For one day, Broadway is back as top stars take stage in pop-up show

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Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune
·2 min read
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“I’m dancing again,” roared Savion Glover, “on a stage.”

“Here is the true meaning of the pandemic,” kvetched Nathan Lane, “online, you can’t smell the Doritos.”

There was material. And bona fide stars. For a precious hour Saturday afternoon, Broadway came back.

It wasn’t exactly the whole shooting match at the St. James Theater on W. 44th Street: the one-off show, part of the NYPopsUp program, was kept secret until curtain time; the limited attendees sat alone, distanced by banks of empty seats; the set was no more than a platform; protocols involved questionnaires and proof of testing or vaccination; and the duration of this singular double-bill wasn’t much longer than the standing ovations Lane received nightly at this very theater during the salad days of “The Producers.”

Still, emotions ran high. Very.

Glover, who tapped and sung his way through an a cappella suite of references to Broadway shows past and present, kept staring down at his feet like he was reacquainting himself with the steadying, performative power of mother earth. At one point, the hoofer asked for the loudspeakers to be disconnected (“Unplug it! Unplug it!”), presumably to better feel the natural echo and reverberation of the hallowed space that is a great Broadway theater, the kind of place where a talented tap-dancing kid can rest on the shoulders of giants and see his life change. One audience at a time.

Lane performed a custom monologue penned for the occasion by Paul Rudnick. Nodding toward the character of The Man in the Chair in “The Drowsy Chaperone,” the great comic actor assumed the character of a theater-going superfan, a gay man of a certain age whose studio apartment is filled with cast recordings and who lives for half-price ducats in his paw, soft velour meeting his butt and dimming lights calming his anxieties.

“When I have tickets to a show,” the character said, as lonely heads in the house nodded in agreement, “it lifts my whole day.”

Broadway will need those guys going forward, and Lane and Rudnick offered a gently satiric celebration of the type, setting up a scenario where the man’s favorite divas (Hugh Jackman! Patti LuPone! Audra McDonald!) all arrive at his humble abode and then smack each other down as they compete for his favor in front of his fridge. It was a comic affair, of course, until Lane switched gears.

His forlorn victim of an endless lockdown started to wonder if this whole thing had been a dream, a fantasy born of stress, loneliness and withdrawal.

The man started to worry: Maybe Broadway is never coming back. Maybe the theater is gone forever. Lane’s voice began to catch with emotion.

Nah. Baby steps, but Broadway is on its way, one jab at a time.

The doors of the St. James just let in an audience for the first time in over a year. And there was a show.