We’ll Drink To This: The Best Theater Stories Of 2021
Mainstem has seen immense joy and alarming setbacks in 2021, a year of thrilling returns and devastating losses. Take a look back at some of the best stories that have dominated theater headlines over the past 12 months.
Curtain up, turn on the lights
After an 18-month hiatus, Broadway reopened its doors to audiences eager to reconnect with the magic of performing arts. Bruce Springsteen brought his theatrical concert to the St. James Theater over the summer. In August, Antoinette Chinonye Nwandus Go over became the first play to go on stage on Broadway in 2021. The following month, musicals like Hadestown, Wicked, Hamilton, and The Lion King started to bring singing and dancing back to the main stem. From door-to-door vaccine checks to masks around the house, the movie theater experience took on a new look, but those who returned often found resonance in familiar works and embraced new and compelling stories.
Stay in control while falling apart
Although 2021 was the year Broadway returned to the limelight, uncertainty was never far from center stage. Most of the shows that reopened in the fall were able to play their full performance schedule as planned without incident until December, as Omicron’s highly contagious variant once again increased cases of COVID in New York City. But even though cancellations and closings grab the headlines eerily similar to last March, one full-scale shutdown has remained off the table for now. Productions have done their best to stay afloat as much as possible, thanks in large part to the efforts of COVID security and compliance officers and constant grace under pressure from liners, watches and swings.
Sometimes people leave you
Over Thanksgiving weekend, the theater community said goodbye to a genius and titan: Stephen Sondheim. The composer died at the age of 91, leaving behind a vast library of lyrics for those in mourning to deal with the loss and celebrate his art. His lyrics and melodies flooded social media and could be heard on at least two New York stages at the time: on Broadway with a cover of Society and in the Classic Stage Company production of Assassins. “He was truly the greatest artist we knew in our lifetime, possibly ever in this art form,” Society Director Marianne Elliott said as she addressed the audience at the first performance after the news broke. Meanwhile, at Assassins, John Doyle reminded the crowd that the art will survive long after the artist leaves: “It would be curious if you sat here sadly tonight. I would ask you to sit down, bask in his amazing words and music. And we will continue to do so.
Remembering Stephen Sondheim
Everybody get up
Amid a sea of “a little different this year” theatrical traditions were the Tony Awards. The 74th annual ceremony took place on September 26, officially closing the 2019-20 season a year and a half later than planned. The two-part ceremony split the action between a streaming awards show and a Broadway broadcast celebration. While the move removed the majority of speeches from CBS winners, it allowed viewers to enter all categories (including the creative arts) for the first time in several years, and the four-hour span increased the number. production and performance numbers. . The evening marked several milestones, including the first Latin Tony-winning playwright, the oldest living actor to win a Tony, a trophy for Danny Burstein after seven nominations and, with no eligible musical scores, the first best score. for one piece. .
Worlds to change and worlds to be won
If 2020 was the year of accounts, several artist-activists and organizations have assured that 2021 will be a year of action. The April March on Broadway and the September Trans March on Broadway were both, in part, responses to mega-producers whose words and actions compromised the safety and fairness of theater workers. Black Theater United, formed in 2020 as part of the Black Lives Matter movement, has released a “New Deal” calling for the establishment of diversity officers, union staff audits, and more. Company members from various productions have spoken out against the mistreatment and misrepresentation of marginalized communities in their own theaters. And as the shows began to reopen, individuals like Broadway Advocacy Coalition Chairman Britton Smith warned that a return to the stage should not be accompanied by a return to nefarious practices. “My biggest worry is that when we get back to the machine, that this opening will close and bring out empathy and push back the challenge,” he said when the organization received a special Tony Honor. “But this award is proof that moving forward requires an appeal.”