FIle - The Minskoff Theatre, home f the musical "The Lion King," appears on May 24, 2021 in New York. Theaters for “The Lion King,” "Hamilton” and “Wicked” all set to reopen on Tuesday. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

Reopening of 3 monster Broadway shows signals ‘wait is over’

Reopening of 3 monster Broadway shows signals ‘wait is over’

NEW YORK (AP) — A digital marquee in Times Square says it all: “The Wait Is Over.”

Eighteen months after the global pandemic shuttered live theater in March 2020, Broadway takes a big step forward Tuesday when three powerhouse shows — The Lion King, Hamilton and Wicked — rev their engines again with new safety protocols.

“I think we all feel extremely excited,” said The Lion King director Julie Taymor. “We’re back. I think we can breathe easier even if it’s behind a mask. We can feel relaxed about the fact that it works.”

The Lion King, Hamilton and Wicked all staked out Tuesday to reopen together in early May after then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo picked Sept. 14 for when Broadway could begin welcoming back audiences at full capacity.

The trio of shows were beaten by Bruce Springsteen’s concert show in June and the opening of the new play Pass Over on Aug. 22, as well as the reopening of two big musicals — Hadestown and Waitress.

But the return of the three musicals — the spiritual anchors of modern Broadway’s success — as well as the long-running Chicago and the reopening of the iconic TKTS booth both on Tuesday are important signals that Broadway’s most valuable shows are back, despite pressure and uncertainty from the spread of the delta variant.

“We go to a theater for catharsis. Literally that’s what we go for: to be in communion with each other, hear a story told in the dark and experience catharsis,” said Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. “For a while, it wasn’t safe to do that. And it’s safe to come back now with the protocols we have in place.”

Ticketholders to all three mega-hits must prove they are fully vaccinated with an FDA- or WHO-authorized vaccine and masks must be worn at all times, except when eating or drinking in designated areas.

“I think it actually won’t feel real to me until we have an audience in front of us,” said L. Steven Taylor, who stars in The Lion King as Mufasa. “It’s such an important element to this, and especially, I think, after everything that we’ve gone through.”

Actors across Broadway say they’re itching to get back on stage after more than a year of waiting, trusting the health experts to make the process safe.

“It’s a little bit like when you’re on an airplane and there’s turbulence,” said Sharon Wheatley, a veteran actor in the show Come From Away, which resumes its Broadway run Sept. 21. “I have to trust the pilot, I have to trust the air traffic controllers. I feel nervous, but I have to understand that I don’t know as much as these people do.”

Hamilton, which opened six years ago, Wicked, which opened 17 years ago and The Lion King, which opened 23 years ago, form the bedrock of modern Broadway, virtually immune to downturns, shifts in tourism and rivals.

On Tuesday, they plan staggered openings — 7 p.m. for Wicked at the Gershwin Theatre and 7:30 p.m. for The Lion King at the Minskoff Theatre. Hamilton will open at 8 p.m. at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. All three are opening for full capacity. Miranda, Taymor and Wicked composer Stephen Schwartz plan to visit their theaters to welcome back patrons before each show.

Another sign that Broadway is inching back to normalcy is the re-opening of the famed TKTS booth in the heart of Times Square, where visitors can get same-day and some next-day discount Broadway and off-Broadway tickets.

“It’s such a big step forward,” said Victoria Bailey, executive director of the nonprofit Theatre Development Fund, which runs the booth. “To get it open and such a symbol to people that theater is coming back.”

Bailey says Broadway’s return will be less like a flick of a light switch and more like a dimmer, with a slow build to regular attendance. “We’ll know so much more in two or three weeks, but you can’t swim unless you can start by dog-paddling.”

For Miranda, getting his visionary show back in front of a live audience after 18 months will help the actors and crew but also businesses all over Times Square that rely on the theaters, like his favorite pizza shop.

 

FILE - The marquee for "The Lion King" is displayed at The Minskoff Theatre in New York on Jan. 19, 2012. Theaters for “The Lion King,” "Hamilton” and “Wicked” all set to reopen on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Charles Sykes, File)

Theater’s line 45th Street in New York. As Broadway reopens this fall, proof of full vaccination are required for entry and masks are mandated while moving through the theater. (File photo by The Associated Press)

Theater’s line 45th Street in New York. As Broadway reopens this fall, proof of full vaccination are required for entry and masks are mandated while moving through the theater. (File photo by The Associated Press)