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2 years later, industry leaders say Broadway is evolving while recovering from its longest shutdown in history

Looking back at Broadway's COVID shutdown 2 years later 03:07

NEW YORK -- Saturday marks two years since Broadway went dark and thousands of people immediately lost their jobs, facing uncertainty.

In the heart of Manhattan is what helps keep the big city beating -- Broadway. When shows suddenly stopped and theaters closed, it was surreal for so many.

"People say 'living the dream,' and I really was," said actress Sharon Wheatley, an original cast member in "Come From Away."

The musical was celebrating its three-year anniversary on March 12, 2020, when Broadway theaters closed.

What was expected to be a month turned into a year and a half, the industry's longest shutdown.

"I think what I realized is that life can change in a moment," Wheatley said.

Now, each moment back on stage since returning in September holds new meaning.

"I was grateful the first time around, but I am more grateful this time around because we've all been through it so hardcore," Wheatley said.

This is only part of Wheatley's new book, "Drive: Stories from Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere." The title is taken from a song in "Come From Away," and it takes readers on her family's cross-country journey in an RV, navigating COVID.

"All good adventures and all good stories, I believe, should be told," she said.


The story of Broadway in the pandemic is one for the history books.

"It was tragic. We thought we were going to have 97,000 people out of work for two or three weeks. Who knew that it was gonna be 18 months? So it was devastating," said Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League.

But from the bad came some good. St. Martin says the theater industry is evolving.

"The George Floyd murder created a whole topic of diversity and what our community should look like. We were very quick to talk not only about the many initiatives that we already had in place but about how we could do better," she said.

The League brought on Gennean Scott as director of equity, diversity and inclusion.

"We recognize that we have to truly reflect, not just on stage but behind the scenes, the community that we represent," Scott said.

They've been focusing on those efforts while getting Broadway back to business, even through the recent COVID surge.

"The show must go on never was more appropriate than for Broadway. I mean, Omicron, we took shows out for 10 days. They were back the minute they could be back," St. Martin said. "Broadway is tied to New York and New York is tied to Broadway. We have to be resilient and thank goodness we are."


By April 28, 35 theaters will be open, a major milestone for Broadway, and that deserves a standing ovation.

The Broadway League says 16 shows are opening in March and April. Mask and vaccine mandates remain in place in theaters through April.

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