How a TV Ad Enticed Broadway Crowds Right After 9/11

Following the Sept. 11 terrorist assaults, Broadway suspended performances for simply two days, reopening on Sept. 13, 2001. But audiences had been hesitant to return, and plenty of exhibits carried out to near-empty homes for weeks.

To encourage attendance, the theater’s brightest stars — many in costume — gathered in a largely abandoned Times Square on Sept. 28 to carry out the John Kander and Fred Ebb tune “New York, New York.” (A studio recording session was held the day earlier than to seize audio).

Book ended by two of Broadway’s best-known voices, Bernadette Peters and Nathan Lane, the efficiency had the Phantom rubbing shoulders with the Beast, whereas “Lion King” puppets bobbed overhead. Brian Stokes Mitchell and Brooke Shields had been there; so had been the preteen urchins from “Les Miserables.”

The footage was used for a 30-second business that ran on main tv networks, in addition to in film theaters throughout the nation. The objective of the advert, based on its director, Glenn Weiss: “I want people to not be afraid to come and see a show.”

The week of the assaults, Broadway altogether grossed an anemic $185,490. After the business’s launch, ticket gross sales steadily elevated, and for the week of Nov. 11, exhibits introduced in $470,845.

Twenty years later, as Broadway braces for an additional nervous reopening, there are hanging parallels to that morning in late September. Indeed, on Aug. 30, the trade set in movement its personal post-pandemic advertising and marketing marketing campaign, together with a clip-filled video entitled “This is Broadway,” narrated by Oprah Winfrey.

Here, those that had been in entrance of the digicam and behind the scenes for the 2001 advert mirror on the expertise. These are edited excerpts from the dialog.

JAN SVENDSEN FRIEDLANDER, then-marketing director of the Broadway League On the 12th, I did go to work. I went to the League workplaces and all these members — producers and theater house owners and common managers — began coming. No one knew what to do. And then noon, the mayor’s workplace referred to as they usually mentioned, “You’ve got to get Broadway reopened.” So we agreed to reopen on Thursday the 13th.

Jan Svendsen Friedlander, the previous advertising and marketing director of the Broadway League, with a poster signed by lots of the individuals within the Broadway-boosting 2001 business.Credit…Rozette Rago for The New York TimesCredit…Rozette Rago for The New York Times

NATHAN LANE, performer Everybody was shaken by what occurred. And individuals had been involved it’d occur once more. “The Producers” had opened and performed by means of summer season after which it was the autumn. We went again on a Thursday, all due to [then Mayor] Rudy Giuliani — that is earlier than he was a raging [expletive]. It felt fallacious to be going again so rapidly. And but we had been making an attempt to do one thing optimistic.

DREW HODGES, founder, SpotCo promoting company Something like 5 days later we had been again within the workplace and making an attempt to determine what to do. We had this concept of doing a TV business, getting all people into Times Square. Barry Weissler, the “Chicago” producer, he was a pal. We went to him and mentioned, “We have this idea, help us rock and roll it forward and get it to more powerful people.” And I consider he mentioned, “I was thinking the same thing.”

BARRY WEISSLER, producer We knew we needed to sing “New York, New York.” What else? It was an concept that grew out of my assembly with Jed [Bernstein, former Broadway League president], saying we must always deliver all the Broadway neighborhood collectively in a single place to rejoice humanity — the tragedy apart, 9/11 apart. Let’s rejoice Broadway, humanity and life.

BERNADETTE PETERS, performer Of course, New York was afraid. We had been involved: Is it going to occur once more? But we simply needed to be courageous and let individuals know that it was time to take again New York.

JERRY MITCHELL, choreographer Drew Hodges referred to as me and mentioned, “We’re getting ready to do a commercial. We’re filming in Times Square. I’m going to get all the actors before their matinee. Will you choreograph it?” I mentioned, “Absolutely, what do you need?” He despatched me the tune, and I had 12 dancers, I believe, with me. I choreographed a little one thing for them that evening. And the following morning, we met on the Booth Theater [functioning as a green room]. I went onstage, and there was the Broadway neighborhood, in costume, sitting within the viewers.

CHRIS BONEAU, publicist [Producers] had been advised, “We need two people to do this, and it has to be Nathan and Matthew [Broderick].” Or: “It can be three costumed characters, and these are the ones who we would like to get.” You bought handy it to the individuals who wrangled the entire thing. I imply, there have been so many individuals behind the scenes who had been doing each single factor they might to get this second proper, since you solely had one shot at it.

HODGES We had been standing in Shubert Alley, ready to enter the Booth whereas the exhibits filed in. And we heard this jangling sound, and we couldn’t work out what it was. And it bought louder and louder. And then across the nook got here all of the Rockettes. And they had been in costume, in formation in a single line, faucet dancing, actually, throughout an empty Times Square.

Faces within the crowd, from left: Tony Roberts, Peters, Betty Buckley, Joel Grey, Dick Cavett, Stritch and Cady Huffman.Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

JOEL GREY, performer Everybody you ever knew within the theater all of a sudden was there, shiny and shiny and able to tackle the world. Theater individuals consider in desires, so we had been all dreamers saying, “Everything is going to be all right.” We all wanted to inform a story.

MITCHELL I used to be standing onstage [at the Booth] and mentioned, “This is the choreography; everybody stand up.” I believe I performed the tape 3 times. And then as every group went to their place, I put an assistant with them. They took them out to the platform and began reviewing it. Then I went out entrance, and I climbed the George M. [Cohan] statue, and I used to be standing on the statue yelling at all people over a megaphone.

PETER GALLAGHER, performer I bear in mind Jerry, he couldn’t have been a extra embracing and vibrant life spirit. And, frankly, it was simply actually reassuring to see all people — simply to see a lot of individuals you had identified or labored with.

HODGES The final line is, and Nathan says it within the spot, “Come to New York and let’s go on with the show.” But it was presupposed to be Giuliani.

FRIEDLANDER We saved listening to, “He’s coming, he’s coming. Don’t let anybody go, he wants to be in it.” So whereas we had been ready, a lot of the eating places in Times Square got here working out, they usually had been handing [out] instances of water and croissants and pastries and sandwiches and drinks.

GLENN WEISS, director Fire vehicles had been heading proper previous us. And actually each solid from each Broadway present stopped, turned and applauded. The individuals who get applause had been giving applause, and it was for our first responders. That imaginative and prescient will stick to me perpetually.

PETERS We had our ardour and our energy and our love for New York and what it represents. Everyone was there. Of course Elaine Stritch, my expensive pal, she simply made it on the final minute, as a result of she all the time would run simply a little late.

HARVEY FIERSTEIN, performer We had been advised to put on something we needed besides white. That was emphasised a bunch of occasions. So we had been able to shoot and a cab pulls up by means of the police line and out steps Stritch, all in white. And then after all, all people’s already in place, so the one place she will presumably stand is useless middle — in white.

LANE She thought, I believe due to the success of “The Producers,” I might be within the entrance row and that if she stood subsequent to me, she would undoubtedly be on digicam. She mentioned, “Oh, no, no, no, I’ll be right here next to Nathan.” That I bear in mind was very amusing. And very typical of her.

Nathan Lane recalled how Elaine Stritch jostled for a prime place on the shoot.Credit…Jesse Dittmar for The New York Times

WEISSLER A number of performers, once we positioned them, insisted on pushing by means of to the entrance. I’m not going to call names. So take a have a look at who’s in entrance. She was a expensive pal.

HODGES We needed to plan the place all people stood, and it was a grid of 40 exhibits. So individuals like Susan Lucci and Alan Alda [both had previously been on Broadway] had been within the entrance, as they didn’t have a present to face with. And after all, they had been recognizable.

FRIEDLANDER The idea was all the time to start out actually small with Bernadette. Bernadette symbolizes Broadway. And then the concept was simply to go wider and wider and wider, so that you just see Times Square, and also you see that there was life there.

PETERS Although I began it and I’m the primary voice, it’s all of us. That’s what was necessary. The feeling of the love between us made us all stronger.

HODGES Every single individual did it for not a penny, which is form of miraculous.

FRIEDLANDER Seth Popper [the League’s director of labor relations] was my counterpart; he managed to get all of the unions to present us concessions, in order that we may truly shoot this spot. In the true world, if we had tried to pay for that spot, it could have been hundreds of thousands of .

GREY It was unattainable to not need to be a a part of it, to be by some means a part of the answer. God, who would consider that there even was a resolution?

GALLAGHER Fortunately, none of us are accustomed to certainty in any side of our lives. And so it’s the form of pluck: We don’t cease performing in a present simply because it doesn’t work, or it’s going to shut. You don’t cease as a result of there’s a risk. You simply hold going.