There’s absolutely nothing like live theater. And there’s nothing like seeing live theater on Broadway. After being dark for a year and a half, many shows have finally returned to New York helping to boost the economy and spirits of the city.
Last spring when we planned a few days in the Big Apple in October, there was no way of knowing whether shows would be permitted by then. As luck would have it, Little Shop of Horrors announced its return soon followed by Six and To Kill a Mockingbird. Hamilton, Come From Away and American Utopia were also on the fast-track to open again. Many shows we’d already seen, but with Jeff Daniels returning to reprise his role as Atticus Finch, Mockingbird was a no-brainer. Little Shop tickets were relatively cheap making it another easy option.
Being back on Broadway was phenomenal. Both shows were spectacular, and both were completely different. Little Shop was campy, funny, and silly. The excitement throughout the performance was electric. The actors didn’t take themselves too seriously in this utterly ridiculous show, breaking more than once to the delight of the audience. That’s the beauty of live theater. After witnessing taped performances for more than a year, I think many of us had forgotten how much fun it is to ride a show together, to enjoy the jokes together, to realize that this exact performance will never happen again. Held at the Westside Theater, it’s an incredibly small venue so even our balcony seats felt near to the actors.
To Kill a Mockingbird had the same electricity pulsing through the audience. The venue, the Shubert, is significantly larger. Yet it’s still smaller than venues for touring productions. Our seats seemed similar on paper to the previous night. In reality we were close enough to the ceiling to observe the beautiful detail, yet far enough from actors that facial expressions were challenging to see. It was a more somber evening, but there were moments of levity. The best word to describe Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of the Harper Lee book is powerful. A month after seeing the show, I’m still thinking about the elements he explored that were left to the reader to surmise. The show is haunting, tragic, hopeful, and inspiring.
Part of the fun of Broadway is simply walking along various streets and seeing what shows are open and who is currently performing in them. When I was little, I imagined that “Broadway,” was a long street with theater after theater. My younger daughter had a similar expectation. One of her goals was to “see Broadway.” We accomplished that by exploring each street in the vicinity of Times Square to see as many marques as possible. Shows like Harry Potter and the Cursed Child kept their detailed signage, and we took many selfies in front of these theaters hoping that someday we’ll return when they’re all illuminated once more.
Off off (way off) Broadway
Back at home we’re fortunate that live theater was able to subsist even in small doses. At first it was limited to plays. My older daughter performed The Monologue Show, then Radium Girls, and professional theaters streamed live theater. Recently, maskless musicals returned with some restrictions in place for audience members. We saw local performances of Annie and Into the Woods, and are looking forward to seeing shows like Six in Chicago and Dear Evan Hanson in Indianapolis this spring.
Some things may not survive the pandemic, but I’m very pleased that theater won’t be among them.