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For the first time in nearly 13 months, a Broadway theater offers a live event? with Nathan Lane and Savion Glover

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This was as true for the guest audience of Actors Fund and Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS workers as it was for the performers. Abject terror! Lane said in a post-show interview, describing his state of mind as he stepped onto the nude stage at St. James where, almost 20 years ago to the day, he played the role of Max Bialystock during of the opening night of the hit The Producers. The adrenaline was flowing. It was time to fly by the seat of your pants.

The organizers of the event have made plans so that they do not fly blind. Entrance was the latest facet of the NY PopsUp Festival, a month-long series across New York State meant to rekindle fans deprived of culture and test safety protocols that could once again normalize concerts, recitals. and large-scale games. Over the next 10 weeks, similar pop-ups with other artists will take place at nine other Broadway homes.

To attend the Saturday rally, guests lined up on West 44th Street half an hour before the 1 p.m. show for a spot check of credentials: photo ID, QR coded ticket on an app, proof of complete vaccination or coronavirus PCR test from the last 72 hours. They then entered the lobby outside of St. James, where they went through a metal detector and had their ticket zapped and the temperature taken. It was only after that that they were escorted by ushers to one of the 150 reserved seats scattered throughout the cavernous space. The process appeared to be smooth.

Broadway theaters, with their tight lobbies, narrow rows, and often outdated ventilation systems, have always been seen as a final frontier for the return to pre-pandemic American life. Countries with low spread of the coronavirus, such as South Korea and Australia, reopened theaters months ago. Thus, managing and promoting the still unexpected re-emergence of the Broadway core of a commercial entertainment industry in New York City, estimated at $ 14 billion a year for the city, has far-reaching and life-changing implications.

New York state officials, through the Coronavirus Governing Task Force, have been testing the effectiveness of protocols for public gatherings for months. In January, a limited number of spectators were allowed to return for the Buffalo Bills playoff games; According to a state official involved in the surveillance effort, ticket holders who were required to undergo pre-game testing and follow-up afterwards were later found to have lower infection rates to those of the general population. Perhaps this was an indication that a motivation to attend public events reinforced the commitment to obeying safety regulations.

Inside St. James the feeling was a bit like looking at an unfinished painting. The participants were dispersed, sitting only in every other row, with the closest person in your own row of six or seven seats. While waiting and masked, we looked like a surgical team waiting to observe an operation.

And then, suddenly, the electricity of galvanizing theatricality ignited, in the guise of Glover. Dressed in white tap shoes and perched on a small platform surrounded by speakers, Glover, former Broadways star The Tap Dance Kid and Bring in da Noise, launched into a 20-minute tap tornado. To accompany the show, Glover leaned into a microphone and intermittently sang snippets of show pieces, bursts of theater history that reminded you of what was gone and what may soon return.

God, I hope I understand, Glover repeated over and over, reciting the famous lyrics at the top of A Chorus Line. It was the dancers’ mnemonic pop-up: Gotta Dance from Singin in the Rain, he intoned at one point; There’s No Business Like Show Business movie from one title to another; Memory of cats to a third party. His frantic tapping sometimes added syncope to the a cappella song fragments. This feeling so compelling and groundbreaking was this kick that you might imagine it as the opening of a Broadway tap dance production choreographed by Glover, with contributions from others, like Baakari Wilder and Ayodele Casel. Perhaps a tap ballet orchestrated by Twyla Tharp to top it off.

What followed in the presentation was Lane in Playbills, a new monologue from gifted playwright and comedic writer Paul Rudnick. (Both plays were directed by Jerry Zaks.) Lane played a musical theater junkie so deprived of his show fixture that after a year of hiatus, he hallucinates a meeting of Hugh Jackman, Patti LuPone and Audra McDonald in her one bedroom apartment in Manhattan. apartment. (Well, it’s actually a room and an alcove.)

The playlet is a wacky Valentine’s Day for those with a level of passion for the theater that defies reason and a pledge of allegiance to the experience of seeing things live. As for the plays on Zoom, Lane said via Rudnick: It’s like a streetcar played by the Brady Bunch.

One of the paradoxes of the era of pandemic entertainment is that on Zoom, performers can see their deaf and unmasked audiences laughing, but not hearing their reaction. In the theater, they can hear their masked and unmute audience laughing, but not see their faces.

You look out and it looks like hostages, Lane said of the audience. I could definitely sense that the people were in it. It was certainly strange and very moving to do so.

Glover, in another interview, said he got an invite call from Scott Rudin, the Broadway and movie producer who, along with Tribeca Film Festival co-founder Jane Rosenthal, oversees the pop-ups. Of course, I accepted right away, he said, adding that the performance was improvised, largely on location. So much improvisation, in fact, that when his sound card dropped mid-performance, he had a technician come up on stage and unplug a speaker, while continuing to type.

Until last night, I was learning the lyrics to Singular Sensation, he said referring to One, the finale of A Chorus Line. I stayed there until 2-3 this morning.

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