- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
“Broadway is exhilarating,” remarks Tony nominee Norm Lewis, a 30-year veteran of musicals including Les Misérables and Porgy and Bess. “It’s a family,” says Chita Rivera, who originated the roles of Anita in West Side Story and Velma Kelly in Chicago. “It’s just what I love,” says mega-musical impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber. “You can’t get it anywhere else.”
Premiering tonight as part of the PBS Great Performances series, Reopening: The Broadway Revival goes behind the scenes of the mammoth, emotional effort to bring the Great White Way back to life last fall, when it had been dormant for an unprecedented 18 months.
It’s a trick of timing—and a testament to our unpredictable moment—that Reopening debuts as the industry is facing another steep uphill battle.
Just weeks, or even days, after many productions finally got up and running, breakthrough infections among casts and crews caused a rash of cancellations. Christmas week, generally a boom time for ticket sales, saw nearly a third of all Broadway productions go dark. Even shows that were once considered hits, like Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird and The Temptations musical Ain't Too Proud, have gone on hiatus or closed.
“It hasn't been easy to watch how everything is unfolding,” says Frank DiLella, a longtime Broadway reporter for local network NY1 and the host of Reopening. “But the one thing I hope people take away from this film is how resilient the theater community is,” he tells T&C.
When curtains came down in March 2020, people working on stage, behind the scenes, and in other gigs supported by the industry, such as hotels and restaurants—nearly 100,000 jobs in all—lost everything in an instant. Two years on, it’s a familiar story among many people and businesses hit hard by the pandemic. But Reopening chronicles the lowest lows in order to spotlight the highest highs.
Take Adrienne Warren, whose fiery performance in the title role of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical had wrung her out physically and emotionally, and launched her into bonafide stardom when the show opened in the fall of 2019.
“It crushed me,” Warren says of Broadway’s closure. “Would anybody remember everything that I just did?”
Reopening follows Warren, and other stars including Waitress songwriter and star Sara Bareilles and Wicked’s Alexandra Billings, into rehearsal after more than a year away from the stage. Some of their bodies remember the steps, but it’s a lot like starting over. Reunions with fellow frayed colleagues are joyous and tearful.
“Every single person in this film immediately said yes to being a part of it,” DiLella tells T&C. “They felt, ‘It's our duty. We have to make this happen, Broadway needs to survive.’”
Of course, nobody had forgotten Warren; she won a much-delayed Tony Award for her performance just weeks before she brought Tina back to the stage in October. “It was a moment I’ll never forget for the rest of my life,” she says of reopening the show.
The doc likewise presages the challenges Broadway continues to face. Michael James Scott, who plays the Genie in Aladdin, reaches his first night back at the New Amsterdam Theater in a rush of thrilling adrenaline. Aladdin abruptly shut down the next night for nearly two weeks due to breakthrough infections, long enough for Scott’s family, who flew in to see him perform, to miss it.
“I can’t wait for the day I get to do the show for them,” Scott says, confident he’ll dazzle his loved ones in the future.
Reopening also captures audience elation at being back in the theater and taking part in a resilient chapter in Broadway history. (Imagine the ovation that greeted Wicked’s pre-curtain speech by OG Glinda Kristin Chenoweth, whom the cameras follow in the car ride over.)
“The level of applause and energy audiences are giving back to the stage has been very inspiring,” DiLella says of attending shows over the past few months. ”That keeps me optimistic.”
It’s simple enough to say that the show must go on; Reopening offers a glimpse at how much determination and perseverance against impossible odds are actually necessary to turn the adage into reality.
“We're not going anywhere,” DiLella says. “We will continue to celebrate the people in this industry, because it is the heartbeat of New York City.”
You Might Also Like