The 471-day Broadway shutdown, the longest in history, came to an end Saturday night in an unexpected way: with Bruce Springsteen.
The Boss began a 30-show limited engagement of his solo show at the St. James Theatre this weekend, leapfrogging traditional razzle-dazzle musicals like “Hamilton,” “Wicked,” and “The Lion King,” which will return on Sept. 14.
Despite his historic role in reopening Broadway, Springsteen never said the word “Broadway” once on Saturday, despite the fact that the summer stint is sure to help reinvigorate the struggling Times Square neighbourhood, which has suffered from crime, homelessness, and stagnation during the pandemic.
“It’s great to be here,” Springsteen said to his excited audience, who had to prove they were vaccinated to take their seats and shout “Bruuuuuuuuuce!”
“No masks, sitting next to each other in one room.”
The audience erupted in applause.
Aside from us commoners, rocker Steven van Zandt, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and his husband Chasten, Jujamcyn Theaters President Jordan Roth, Tony Award-winner Brian Stokes Mitchell, and MSNBC journalist Brian Williams sat in those freshly dusted theatre chairs.
In 2017 and 2018, “Springsteen on Broadway” played for over a year at the smaller Walter Kerr Theatre a few blocks away. It was a huge hit, and Netflix decided to film it. Many of the “Born in the USA” singer’s jokes and song choices are the same in his latest tour. He did, however, speak openly about his recent scandal.
Springsteen told us that he released a new album and recorded a podcast with Barack Obama during the pandemic… and was arrested for a DWI in New Jersey in front of a large crowd (the charges were dropped).
“I was handcuffed and thrown in jail,” he said. “That took some doin’ … I didn’t wake up one morning, get on my motorcycle and say, ‘I’ll go to jail!”
The Boss ended the skit with this zinger as if he were doing a stand-up set instead of a concert: “My case was, ‘The United States vs. Bruce Springsteen.'” That’s always reassuring to hear: “The whole country is against you!”
Though there was one speck of rust, Springsteen, 71, played and sang as if he had never taken a month-long break from live shows. In the song “10th Avenue Freeze-Out,” which he co-wrote with his wife, Patti Scialfa, he flubbed a line. He made a joke out of the situation.
With his girl on his arm, he said, “She loves me even when I f–k it up.”
The deeply personal show was routine for a consummate performer like Springsteen, but damn was it inspiring for me and the rest of the audience. Tourists have returned, as we discovered on Saturday. Every time Springsteen mentioned a city — San Francisco, Phoenix, Asbury Park — residents erupted in applause. He had to tell the out of towners to “shut the f-up”.
Walking out onto 44th Street at the end was like entering the Land of Oz. Fans waiting for their idol to emerge thronged the stage door, and Times Square was alive with activity. You would have told someone to sober up and seek treatment two months ago if they described such a scene.
The magical evening served as a timely reminder that Times Square, Broadway theatres, and shows aren’t meant to be closed. Baby, they are born to run.