Broadway came back to life Thursday as stage-starved fans lined up in the cold for tickets and theaters reopened their doors following a 19-day stagehands strike that took a big toll on the local economy.
The mood was ecstatic all around the theater district. Tourists, actors, stagehands, restaurants, musicians, hot dog vendors — basically anyone remotely affected by Broadway — were all thrilled about the return of musicals and plays.
“I never thought I’d have the opportunity to see a Broadway show! And the price is right,” Canadian tourist Susie Biamonte said as she waited for steeply discounted $26.50 tickets to “Chicago” — reopening Thursday with a new cast that included two stars from “The Sopranos.”
The strike inflicted serious harm on Broadway during one of the best times of the year, when the city is teeming with tourists and Christmas shoppers. Officials estimated that the city lost about $38 million because of the strike.
The end of the walkout meant a scramble for new opening nights for shows that were in previews when the strike hit. Aaron Sorkin’s “The Farnsworth Invention” will now open Dec. 3; “August: Osage County” from Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Dec. 4. “The Seafarer” arrives Dec. 6; and Dec. 9 will be the new opening for a long-lost Mark Twain comedy, “Is He Dead?”
Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” has already announced it would push back its scheduled Dec. 6 opening — with a new date set Thursday for Jan. 10. And a revival of Harold Pinter’s “The Homecoming,” which had been set to start previews the day after Thanksgiving, will now premiere Dec. 16.
Popular musicals such as “Wicked,” “Jersey Boys,” “Mamma Mia!” and “The Lion King” were among the more than two dozen shows that were shut down during the lucrative Thanksgiving holiday week. These big hits regularly gross more than $1 million each week this time of year.
Most plays and musicals that were shut during the walkout were expected to be up and running Thursday evening, even if the cast and crew were a little rusty after a nearly three-week layoff. “Chicago” held a last-minute afternoon rehearsal to work out some kinks before going back on with a new cast that included “Sopranos” actors Aida Turturo and Vincent Pastore. By midday Thursday, the show was sold out and its discount ticket offer was extended to the Sunday matinee.
“There’s a lot of energy,” said Pastore, perhaps best known for playing Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero on HBO’s mob show. “I want to go back to work.”
Michael Van Praagh, a stagehand for 34 years who was returning to work on Tom Stoppard’s “Rock ’n’ Roll,” said the settlement was a sign “that we’re finally getting the respect we deserve on Broadway.”
He flashed a big smile as he looked across West 45th Street at the Imperial Theatre, where actor Jeff Perry was even more relieved the strike was over.
Perry would finally appear in “August: Osage County,” the critically acclaimed Tracy Letts play that was to have started previews on Nov. 20. Perry said the walkout allowed him to spend a lot of “hand-holding” time with family and friends over the Thanksgiving holiday. But he added: “There was that dead pit of your stomach feeling of, ’Don’t tell me this play will never be seen by a wider audience.”’
While most businesses suffered during the strike, the Broadway NY gift shop on the ground floor of the Marriott Hotel registered a little phenomenon: T-shirts for the striking “Wicked” show “almost sold out,” said manager Alex Dudgeon. “People said, ’Well, we can’t see the show, but at least we’ll have this.”’
Otherwise, he added, business got worse and worse as the strike wore on.
“Business was very bad for everybody,” said Mohamoud Ali, a cart vendor in Times Square who sold less than half the hot dogs and pretzels usually snatched up by crowds on their way to nearby theaters. He lost more than $1,000 during the strike.
The stagehands and theater producers reached a tentative agreement late Wednesday, on the third day of marathon sessions between Local 1 and the League of American Theatres and Producers, which had been negotiating since summer.
Right up to the last day, both sides struggled with what apparently was the final hang-up: the issue of wages. It concerned how much to pay stagehands in return for a reduction in what the producers say were onerous work rules that required them to hire more stagehands than are needed.
Local 1 is expected to vote on the agreement on Dec. 9.