NEW YORK, NY (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- One year ago, the grim news that Broadway was shutting down was sweeping through the theater district. Performers were packing up their things and heading home; theater staff members were stationed in lobbies to intercept ticket holders and explain to them that the show was canceled.
As a return date was pushed further and further, performers and theater staff resigned themselves to finding work elsewhere.
But on Friday, the anniversary of the day their beloved industry shut its doors, Broadway singers, dancers, actors and front-of-house staffers gathered in Times Square, just across from the TKTS discount ticket booth, to perform live for a small audience of industry insiders and passersby.
The pop-up show was part concert, part rally. Broadway legend Chita Rivera spoke about the power of theater to heal a beleaguered society, and then André De Shields, decked out in a glittering gold suit and a transparent face shield, sang the opening song from Pippin along with an array of Broadway stars, backup singers and dancers.
Im just happy that were all trying to remind the world that were still here, and we will be back, said Bre Jackson, a singer who belted out a solo in the Pippin number.
One year ago, Jackson, 29, was returning to New York from a national tour of The Book of Mormon and preparing for five auditions. Within 12 hours, she said, the auditions were all canceled, and suddenly she was thrust into a job market without much need for professional singers and actors. Jackson eventually found work as an office manager for a therapy practice, finding performing gigs every so often.
One of the main purposes of these pop-up performances of which there have been dozens across the city is to provide paying gigs for people in the industry who have lost their entire incomes during the pandemic, said Blake Ross, one of the events producers. The performance was funded by a collection of organizations, including nonprofits Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and NYCNext.
Although perform inside theaters are unlikely until after Labor Day, the message of the show was that the end of the industrys nightmare seemed to be getting closer. Last night, President Joe Biden asked states to make all adults eligible to be vaccinated by May 1, a hopeful sign that shows might be able to start rehearsals over the summer.
The performance landed on one of the first warm, springlike days of the year in New York City, adding a jolt of excitement. It felt like a reunion of sorts: After a long time working from home, some people shrieked when they saw each other, keeping their distance but air-hugging or elbow-bumping. To make sure that crowds didnt form in Father Duffy Square, event planners made no public announcement of the performance, but passersby gathered on the edges of the makeshift stage and stood on elevated surfaces to get better views.
The cast started with a topical classic, George Bensons On Broadway, with a group of high-energy, sneaker-clad and masked backup dancers. (There had been barely any time to rehearse beforehand, so just before showtime, the dancers ran through their choreography just offstage on the concrete.) Next, singers Lillias White, Nikki M. James, Peppermint and Solea Pfeiffer joined in Home from The Wiz. And a choir sang an original song written about the pandemic hiatus, We Will Be Back, by Allen René Louis. Costumes from shows like Wicked and Phantom of the Opera lined the stage edges, glittering and gleaming on mannequins.
During the pandemic, two musicals, Mean Girls and Frozen, announced that they would not be returning to Broadway, as well as two plays that were in previews, Martin McDonaghs Hangmen and a revival of Edward Albees Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? On Friday, several shows promised that they would indeed be back, including Mrs. Doubtfire, which got through three performances before it was forced to close, and Six, which had been scheduled to open March 12, 2020.
That day, Judi Wilfore, house manager for the Imperial Theater, remembers standing in the lobby before the scheduled evening performance of Aint Too Proud and breaking the news to ticket holders. Even though Broadway shut down on a Thursday, Wilfore came to work that weekend, too, in case any audience members showed up.
Over the summer, Wilfore decided that she needed to find work elsewhere, so she took an online course at Health Education Services, to get certified as a COVID compliance officer. At Fridays event in Times Square, it was her job to make sure people were following safety guidelines and to manage a team of front-of-house theater staffers who were hired to help run the event.
Wilfore has been a compliance officer for gigs here and there including the load-out of the Beetlejuice set from the Winter Garden Theater but like many in the industry, she yearns for the eventual return to indoor theater, where she oversaw the bustling movements of staffers and audience members.
We love what we do, she said, and the fact that we havent been able to do it in a year is unfathomable.
© 2021 The New York Times Company