14 years ago on September 11, 2001, New York City shut down.
People mourned the loss of lives, people panicked when they couldn’t get hold of loved ones, rescuers risked their lives and many paid the ultimate sacrifice. A nation was in shock and the world grieved with them.
In a little corner of New York City, Broadway closed down and grieved too.
NYC Mayor Rudolph Giuliani asked Broadway to open back up on September 12. The executive vice president of Jujamcyn Theaters, Paul Libin, said, “we can’t get the people back that fast.”
But New York is resilient and so is Broadway. On September 13, “they were all back — actors, musicians, stagehands” in spite of closed bridges and tunnels.
There was rubble and chaos due to 911 in the city and in hearts everywhere, but there was still a place for art, comedy, story and beauty. That show must always go on.
“’Sept. 13 was to have been the official opening night for Urinetown, the scrappy satirical musical that had graduated from the New York Fringe to the big time. The attacks pushed back that date to Sept. 20, making Sept. 13 another preview. But not just another preview. The audience was partly made of airline attendants who had nowhere else to go. A cake, intended to celebrate the erstwhile opening, was cut open and shared with the theatregoers. “It was a delicate effort, but I thought it took strength to get through it from the performers’ point of view,” said Greg Kotis, the show’s librettist and co-lyricist. “It seemed an expression of courage and resilience, and those are elements of the theatre world. I guess I felt proud.’”
The cast and crew didn’t know if anyone would show up or not. There was a fear in the city of going out and going to a public place so soon after the terrorist attack. But Broadway made a home for ragged and weary hearts that day.
“’I remember I got a call from Paul Davis’ wife, Myrna,” said Libin. “They had tickets to The Producers on Sept. 13. They wanted to know if they could change their tickets to another night. I said, ‘Do whatever you want, but I really think you should come. You’re part of the theatre. I guarantee you within 15 minutes into the show, however distressed you are, Nathan [Lane] and Matthew [Broderick] will have you laughing.” They went. The Davises lived in lower Manhattan, and had been unable to get in touch with their son, who lived in California. At The Producers, a CNN camera swept over the stage and the audience, catching a glimpse of Paul and Myrna. Their son saw the footage in California. Only then, did he know they were all right.”
Many of the musicals on Broadway ended their show by singing “God Bless America,” written by Irving Berlin, a Broadway composer who died in New York in 1989.
Many shows had cast members step up to be a spokesperson.
“Allergist’s Wife star, Valerie Harper, became her show’s spokesperson. “She came out and spoke to the audience,” said Meadow. “She made the audience feel so comfortable. People were terrified. It was something like ‘Welcome. It’s great you’re in the theatre.’ She spoke a lot, for several nights.’”
Their most memorable moment? All of Broadway joined together in Times Square to sing “New York, New York.” It was later turned into a commercial, but they took no money from it. It was a gift to the city.
Their generosity was all heart. “Unions agreed to temporary concessions to keep flagging shows going. Kiss Me, Kate went further, the cast giving up an extra 25 percent of their paycheck to not only prolong the show’s run, but to buy tickets so that beleaguered relief workers at Ground Zero could take a break and see a show.”
It’s inspiring when community happens with passion and tenacity in the midst of grief, chaos and darkness. Never underestimate the power of community. It creates movement.
We’ll never forget 911 and all the lives lost. And, we won’t forget the hearts knit together through this amazing thing called Broadway whose people quietly made a difference in their own way.
Story from PlayBill.com