With a show-must-go-on attitude, Broadway reopened Sept. 13 after being shut down for two days following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.
New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani had encouraged a return to normalcy — as much as that is possible in the bruised Big Apple — and said Broadway is one of the signature attractions of the city. Relighting plays and musicals was important, he and others said, both economically and for morale purposes.
Productions showed their respect to the thousands presumed dead in the World Trade Center destruction by making pre-show dedications or post-show musical tributes. The League of American Theatres and Producers suggested that companies sing "God Bless America" at the end of performances, and many did.
At The Music Man, a show whose focus is the Fourth of July and Americana, a letter from director-choreographer Susan Stroman was read to the cast and a prayer was spoken backstage. Robert Sean Leonard, who plays the title role, made an announcement to the audience asking for a moment of silence. "God Bless America" was sung, as well.
At 42nd Street, actor Michael Cumpsty made remarks before the show, thanking the audience for being there. The Producers troupe sang "God Bless America." At Blast!, the atmosphere for that ironically-titled show was darker: Bags were checked and addresses of audience members were written down.
At 8 PM Sept. 13, marquees of Broadway theatres were darkened briefly in memory of those who have died or been affected by the tragedy.
Jed Bernstein, president of The League of American Theatres and Producers admitted some companies "had trepidation" about performing Thursday night, but the evening turned out to be positive and healing.
"I think it made a strong statement for our city, whether you're a theatre fan or not," Bernstein told Playbill On-Line Sept. 14. "People fed off being together — getting out of the house and away from the television."
Bernstein said that he went to six productions during the evening to hear curtain speeches or "God Bless America" and was inspired by the continuation of the shows and the sense of community. He agreed that theatre has always been a communal experience, and about "collaboration."
"Now we're collaborating on working through our grief, which is nice," Bernstein said.
Bernstein said The League is working on putting American flags in the lobbies of every Broadway theatre. He said he thinks some companies will continue to use "God Bless America" as part of their nightly ritual.
The last national crisis to halt Broadway shows was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. Shows were said to be dark Thursday, Friday and Sunday of that grim weekend.
— By Kenneth Jones