How the Curtain Up! Outdoor Experience Will Celebrate Broadway's Big Comeback

Broadway Reopening 2021

Like much of Broadway’s return, planning for Curtain Up! — a three-day, free outdoor event celebrating all things theater — was months in the making.

The Broadway League had considered holding some event as early back as the Juneteenth celebration in Times Square, which Charlotte St. Martin, president of The Broadway League, described as “electric.”

“The entertainment, the energy of the crowd, everybody seeing one another — we said we have to have what is Broadway on Broadway on steroids,” St. Martin told The Hollywood Reporter.

Both Playbill and the Times Square Alliance had also been cooking up their own plans, with the former interested in erecting a giant playbill in the middle of Times Square. That’s when St. Martin, who is also on the board of the Times Square Alliance, said she brought her own idea for an event forward and the prospect of merging each organization’s respective events together began.

“It started with five or six things for Curtain Up! and we have over 20 events now,” St. Martin said. “Once we started talking about it, it became very clear that this was, in addition to being for all of the theatergoers, for the regional market. It’s as much for us as for them — to celebrate together.”

Running from Sept. 17 to Sept. 19, the outdoor celebration is timed to Broadway’s official re-opening, which took place across the week of Sept. 13 and saw debuts of shows like Six and Lackawanna Blues alongside the long-awaited returns of Waitress, Wicked,Hadestown, Chicago, The Lion King, Hamilton and David Byrne’s American Utopia. It also saw the iconic TKTS Discount Ticket Booth, tucked under the red steps on Broadway and 47th St., once again offering same-day discount tickets to matinee and evening performances and next-day matinee performance tickets to both Broadway and Off Broadway productions.

Stretching from 45th to 48th Streets, the massive tribute to live theater features 22 individual events across stages in Duffy Square and between 45th and 46th Streets. According to St. Martin, who helped lead the massive industry effort to establish COVID protocols for performers, crew and audiences that made Broadway’s return possible, Curtain Up! — despite being outside — will also not stray from those requirements.

“We really just stole from Broadway and pulled those into Curtain Up!” she said of how the three-day event will keep people safe.

COVID protocols in place, the weekend will kick off on Friday, Sept. 17 at 12 p.m., with hosts Norm Lewis and Michael Urie, alongside speakers from the event’s partners Playbill, The Broadway League and Times Square Alliance. Special guest speakers Commissioner Anne Del Castillo of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Vikki Been and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer will be accompanied by special performances from Brian Stokes Mitchell and Jessica Vosk with music director John McDaniel.

It will also close out with the two-hour “Curtain Up: This is Broadway! Finale Concert” on Sunday, Sept. 19, beginning at 11 a.m. The stunningly star-studded event will see at least eighteen different productions lend their music and performers to a Broadway-revering crowd, including musicals Ain’t Too Proud, Come From Away, Dear Evan Hansen, Girl from the North County, Jagged Little Pill and The Phantom of the Opera. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Pass Over, Thoughts of a Colored Man and To Kill A Mockingbird on the list of plays scheduled to be featured during the farewell event.

But between those events are concerts, panels, sing-a-longs, awards, interactive experiences and restaurant deals that will remind attendees of the charm and resilience of New York City’s theater district. The weekend’s panels, in particular, focus on the industry’s renewed focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, including a panel featuring stars from Justin Simien’s Netflix hit Dear White People discussing the crossover experiences and initiatives of BIPOC in theatre, TV and film.

There is also the “Black to Broadway” panel, which features Thoughts of Colored Man‘s Kennan Scott III, Pass Over‘s Antoinette Nwandu and more that are part of the historic group of seven Black playwrights whose works are gracing stages this fall.

As part of Hispanic Heritage Month, there will also be a ¡Viva! Broadway When We See Ourselves Concert, an outshoot of The Broadway League initiative celebrating Latinx talent while increasing the community’s awareness of and engagement with Broadway. Curtain Up! will also welcome home a number of alumni of the annual Jimmy Awards, the League’s national high school program bringing talented young performance artists to Broadway each year, through a planned reunion concert.

“I have a special place in my heart for both ¡Viva! Broadway and the Jimmys,” said St. Martin. “We have many programs — audience development, workforce development, and audience engagement. But all of them are rooted in making Broadway more accessible.”

“Curtain Up! is really allowing us to showcase all the things we were already doing, but also showcasing how the industry heard the community,” she added.

The Playbill Piano Bar, which is located in Times Square between 45th and 46th Streets, will serve as home base for the “Wake Up, Broadway!” podcast show, as well as sing-a-longs across all three days, including Adam Laird playing hits from the Broadway sensation, Wicked and The Book of Mormon and Starkid Production’s A.J. Holmes offering songs and stories from his new one-man musical, Yeah, But Not Right Now.

The weekend is also slated to offer a whole host of interactive experiences beginning at 48th Street, where attendees can find three massive playbills — the biggest in the world at just under 10 feet — stationed for photo-ops before moving down to the Netflix “Give Your Regards” Wall, an interactive experience that requires the use of your phone and Twitter.

The Playbill pop-up store, sponsored by the Reinnasance Hotel, will offer t-shirts, mugs and other collectibles while the Lexus-backed interactive experience “Road Back to Broadway” will let fans walk along as they view playbills from various shows throughout the years. “Light the Way for Broadway,” another interactive experience, lets one put their name in lights on a Broadway Marquee, but attendees might find themselves most drawn to “Show Us Your Broadway” the weekend’s only augmented reality offering.

When people aren’t attending those panels, podcasts and performances, they’ll have access to special restaurant deals, with 25 participating businesses offering discounts and special Broadway-themed menus across all three days. While food might not be the first thing one thinks of when it comes to Broadway’s return, Tom Harris, president of the Times Square Alliance, emphasized the outsized impact the theater industry has on all of the area’s businesses.

“In New York City, all of the businesses feed off of each other,” Harris said. “To not have Broadway around has been a disadvantage for a lot of the restaurants, hotels and stores.”

This is, at least in part Harris says, why the event spans multiple days. A weekend event is bound to attract not just locals, but tourists, who will financially fuel the other businesses in the area. “It opens up opportunities for people to come to the neighborhood to stay overnight, stay at one of our great hotels, go to a couple of our restaurants, take in the excitement of the all the Broadway events.”

Ultimately, the three-day celebration of Broadway is as much about delighting fans who have missed the culture over the last 18 months as rebuilding trust and enthusiasm during the pandemic while spurring the regional economy and bringing back more of the jobs once available on Broadway and at its surrounding businesses.

“The city nor Time Square will recover until Broadway is back,” Harris told THR. “And we’re so grateful that Broadway is back.”

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