothers, Walter and Raymond of the Motifs, a Jersey Shore band that a young Springsteen idolized.

A broader collective eulogy is implied in the music play.

“('I’ll See You in My Dreams') really takes all the ideas in the show and sums them up in that one short piece of music,” Springsteen said.

On Saturday, the Boss also added a reference to a group of anti-vaccine demonstrators outside the theater on opening night. They were protesting the show’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement.

“Hundreds of thousands of people died,” said Springsteen on Monday. “It can be hard to know what to do. Obviously, I’m in favor of everybody being vaccinated, and that’s why the show is the way that it is. Plus, I’m responsible for the safety of my audience, but it’s hard, confusing times, so I actually have some feeling for the folks who were outside.”

He also turned his own arrest in November 2020 into one of the show’s funniest moments. He was arrested after he took a shot of Patron tequila on Sandy Hook and then got on his Triumph motorcycle.

“My case was the United States of America vs. Bruce Springsteen,” said Springsteen from the stage. “That’s always comforting to hear — the entire nation is aligned against you.”

Drunk and reckless driving charges against him were dropped as it was revealed his blood-alcohol content was 0.02, well beneath New Jersey’s 0.08 threshold indicating intoxication. Springsteen did plead guilty to consuming alcohol in a closed area.

“Hah, what can I say?” said Springsteen of including the new segment in the play.

Current events aside, “Fire,” a song written by Springsteen in 1977 that became a hit for the Pointer Sisters and Robert Gordon, is now sung by Springsteen and wife Scialfa.

“We tried a few things and it’s funny, she said let’s do ‘Fire,’” Springsteen said. “I said I don’t know but she was really right. She sang it great. She’s got that Peggy Lee sort of swagger that she sort of adds to the song — it’s great to hear her voice. I got to give her all the credit for that.”

Springsteen, from the stage, also added that the long-awaited new Scialfa solo album was coming soon.

Bruce Springsteen outside the St. James Theatre on June 26, 2021 after a performance of 'Springsteen on Broadway.'
Bruce Springsteen outside the St. James Theatre on June 26, 2021 after a performance of 'Springsteen on Broadway.'

Show review: Springsteen on Broadway review: Boss delivers big on opening night

Speaking of vocals, Springsteen was in exceptional form on Saturday. His coos on “Thunder Road” were ethereal.

“It’s funny, I think my voice actually improved with age,” Springsteen said. “I have more range and it’s stronger than it’s ever been. I’ve been really, really fortunate. I’m knocking on wood right now. It was in really good form over the past weekend, plus I had two nights to sort of warm up for Saturday ... So I had a lot of fun singing that night because my voice was responsive to anything I wanted to do.”

The 236 performances of “Springsteen on Broadway” in 2017 and 2018 at the Walter Kerr Theatre have perhaps been beneficial for his voice.

“There’s only one instrument and you’re singing — all of the emotional information is carried in those two elements,” Springsteen said. “They're full, present in your face and you can really hear every detail of your voice, every nuance of your voice. Figure, in a concert, folks are hearing the front 50% or 70% of your voice just because of the noise of the band and the way the show is. There’s kind of 30% getting fogged up in the soup. But when you play just your guitar, 100% of your voice is audible to the audience and you can carry a lot of emotional information with it. I find that very enjoyable to do.”

Springsteen was initially going to take the summer off and go swimming in the ocean, he said.

“Jon (Landau) suggested it and Patti (Scialfa) sort of seconded his opinion and I’m like, 'It’s summer and I want to go to the beach because we're going to work a lot next year,' ” said Springsteen of restaging “Springsteen on Broadway.” “I had a friend come down and just tip me over the edge and I got excited — ‘Just do it’! And that was it.”

Visit www.jujamcyn.com/shows/springsteen-on-broadway for more information.

Springsteen on Broadway setlist

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Chris Jordan, a Jersey Shore native, covers entertainment and features for the USA Today Network New Jersey. Contact him at @chrisfhjordan; cjordan@app.com.

This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Bruce Springsteen on Broadway: Boss talks new additions to the show