A year ago, grim news that Broadway had been closed spread through the theater district. The performers packed up their things and went home. Theater workers were stationed in lobbies to intercept ticket holders and explain to them that the show was canceled.
As the return date was postponed further and further, artists and theater staff gave up trying to find work elsewhere.
But on Friday, the anniversary of the day their beloved industry closed its doors, Broadway singers, dancers, actors and front-of-house staff gathered in Times Square, right across from the TKTS discount card counter, to live for a small audience of industry insiders and passers-by to perform.
The pop-up show was part concert, part rally. Broadway legend Chita Rivera spoke about the power of theater to heal a troubled society, and then André De Shields, wearing a glittering gold suit and transparent face mask, sang the opening song of “Pippin” along with a number of Broadway stars , Singers and dancers.
“I’m just glad we’re all trying to remind the world that we’re still here and we’ll be back,” said Bre Jackson, a singer who pulled out a solo on the “Pippin” number.
A year ago, Jackson, 29, returned to New York from a national tour of The Book of Mormon and was preparing for five auditions. Within 12 hours, she said, all auditions were canceled and suddenly she was pushed into a job market without the need for professional singers and actors. Jackson eventually found work as an office manager for a therapy practice and found appearances from time to time.
One of the primary purposes of these pop-up appearances – of which there have been dozens across town – is to provide paid appearances to people in the industry who have lost all of their income during the pandemic, said Blake Ross, one of the organizers Producer, with Holly-Anne Devlin. The performance was funded by a collection of organizations including the nonprofits Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS and NYCNext.
Though they won’t likely return to theaters until after Labor Day, the show’s message was that the end of the industry’s nightmare seemed nearer. Last night, President Biden asked states to question all adults for vaccination by May 1. This is a hopeful sign that shows may be able to begin rehearsing this summer.
The performance landed in New York City on one of the first warm spring days of the year and caused a stir. It felt like some kind of reunion: after a long time working from home, some people screeched when they saw each other. To ensure the crowds did not form in Father Duffy Square, the event planners did not make a public announcement of the performance; instead, passers-by gathered at the edges of the makeshift stage and stood on raised areas for better views.
The cast began with a current classic, George Benson’s “On Broadway,” with a group of energetic, sneaker-clad and masked backup dancers. (There had hardly been time to rehearse beforehand, so the dancers ran their choreography right behind the stage on the concrete shortly before the show.) The singers Lillias White, Nikki M. James, Peppermint and Solea Pfeiffer “joined” next. Home ”. from “The Wiz”. And Michael McElroy’s choir Broadway Inspirational Voices sang an original song about the pandemic break “We Will Be Back” by Allen René Louis. Costumes from shows like “Wicked” and “Phantom of the Opera” lined the edges of the stage and glittered and shone on mannequins.
During the pandemic, two musicals, Mean Girls and Frozen, announced they would not be returning to Broadway, as well as two pieces that were previewed, Martin McDonagh’s “Hangmen” and a revival of Edward Albees ” Who’s Afraid “by Virginia Woolf? “On Friday, several shows promised they would actually be back, including” Mrs. Doubtfire, “which went through three shows before closing, and” Six, “which was due to open on March 12, 2020.
On that day, Judi Wilfore, the property manager of the Imperial Theater, remembers standing in the lobby before the planned evening performance of “Ain’t Too Proud” and telling the ticket holders the news. Although Broadway was closed on a Thursday, Wilfore came to work that weekend in case any spectators showed up.
Over the summer, Wilfore decided she needed to find work elsewhere and took an online course at Health Education Services to become certified as a Covid Compliance Officer. At Friday’s event in Times Square, her job was to make sure people were following safety guidelines and to lead a team of theater staff on site who were hired to run the event.
Wilfore has been compliance officer here and there for appearances – including unloading the “Beetlejuice” set from the Winter Garden Theater – but like many in the industry, she longs to return to the indoor theater, overseeing the busy theater Movements of employees and spectators.
“We love what we do,” she said, “and the fact that we haven’t done it in a year is unfathomable.”