My Top 10 Broadway Moments of 2021.
And we thought 2020 was weird.
2021 turned out to be more strange than its predecessor as our industry came out of hibernation, and struggled to its feet. But as bumpy as it was, especially right now, there are always blessings and things to be grateful for.
That’s why, every December, I look back at the previous year and post my Top 10 favorite moments from the last 12 months.
And this year is now different!
1. The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical gets a Grammy Nomination!
There could be a musical about the creation of this unofficial musical.
Two passionate and talented unknowns have an idea. And I’m sure a whole ton of people told them it was a bad idea. They’d never get the rights. They shouldn’t put it out in the world. They did it anyway. On TikTok. And they become internet celebs, sign with CAA, sell out concerts, and get a Grammy nomination.
What will come of Bridgerton? It doesn’t matter. Emily Bear and Abigail Barlow are here to stay. All because they had a passionate idea, made it, and had the courage to put it out in the world.
2. 7 Plays on Broadway This Past Fall . . . All By Black Playwrights.
Whenever we see a bunch of plays on Broadway, it’s always a good thing. But 7 Plays by Black Playwrights?
New voices. New stories. New Broadway. We’ll need to work hard to keep our commitment to equity and equality on Broadway . . . but I haven’t met anyone who isn’t up for this challenge.
3. DJ Andrew Lloyd Webber in the House!
In one of the greatest press stunts of all time, Andrew Lloyd Webber spun records ON 44th Street after the reopening of Phantom of the Opera. Click here to watch the party.
Broadway had been open for weeks . . . but somehow this felt like the opening ceremony.
4. Oh, we DID actually open up!
Of course, one of the greatest moments was Broadway getting back open in the first place! The ovations heard at the first performances were deafening. The tears shed by performers and audience members caused flash flood warnings. It was something I have never seen before. (And I hope to never see again!)
It was a herculean effort to get shows up and running again for everyone involved. But I gotta give a special shout out to all the Covid Managers out there who kept everyone safe.
6. The Return of the Drama Book Shop
I spent most of the 90s in the Drama Book Shop. Even when I didn’t need a book, or couldn’t afford one, I was there often. I just walked down the aisles, soaking up the expertise, and hoping to meet other TheaterMakers like me.
That’s why I was crushed when I heard about the closing. And that’s why I was overjoyed when I heard Lin-Manuel Miranda (who was discovered in the basement), Tommy Kail, Jeffrey Seller and Jimmy Nederlander rescued the 104-year-old establishment.
And then they got David Korins to design it!
If you’ve never been, go. You can’t help but walk away inspired . . . and with a book.
6. We Knew It Would Happen Someday, But Still.
Sondheim was 91 years old. He couldn’t be with us forever. But with every year that passed, with every new revival of his work, I think we started to believe he just might!
The master of words and music passed on November 26th and marked the end of an era.
Thankfully, his shows will outlast us all.
Watch the community sing “Sunday” in his honor here.
7. Look At All Those Movie Musicals!
Whenever Hollywood pays attention to us it’s a good thing. And 2021 saw filmed versions of In The Heights, Tick Tick Boom, West Side Story, Dear Evan Hansen as well as the streamed stage versions of Come From Away and Diana.
Not all were as well received as others. (Movies are like theater . . . or any business . . . not everything can work!)
But the fact that they happened, and promoted those shows, and the theater as a whole, is a great thing.
I’ve heard so many people say, “The Federal Government will never help Broadway. It never has. Never will.”
And honestly, pre-pandemic? I was one of those people.
Enter Senate Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer . . . and exit checks ranging in the hundreds of thousands for small venues to $10mm to the big shows.
Unprecedented is a word that gets thrown around a lot lately. But this thing? A federal subsidy of commercial theater? UN-FREEKIN’ PRECEDENTED.
Here’s the amazing news that isn’t always the case for government programs . . . it’s working!
SVOG opened shows that wouldn’t have opened. It put people back to work who would still be collecting unemployment. It got vendors paid, which got their landlords paid, and so on.
Would we have opened back up without it? Yes, but because of this financial foundation, the Broadway recovery is happening faster, and will be more robust.
We owe a debt to Senator Schumer. (But not a literal debt because the grants don’t have to be paid back! Hey yo!)
9. Mandates, Masks and More
Broadway wasn’t foolin’ around with our reopening. We established a vaccine mandate, a mask mandate, and other strict protocols. And we had zero resistance. Because it was the right thing to do to keep our companies and our audiences safe.
And not only did plenty of people buy tickets . . . but thankfully, we haven’t heard of one . . . not one . . . person getting seriously ill since Broadway reopened.
People were worried that there’d be a backlash. This is what I had to say to them.
10. It IS getting better . . . thanks to you.
2020 had no theater. 2021 had a lot more theater. And now, even despite Omicron, and the canceled shows and premature closings that are happening right now, we ARE better off than a year ago. And it’s because of the passion of every single TheaterMaker out there and every fan out there who is committed to our precious artform. That means you!
Even though it may not seem like it at times, things are getting better . . . and we are closer to the most exciting time for the theater that we’ll see in our lifetimes. The renaissance has begun.
The only question is . . . how will you be a part of it?
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If you’re a TheaterMaker and are looking to make this your year, then click here to hear about the group we’re putting together for people just like you. Please don’t click unless you are super committed and ready to do something, and something different than you’ve done before . . . because that’s what gets results.
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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.