Broadway Is Back! What It Was Like Attending My First Broadway Show in 2 Years

The Great White Way has finally returned, with a few tweaks

Broadway Reopens After 18-Month Closure Due To Covid Pandemic
Spencer Platt / Getty Images

It’s been a long and challenging road of return for New York City’s theater industry. Eighteen months after the pandemic forced curtains to close, Broadway shows are finally beginning to mount productions again, with opening night performances starting just a few weeks ago.

The return is significant for the city to a great degree. After all, Broadway shows are one of the primary reasons travelers worldwide come to visit New York. As recently as 2015, sales from Broadway tickets alone brought in more revenue than all New York and New Jersey professional sports teams combined. And from musicians to set builders to sound technicians, the industry is responsible for as many as 87,000 jobs in New York, according to statistics from the Broadway League. 

I attended my first Broadway show since January 2020—the first preview performance of ”Caroline, or Change,” at the Studio 54 theater—this past week. As a native New Yorker and lifelong theater fan who grew up on musicals, I was thrilled to be back and more than excited to see how different the experience would feel. Here’s how it went.

Ticket Pick Up

On a typical evening, I would usually roll up to grab my tickets from the box office a solid 10 minutes before curtain, leaving me enough time to slide into my seat just before the stage lights dimmed. But on this night, as my friend and I walked over to the box office from dinner nearby, it became quickly evident that we should have arrived earlier. We were greeted by blocks of theatergoers in a line that stretched so long, it wrapped around the Ed Sullivan Theater, where "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" is taped, almost three whole blocks away.

Broadway crowds

Photo by Astrid Taran/TripSavvy

The theatergoers were all waiting in line to have their proof of vaccination and photo IDs checked by theater staff before entering the theater to pick up their tickets, part of the new protocols instituted over the summer for indoor performances in New York. Vaccination requirements are accepted through the NYC Covid Safe app, the Excelsior Pass, a physical CDC card or photo of your card, or an NYC vaccination record. Children under 12 can provide a PCR test taken within 72 hours of the performance start time or a negative antigen test taken within 6 hours of the performance start time.

While my friend and I were initially nervous about the intimidating amount of people in front of us, the line moved quickly, and we found ourselves stepping up to the staffers at the front within 10 minutes. Both our CDC cards and our drivers' licenses were checked, and we went through the usual bag checking line to pick up our tickets and find our seats. We chalked the checkpoint delays up to opening night confusion.

Seating

Heading to our seats around 8:15, the buzz of anticipation in the theater was palpable. A few minutes later, New York State Senator Chuck Schumer, a surprise guest that evening, gave a lively speech celebrating Broadway's return. The crowd got on their feet and rapturously cheered—it was clear that it was also the first night back in a Broadway theater for many in the room.

Everyone in the theater was required to wear a mask throughout the performance, and except for a few stray noses in my row, I was pleased to see everyone comply. During the entire two and a half hour (!) performance, I didn't witness any unruly or argumentative theatergoers make any fuss about the mask mandate—quite a feat, or perhaps just the power of transformative theater.

Broadway's Return

It's hard to describe the energy of live theater. After all, its ephemerality is part of what makes it the most unpredictable of art forms. Each live show will feel different from the last, whether it be a different physical movement, a different musical note, or a funny surprise. You just have to be there.

My experience that evening felt magical, not only because I got to be back at the theater after so many months spent dreaming of a return, but because it felt like an essential piece of New York City had finally snapped back into place. As crowds stood to cheer for curtain call, that light at the end of the tunnel that so many had been longing for felt like it was closer than ever before.

Article Sources
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  1. Polly Mosendz, "Curtain Call: Broadway Plays Outdraw New York Sports Teams." Newsweek, June 7, 2015.

  2. Mark Harris, "How Can Broadway Recover From This Pandemic?" Vulture, April 9, 2020.

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