The times, and the show, they are a-changing.
A lot has happened since Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa last performed the hit “Springsteen on Broadway” on stage in December 2018. A worldwide pandemic, a national reckoning on race, a failed insurrection of the U.S. Capitol, and one of the stars of show was arrested, to name a few.
On Saturday, Springsteen and Scialfa delivered an energetic, poignant and reflective restaging of “Springsteen on Broadway” at the St. James Theatre, with new dialogue and new songs, too.
“American Skin (41 Shots),” originally written about 1999 shooting death of Amadou Diallo, a 23-year-old unarmed immigrant from Guinea by four New York City plain-clothes police officers, was added to the show. Its performance invoked the May 2020 death of George Floyd at the hands of four officers in Minneapolis.
“We are living in troubled and troubling times,” said Springsteen in the lead up to “American Skin.” “I don't believe I've seen another moment, certainly not in my lifetime, where the survival of democracy itself, not just who's going to be running the show for the next four years, but the survival of democracy itself, is deeply threatened.”
Protesters demonstrating outside the theater against the show’s vaccine requirement contributed to a collective moment on the edge. About three dozen vocal anti-vaccine protesters voiced displeasure that the show would seat only fans who have been vaccinated for the novel coronavirus.
“I'm frightened for us,” Springsteen said. “I understand those folks out in the street. It's scary, scary times filled with confusion.”
A group of anti-vaxxers also protested the Foo Fighters show at Madison Square Garden last Sunday. The show had a similar vaccine requirement for fans.
Thankfully for Springsteen, his own arrest is now fodder for one of the shows funniest moments.
“I was handcuffed and thrown in jail — that took some doing,” said Springsteen in his first public statement on the arrest. “It wasn't easy. I didn't wake up one morning, get on my motorcycle and say, 'I think I'll drive to jail.' ”
The Boss was arrested after he took shot of Patrón tequila on Sandy Hook beach in New Jersey, and then got on his Triumph motorcycle in November 2020. 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, who lives in Colts Neck, New Jersey, pleaded guilty to consuming alcohol in a closed area.
“My case was the United States of America vs. Bruce Springsteen,” Springsteen said. “That's always comforting to hear — the entire nation is aligned against you.”
Springsteen delivered this new segment not far from where New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy was sitting at the show.
“My hometown, New Jersey,” Springsteen said. “They love me there.”
Springsteen also spoke about his mom's battle with Alzheimer's disease in one of the night's most moving moments.
“She can't speak. She can't stand, but when she sees me there's a smile and there's still a kiss and there's a sound she makes and I know it means I love you,” said Springsteen in new dialogue about his mom, Adele Springsteen. “When I put on Glenn Miller she starts moving in her chair, reaching out for me to take her in my arms once more and dance. I love her.”
Springsteen has broadened the spectrum in the restaging. The funny moments are funnier and the sentimental moments are more sentimental. So much so that the Boss appeared to wipe away tears several times during the show.
“I'm glad to be doing this show again this summer because I get to visit with my dad every night that I'm here,” said Springsteen of his late father, referred to as both his hero and his enemy in the play. “It's a lovely thing.”
Springsteen is singing better than ever. His Roy Orbison-ian coos at the end of “Thunder Road” were impressive. Also a treat was Springsteen and Scialfa's teaming for “Fire,” a new addition to the show.
Their COVID cohabiting chemistry was on full display.
“Springsteen on Broadway,” scheduled to run through Sept. 4, is the first full-capacity show on Broadway since it was shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak in March 2019. In addition to Murphy, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, musician Jack Antonoff, Springsteen manager Jon Landau and Little Steven Van Zandt were also in attendance.
Van Zandt's arrival was greeted by cheers from the audience and he took a bow. Gov. Murphy went over to say hello.
They then took their seats for the big show and Springsteen and Scialfa delivered.
Springsteen on Broadway setlist
“My Father’s House”
“The Promised Land”
“Born in the USA”
“Tenth Avenue Freeze-out”
“Tougher Than the Rest” (with Patti Scialfa)
“Fire” (with Patti Scialfa)
“American Skin (41 Shots)”
“Dancing in the Dark”
“Land of Hope and Dreams”
“I’ll See You in My Dreams”
Chris Jordan, a Jersey Shore native, covers entertainment and features for the USA Today Network New Jersey. Contact him at @chrisfhjordan; firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Bruce Springsteen on Broadway delivers big on opening night: Review