Broadway’s Grim Anniversary

| 11 Mar 2021 | 12:54

Broadway went dark a year ago.

That day, March 12, 2020, I had tickets to see “The Lehman Trilogy” for a second time. While most reviews had been favorable when the show opened Off Broadway, some saw blatant anti-Semitism on stage and — before writing an assigned story — I wanted to check my initial response and, also, see if the production had changed on its way to Broadway.

While not reviewing any longer, I’ve been a consistent theater-goer. Whatever we were seeing was the centerpiece of the evening, of course, but there was a lot more. There was pre-theater dinner, sometimes with friends. Our chosen restaurant would buzz with the shared knowledge that every table held excited people on their way to a one-time-only live event.

For a Broadway show, there was the walk through the Theater District, past the inviting marquees. Then, in the audience, there was the community of strangers, mixed with the serendipity of seeing someone we knew well. The feel of a Broadway house, with its history of stars and shows. The excitement as the lights dimmed. The palpable expectation in the house. And, occasionally, an unforgettable performance, a knockout set, a play to treasure.

I never expected the lights to go back on soon, or easily, but for all the good news about vaccines and possible state or federal aid, I am grieving.

Broadway shows are not financially viable at 30% of a theater’s seating capacity, and COVID protocols will make productions even more expensive. Social distancing would change audience dynamics. So would continued mask wearing. Beyond that, people need to feel safe: Consistent audience attendance, for now, seems problematic.

As this grim anniversary approached, I found myself weeping. March 12, 2021 marks a year, but it doesn’t mark the end of this tragedy. I tell myself that Broadway will be back. I believe that’s true. I just don’t see when.

Friends confide that they would not attend a Broadway show now. I miss live theater terribly, yet I would not go to a theater now either. And yet, there is a play I want to see so badly, that I would buy tickets immediately. The great playwright Tom Stoppard’s latest, “Leopoldstadt,” opened in London to over-the-top reviews. I’ve read the script, and when the production comes to New York, I’ll be first in line.

And given that there is one play I’d make an exception for, maybe that means I am, in fact, getting ready. I’ll keep watching to see what the optimistic producers of other productions plan. Because when the lights go back on, I want to be there.