Kiss 2020 goodbye and point me towards tomorrow. With Broadway shut down for most of the year, most of the theater season’s exciting events and shows were canceled. Times Square has remained quiet and landmark restaurants like Sardi’s are closed. Until we can once again give our regards to Broadway, here’s a list of some of the year’s most memorable moments that prove nothing’s going to rain on our parade until there’s another opening of another show!
2018 Jimmy Award winner Andrew Barth Feldman took his final bow in Dear Evan Hansen. Feldman not only made his Broadway debut at 16 years old, but this was his first professional acting gig and it marked the first teen to play the title role. “I’m really excited to bring authenticity to Evan,” he noted about his youth in an interview from 2019. “There are going to be differences in every Evan because we’re all just different people, as it is a reflection of who we are inside.” Jordan Fisher slipped into the arm cast and blue striped T-shirt for what was supposed to be a 16-week engagement starting January 28.
While we eagerly await the day we’re able to welcome audiences back to the show on Broadway, it was a thrill to be back at the Longacre Theatre with @Netflix. We can’t wait to share it with you! pic.twitter.com/X56ViOu0oS
— DIANA: A New Musical (@DianaOnBroadway) October 20, 2020
Before Diana: A New Musical began previews at the Longacre Theatre; it’s star, Jeanna de Waal (Diana), performed the solo number “Underestimated” from the show accompanied by composer David Bryan (Jon Bon Jovi’s keyboardist) at a meet-the-press event. While it was an event private to the public, the perfectly picturesque afternoon at the Lotte New York Palace in Manhattan was a royally unique way to intrigue audiences once the interviews and performance were posted online for everyone to see. While the musical never officially got to open, Netflix has picked it up to premiere on its platform in 2021. The cast and crew quarantined in order to film it for television during the pandemic.
On February 26, 18,000 students poured in from all over New York City to witness history as TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD became the first play to perform at the world famous Madison Square Garden arena. https://t.co/oJ7WyTXZ5w #MockingbirdBway pic.twitter.com/wPqgwRCgYT
— To Kill a Mockingbird on Broadway (@mockingbirdbway) March 7, 2020
To Kill a Mockingbird made history as the first-ever Broadway play to perform in Madison Square Garden. This unprecedented, single-performance event was entirely free to a capacity crowd of 18,000 students of the New York City Department of Education public middle and high schools from all five boroughs. The event marked the largest attendance at a single performance of a play ever in world theater. This special performance of To Kill a Mockingbird featured the entire Broadway cast, led by four-time Academy Award nominee and two-time Golden Globe Award winner Ed Harris as Atticus Finch.
Broadway’s original Maria and Chino in 1957’s West Side Story, Carol Lawrence, and Jaime Sanchez, respectively, attended the highly-anticipated Ivo van Hove’s revival at the Broadway Theatre. The current Maria, Shereen Pimentel, introduced Lawrence after the curtain call where she was given a standing ovation. Lawrence, who wore a red dress to mark the occasion, and Sanchez were seated in the first row of the mezzanine for the performance. The following evening on opening night, another West Side Story alum, Harolyn Blackwell, was in the audience as a record-breaking 33 actors made their Broadway debuts. Blackwell was in the first revival of the musical cast as Maria’s understudy. On the red carpet, she recalled the time when the show’s lyricist Stephen Sondheim told her that he didn’t like the song, “I Feel Pretty” (which was not included in this interpretation).
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A momentous memorial service was held at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre to celebrate the life and legacy of composer Jerry Herman who passed away in December of 2019 at 88, notably the same number of keys on a piano. An endless amount of Broadway luminaries graced the stage in red to pay tribute to the legend. Betty Buckley sang “Hello, Dolly!” — a number she revived from her role in the national tour. While Kelli O’Hara sang “Before the Parade Passes By,” she turned to watch a parade of Dolly Levis on a projection screen, from Carol Channing to Carolee Carmello. Leslie Uggams tore down the house with her rendition of “I Am What I Am.” Kristin Chenoweth proved she should play Auntie Mame in a revival of Mame that needs to be mounted as soon as Broadway can return safely with “When He Walked Into My Life.” Bernadette Peters made the audience weep with her timeless “Time Heals Everything” and Harvey Fierstein told a story about him meeting Mr. Herman for the first time while wearing a ratty coat to discuss La Cage aux Folles. Angela Lansbury and Paul McCartney also sent videos in Herman’s memory.
Speaking of Jerry Herman, for the first time in over 40 years a production of Mack & Mabel played in New York City. Douglas Sills and Alexandra Socha starred as Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand in this week-long production at New York City Center. In this version, the overture was moved to serve as the entr’acte in order to pay tribute to Herman. A huge portrait of the composer hung over the stage as the orchestra performed his iconic music. The show’s original star, Bernadette Peters, also came to see the show.
Two important moments helped shift the theater scene from in-person to virtual in March.
When Broadway shut its doors to stop the spread of COVID-19, Seth Rudetsky and his husband James Wesley decided the show must go on virtually — twice a day at 2 PM & 8 PM, like two-show days, until it returns. (Little did they realize it would be at least a year and a half!) Kelli O’Hara was the first guest on their inaugural Stars in the House show on Monday, March 16. She sang “Cockeyed Optimist” from South Pacific, followed by pointing to a corner shelf of her home office where her prized Tony Award is kept. It was one of the numerous glimpses into stars’ homes. CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook also joined in the discussion often to help relay important information about the virus including instructions on how to wash your hands properly. In the first four weeks, Saturday evening’s guest star was Kristin Chenoweth who nicknamed her shows “Saturday Night in Bathroom” or “SNIB.”
Patti LuPone’s basement made its grand debut on the 25th anniversary special of The Rosie O’Donnell Show. And yes, the jukebox tour came a few minutes later on Twitter. This was one of the first live live-streams during the stay-at-home order in the tristate area. Rosie O’Donnell got the gang back together and hosted a three and a half hour reunion show and fundraiser from her New Jersey garage. There were so many memorable moments from the night. Adrienne Warren sang a song from Tina during a very lukewarm bubble bath. Alan Menken, who performed a medley of his greatest Disney hits, announced that Hercules was being reworked for the stage following its Public Theatre debut. Darren Criss sang from Company in honor of what would have been the musical’s opening night and Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday. Sarah Jessica Parker told Rosie she had been doing laundry since she no longer was able to perform in Plaza Suite. The fundraiser raised over $600,000 for The Actors Fund.
Here’s to the performance that lifted everyone’s spirits. Meryl Streep, Audra McDonald, and Christine Baranski sang “The Ladies Who Lunch” from Company in their bathrobes with booze in hand as part of the incredible Take Me to the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration. No one was bothered that the show, hosted by Raul Esparza, began more than an hour late due to live-streaming technical difficulties because the anticipation of the three-hour event was so thrilling. Sutton Foster’s daughter Emily made a cute cameo during her number of “There Won’t Be Trumpets.” Besties Ben Platt and Beanie Feldstein sang “It Takes Two.” Mandy Patinkin sang “Lesson #8” acapella on this particular Sunday, in the Park with George. Donna Murphy gave us a moving rendition of “Send in the Clowns.” Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford revived “Move On” and Patti LuPone’s “Anyone Can Whistle” was a nice reward for audiences who now have to wait a little bit longer to see her sing again on Broadway. Bernadette Peters closed the show with a stunning “No One Is Alone” acapella, a perfect song choice for the current state of the world at the time. The encore of “I’m Still Here” performed by dozens of Broadway actors was an uplifting anthem that Broadway will never go away. The event raised over $400,000 to benefit ASTEP.
Michael Urie wowed the internet with his solo performance in Buyer & Cellar. Urie transformed his apartment living room into a stage with two live-streaming cameras on either side for this energetic 90-minute one-man-play about working in Barbra Streisand’s Malibu basement shopping mall. The show raised over $209,000 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS’ COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund.
Brian Stokes Mitchell shared hope by singing from his Upper West Side apartment window. After recovering from COVID-19, The Actors Fund chairman started performing “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha, a show he once starred in. He was saluting the essential workers at 7 o’clock each night as the rest of the city applauded their bravery. It was his own unique way of saying thank you to the frontline workers of the pandemic. It also inspired so many people who were listening to his powerful and impactful voice. “Artists have this wonderful ability to bring people together,” he told the NY Daily News. “We’re not able to do that on Broadway right now, but those things still exist in other ways.”
When you’re good to Mama, Broadway will surprise you with an epic afternoon delight. The Hello, Dolly! cast and all four recent Dollys (Bette, Bernadette, Betty, and Carolee) reunited for an epic opening number that was part of a Mother’s Day special to benefit the Broadway Cares’ COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund. There were appearances from 15 Broadway shows and it raised more than $170,000.
History is made at night. The sold-out one-night-only Bombshell concert performed at the Minskoff Theatre in 2015 was streamed for audiences as a part of a special reunion benefit for The Actors Fund. It reunited Megan Hilty, Katharine McPhee, Christian Borle, Brian D’Arcy James, Ann Harada, Jeremy Jordan, Andy Mientus, Debra Messing, Leslie Odom Jr., Krysta Rodriguez, and Wesley Taylor; who were all on the 2012 NBC TV show Smash. It centered on the making of a fictional Marilyn Monroe biomusical, Bombshell. Renee Zellweger introduced the performance and Julie Klausner hosted a reunion Q&A with the cast. The following morning, producers announced that Smash is being made into a Broadway musical with music by Marc Shaiman and Scott Witman, who are also the TV show’s song composers. Bob Martin (The Prom) is writing the book with Rick Elice (The Cher Show) and the TV show’s choreographer, Joshua Bergasse continues his role for Broadway.
Activism was at the forefront of some of the most memorable and monumental moments of June. The Broadway Advocacy Coalition held a three-day summit for Black members of the theater industry to share their experiences with racism, reflect on what it means to dismantle implicit bias, and hold the accountability of others. During this time, a new organization called Black Theatre United was formed. Its mission is to “protect Black people, Black talent and Black lives of all shapes and orientations in theatre and communities across the country.” Vanessa Williams, Billy Porter, Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Phylicia Rashad, Brandon Victor Dixon, Kenny Leon, Norm Lewis, Anna Deavere Smith, Allyson Tucker, Tamara Tunie, Lillias White, NaTasha Yvette Williams, Schele Williams, Lisa Dawn Cave, Darius de Haas, and Carin Ford are all founding members. In June, Broadway Cares awarded $125,000 in grants to social justice organizations.
There might not have been a Tony Awards this June, instead, the Antonyo Awards took its place. The inaugural event honoring Black theater artists was presented by Broadway Black in association with The Black Theatre Society. Winners were determined by public voting. The hour and a half long presentation featured performances including a look at the historical “Black Theater Firsts.” It also recognized Dharon E. Jones, who plays the first Black “Riff” in West Story Story on Broadway, with the Welcome Award. Chuck Cooper took home the Lifetime Achievement Award, and mother and daughter LaChanze and Celia Rose Gooding also took home awards in acting categories for their roles in The Secret Life of Bees and Jagged Little Pill respectively.
July was the month of Bernadette Peters (and Hamilton; which premiered on Disney+).
If “time heals everything” then this taped version of a one-night-only 2009 Bernadette Peters concert helped soothe the soul. Originally performed at the Minskoff Theatre, the streamed show fundraised money for the Broadway Cares’ COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund to help those in the industry struggling. It was bookended with a conversation with Michael Urie, Bernadette’s former Ugly Betty co-star. “I wanted to do something for my fellow performers, and realized this concert would be the perfect opportunity,” Peters told Urie during the program. The live stream raised more than $252,000 adding to the $615,000 raised in its live presentation.
A few days later, Bernadette Peters took Broadway Barks online. The annual fundraiser and animal adoption event she co-founded with Mary Tyler Moore is usually held in Shubert Alley of Manhattan every July. Because it was virtual, Bernadette was able to showcase not only the floral pillows on her sofa; but shelters from across the country, including Dawgs n’ Texas, a shelter founded by fourth graders. Hugh Jackman, Bette Midler, Gloria Estefan, Joel Grey, Laurie Metcalf, Michael Urie and so many of Bernadette’s friends were part of the taped live stream that helped place hundreds of dogs and cats in loving homes.
Broadway Bares celebrated 29 years of shows with a digital tribute featuring some of its sexiest numbers throughout the past three decades. “I created ‘Bares’ to bring the Broadway community together so we can understand our collective power to make a difference in the early days of the AIDS crisis,” creator Jerry Mitchell said at the top of the evening. The opening and closing numbers were all newly filmed by following strict socially distant guidelines. Some celebrities dished never-before-shared stories and secrets from Broadway Bares. Jane Krakowski recalled her experience twirling upside down in silks, describing it as the closest she’s ever come to a “rockstar moment.” There were other special appearances throughout the hour-long stream by Nathan Lane, Beth Leavel, Judith Light, Andrew Lippa, Lesli Margherita, Angie Schworer, Marc Shaiman, Miriam Shor, Christopher Sieber, and Wesley Taylor. Broadway Bares raised more than $596,000 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
Stars in the House celebrated its 200th episode with a reunion of “Night at the Museum” starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. Rami Malek even surprised the cast with a sweet video about his memories of shooting the film, specifically his time with the late Robin Williams. Since the live show began in March, Seth and James have organized dozens of reunions from Taxi, Desperate Housewives, Melrose Place, Frasier, Glee, and 30 Rock. Since its premiere, Stars in the House has helped raise more than $600,000 for The Actors Fund.
A musical performance full of dozens of Broadway stars surprised those passing by in Times Square. Andrew Rannells, Carolee Carmello, Sierra Boggess, Erika Henningson, Kate Baldwin, Brandon Victor Dixon, Bernadette Peters, and Ari’el Stachel were among the artists who wore face shields while they sang “Sunday” from Sunday in the Park With George on the famous red TKTS steps. There was only one rehearsal on the day of, about 15 minutes before the actual performance. Everyone learned the song ahead of time and it was recorded in advance to ensure that they could be heard. The initiative was spearheaded by NYCNext, a group of volunteers who joined together to help build the next New York by creating and producing live, spontaneous pop-up events.
Nothing says Thanksgiving like the Broadway performances at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Thankfully, cast members from four shows were able to get together safely and pretape their numbers. There were performances from Mean Girls, Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations, Hamilton, and Jagged Little Pill, a reminder to all watching at home that Broadway will return.
Casts of Mean Girls, Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations, Chicago, Jagged Little Pill, and Jersey Boys got back together for a Best of Broadway performance hosted by Tina Fey. It was a love letter to Broadway and a push from celebrities including Billy Porter, Vanessa Williams, Sean Hayes, and Barbra Streisand to encourage viewers to donate to Broadway Cares. “If you love Broadway and want to support the people who are its lifeblood, please give what you can and donate today,” said Streisand over video during the TV event which raised over $3 million.
The cast of Jagged Little Pill reunited for a concert performance of the Broadway show. It felt like a jolt of better things to come as Celia Rose Gooding, Elizabeth Stanley, Lauren Patten, Derek Klena, Kathryn Gallagher, and Sean Allan Krill all sang their hearts out for the first time in front of a live digital audience of more than 11,000 homes. The $33-ticketed concert also served as a fundraiser for theaters across the country that have remained closed for most of the year.