You could call it Broadway’s longest intermission.
An unforgettable 18 months rattled the New York City theater industry from the sudden pandemic shutdown in March 2020 until the first productions graced the stage with the strictest of safety protocols in the fall of 2021.
A new documentary premiering at this year’s Tribeca Festival chronicles that hard-fought comeback, a struggle that some performers, designers, and artists may never rebound from.
“Broadway Rising” delivers a love letter to the tireless efforts of that community, its struggle to overcome the unthinkable, and return with a vigor to make it better than ever.
A New Yorker herself, filmmaker Amy Rice watched the devastating media coverage unfold throughout the first year of the pandemic, wondering when her beloved hometown would be back on its feet. What else would signal New York’s return than the revival of Broadway, she figured.
“We just wanted to tell the story of New York’s comeback. We felt like there was no better lens to tell this story than through the Broadway community because everybody knew that when Broadway was back, New York was back,” Rice said.
Out of that curiosity came an unflinching inspection of what happened to the tens of thousands of people suddenly out of work.
Between the early days of lockdown, when the streets of Midtown felt like a ghost town, and the joyful tears that accompanied the first shows back, the documentary fills in the year-and-a-half journey following a cast of characters who make up the lifeblood of the industry.
Aided by producers, including Tony winners Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Justin Mikita, the filmmaker tracked down Peter McIntosh, the first usher to test positive for the virus days before all theaters locked up. Broadway audiences may also recognize stage doorman Ernie Frost Paylor who lost his leg due to COVID complications.
“We didn’t want to just tell the story of the people we usually associate with the Broadway community, the performers and the writers and the directors and producers. We really wanted to also include the stories of the people behind the scenes, the crew and the artisans, the ushers and the stage door security people and the mom and pop shops,” Rice added.
One of many signs that Broadway has indeed made its long-awaited comeback, the documentary premieres on the heels of the Tony Awards, with additional public screenings on June 16 and 19.
With its world premiere in none other than New York City, Rice hopes the Broadway community in attendance experience “a really healing and cathartic moment.”
“That’s my dream for this community, to come together and watch their story on the big screen and see their journey and what they went through and how they persevered,” she said.