Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

Broadway is back, with masks.,


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Fans flocked to “Hadestown,” with Andre De Shields, in the silver suit.Credit…Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet for The New York Times

On Thursday night, the first two musicals returned to Broadway since the theater district went dark on March 12, 2020. Devoted fans — vaccine cards in hand and masks over their noses — filled the seats as “Hadestown” and “Waitress” reopened.

My colleague Michael Paulson, who covers theater for The Times, stopped by both shows. He wrote about the reopenings and took some time this morning to answer my questions.

At each show, you could feel the audience’s intense gratitude just to be there, and all this pent-up enthusiasm.

There was applause for the preshow announcements. There was applause each time a character first stepped forward onstage.

There were nine standing ovations at “Waitress.” And at “Hadestown,” the crowd lingered on the street afterward, as the cast, creative team and band emerged onto the theater’s balconies to play music and sing.

I’m used to seeing a lot of theater for my job, but last night everything felt heightened because of so much time away. I felt very aware of what a privilege it is to be able to watch these artists tell stories.

Everyone must be vaccinated — all employees, including actors, and all patrons (there is a testing alternative for religious and medical reasons and for children). Masks are mandatory too, for everyone except onstage performers.

There is no social distancing — theaters are at full capacity. There are new or upgraded ventilation systems everywhere. And there is a lot of hand sanitizer.

At “Waitress,” a fully vaccinated cast member did test positive before last night’s performance. She was replaced by an understudy; the cast was tested (as it is regularly) and the show went on. It was the first example we’ve seen of how shows will manage through a time when it seems inevitable that there will be occasional infections.

The restart decisions were made before Delta was a major factor — it takes a long time to put a Broadway show back together — and producers have decided to stick to the announced schedule, but with more safety precautions.

The producers I’ve spoken to think the pandemic is not going to fully end anytime soon, but that it’s important — for the sake of the workers, and the city, to find a way to restart the city’s cultural life, so they’re moving forward. I do think Delta is affecting consumer behavior — although some shows are selling strongly, others are soft — as some fans are putting off ticket-buying decisions until they feel more comfortable.


A vaccinated, masked audience celebrates the return of musicals.Credit…Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet for The New York Times

Five shows — the musicals “Hamilton,” “The Lion King,” “Wicked” and “Chicago,” as well as a play called “Lackawanna Blues” — are scheduled to start on Sept. 14. Many other shows are planning to start performances throughout the fall. And two shows started earlier — Bruce Springsteen opened a limited run of his one-man show in late June, and “Pass Over,” a play, began performances on Aug. 4.

Why does this reopening of Broadway matter? A thriving cultural scene is one of New York’s great attributes.

But, also, Broadway employs a lot of people. It has a very significant spinoff economic effect supporting hotels and restaurants and taxis and all kinds of businesses patronized by theatergoers, plus there are all the industries that support theater, like costume makers and set builders and marketing firms.

Probably as important as the economic impact is the symbolic impact. As long as Broadway has been closed, that’s sent a message that New York is still ailing.

The resumption of the performing arts is not without risk, obviously, because the pandemic is not over, and the Delta variant is complicating the nation’s rebound. But there’s a sense that it’s time to try.

For dance companies, and for the Christmas season in general, the “Nutcracker” ballet is kind of like the Super Bowl. Usually, children younger than 12 fill out the ranks of the ballet’s wide ensemble cast, playing mice, revelers and candy canes. Often, they perform in the starring roles of Marie and the Prince.

But the surge of the Delta variant has prompted many dance companies to retool the holiday favorite, as so many would-be dancers and audience members are not yet eligible for the vaccine. (In the U.S., it’s 48 million children.)

At New York City Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago, for instance, there will be no performers under 12. Several companies will allow children under 12 in the audience, though they will have to provide negative virus test results.

“This is really the only way we can get this production on safely,” said Jonathan Stafford, the artistic director of New York City Ballet.

The stakes this year are especially high. The show will be a test of whether dance companies, which halted indoor performances for much of the pandemic, can operate safely.

After enduring steep losses, many companies are hoping for a comeback with “Nutcracker,” a financial lifeline in normal times. New York City Ballet, for example, typically receives about $15 million in ticket revenue from the show, almost half its yearly total.

And no matter what, the show must go on.

“I want to bring the traditions back and at the same time keep people safe,” said Shelly Power, executive director of the Philadelphia Ballet.

I am a nurse and my husband is deployed to Iraq. Our boys and I go on weekly Sunday bike rides in our local trails. We don’t cook on Fridays and I have a margarita every Saturday. These little things get me through. I’ve started praying again but I am not religious. I pray for our nurses and doctors on the front lines that deal with this everyday, God give them strength. I pray for our troops that they come home safe, God protect them. And I pray for our kids, may they be better than us one day, God empower them. — Yuli, North Carolina

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