Three hundred and eighty-seven days after Broadway went darkish, a faint mild began to glimmer on Saturday.
There had been simply two performers — one at a time — on a naked Broadway stage. But collectively they conjured up a long time of theater lore, invoking the songs and reveals and stars that when crammed the grand homes in and round Times Square.
The 36-minute occasion, earlier than a masked viewers of 150 scattered throughout an auditorium with 1,700 seats, was the primary such experiment for the reason that coronavirus pandemic brought on all 41 Broadway homes to shut on March 12, 2020, and business leaders are hoping will probably be a promising step on what is bound to be a gradual and bumpy street to eventual reopening.
The dancer Savion Glover and the actor Nathan Lane, each of them Tony Award winners, stood in for a universe of unemployed artists and show-starved followers as they carried out a pair of items created for the event.
Mr. Glover, a famend faucet dancer, carried out an improvisational song-and-dance quantity during which he appeared to summon specters of productions previous. He walked onstage, eliminated the ghost mild that by custom is left on to maintain spirits away from an unoccupied theater, and started to sing lyric samples, accompanied solely by the sound of his vibrant white faucet sneakers. “God I hope I get it,” he started, citing the craving theme of “A Chorus Line.”
And from there, he was off, quoting from “The Tap Dance Kid,” “Dreamgirls,” “42nd Street” and different reveals that he mentioned had influenced him, typically celebrating the urge to bounce, whereas additionally acknowledging the challenges of the leisure business. (“There’s no business like show business,” he sang, earlier than including, “Everything about it is eh.”) He additionally made a pointed reference to Black life within the U.S., interpolating the phrase “knee-on-your-neck America” into a tune from “West Side Story.”
“I was a little nervous, but I was elated, and happy, and there was nostalgia, and I was sentimental — it was everything,” he mentioned in an interview afterward. “And I felt very safe. I want to be rubbing elbows and hugging — we’re looking for that eventually — but there’s no more safe place than right in the middle of that stage.”
Mr. Lane, one among Broadway’s largest stars, carried out a comedic monologue by Paul Rudnick, during which he portrayed a die-hard theater fan (with an alphabetized Playbill assortment) who desires (or was it actual?) about a parade of Broadway stars, led by Hugh Jackman, Patti LuPone and Audra McDonald, arriving at his rent-controlled residence and vying for his consideration whereas dishily one-upping one different. (“Have you ever heard of a little show called ‘Evita’?” Ms. LuPone, Broadway’s unique Eva Perón, asks Mr. Jackman, to which he retorts, “I loved the movie with Madonna,” at which level Ms. LuPone grabs a steak knife.)
In an interview after the occasion, Mr. Lane mentioned: “These are baby steps toward a real reopening. It’s a way of signaling to everyone that we’re coming back.”
And did he really feel protected? “I felt as safe as anyone who has been vaccinated and tested 123 times,” he mentioned. “I’ve been swabbed. I’ve been hosed down. There were a lot of precautions and protocols, so yes, I felt safe.”
The occasion’s security measures included the restricted viewers, obligatory masks and socially distanced seating. Plus, all attendees had been required to indicate proof of a unfavourable coronavirus take a look at or a accomplished vaccination routine and to fill out a digital questionnaire testifying to an absence of Covid-19 signs or latest publicity; attendee arrival occasions had been staggered; there was no intermission, meals or drink; and though loos had been open, attendees had been inspired to make use of a lavatory earlier than arriving to scale back potential crowding.
The St. James, a metropolis historic landmark inbuilt 1927, was chosen partly as a result of it’s large — one of many largest theaters on Broadway — and empty. The theater additionally has a fashionable air flow system, which was put in when the constructing was expanded in 2017, and its air filters had been upgraded in the course of the pandemic in an effort to scale back the unfold of airborne viruses.
The theater’s proprietor, Jordan Roth, teared up within the foyer earlier than the occasion, moved by the second. “It’s the first step home — the first of many,” he mentioned. “This is not, ‘Broadway’s back!’ This is ‘Broadway is coming back!’ And we know it can because of this.”
The occasion, whereas free, was by invitation solely, and the invites went principally to staff for 2 theater business social service organizations, the Actors Fund and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Among them was a Broadway Cares volunteer, Michael Fatica, who is an actor; he was in the ensemble of “Frozen,” which was the last show at the St. James, and which has announced that it will not reopen on Broadway. “They were fantastic,” he said afterward. “And it’s incredible that people are performing. But it’s so far away from commercial theater, and tens of thousands of actors are still out of work.”
The event was also a chance to bring back the theater’s employees. Tony David, a porter, was there wearing his black suit and a tie and hat with the logo of the Jujamcyn theater organization, plus latex gloves and a face shield over a mask. “It’s nice to be back and doing something,” he said. “Hopefully this is the beginning.”
The event was directed by Jerry Zaks, a four-time Tony winner, who over the years has both acted and directed at the St. James. “This has been the longest I have not been inside a theater in 50 years,” he said. “I don’t want to sound giddy, but I’m excited, and I feel like a kid. There is a pulse — it’s faint, but there is one, and it augurs well for the months ahead.”
The performance was sponsored by NY Pops Up, which is a partnership among the state government, the producers Scott Rudin and Jane Rosenthal and the artist Zack Winokur. Empire State Development, which finances the state’s economic development initiatives, has set aside $5.5 million from its marketing budget to pay for 300 performances through August; the purpose, the state says, is to lift the spirits of New Yorkers and to jump-start the entertainment industry.
The organizers said they would confer on Monday morning about lessons learned from the Saturday event, and they anticipate nine other programs in Broadway houses over the next 10 weeks. But most producers expect that full-scale plays and musicals will not return to Broadway until the fall; commercial theater producers have said they do not believe it is financially feasible to reopen at reduced capacity, and the state is hoping to increase occupancy limits and reduce restrictions over time.
“I don’t have a crystal ball — none of us do, but we have shows scheduled to reopen in September, October and November,” said Charlotte St. Martin, the president of the Broadway League. Ms. St. Martin, who attended the Saturday event, said the Pops Up performances could be helpful steps toward reopening.
“It will give the health department the opportunity to see how the theaters work, and hopefully to learn what it will take for us to be declared OK to open at 100 percent,” she said. “And it’s also a great opportunity to remind us all of what makes New York so special.”