Behind-the-Scenes of ‘Chicago’ the Musical as Broadway Reopens From Longest Shutdown to Standing Ovations

The razzle dazzle of Broadway has returned! 

Before even a note of music was played, there was rapturous applause for “Chicago” actress Jessica Ernest, who came out on stage to deliver the musical’s iconic first line of the show. 

It was as if the audience was making up for all those missed performances in the last 18 months, as Broadway experienced its longest shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. Performers were met with numerous standing ovations at the start and end of the show. 

“To hear that roar of the crowd! There is nothing like seeing these beautiful performances dancing and emoting and singing!” said Lillias White, who plays Matron Momma Mortin. She was excited for having a brand new costume. “It feels good to know theaters are open, that we can give to people what they need. People need the arts.”

Inside Edition’s Senior Digital Reporter Leigh Scheps got an exclusive look behind the scenes before the curtain went up for “Chicago” at the Ambassador Theatre, now celebrating its 25th anniversary on Broadway. There were hundreds of bouquets of flowers and several buckets of fresh roses delivered for the cast and crew. One, sitting in the costume room, was sent from “Chicago’s” composer, John Kander. 

An hour and a half before showtime, four cast members, including the legendary White, crammed together in their dressing room to put on their stage makeup. It was something they hadn’t done in over a year, but it was just like old times

For White, it was challenging to sit at home without work for so long. “It was tough,” she admitted. “It was depressing. Part of me was waiting for the other shoe to drop, whatever that was going to be.” Tending to her terrace garden and growing vegetables helped keep her sane while waiting for work. 

“I think the biggest challenge was to keep in shape,” Paulo Szot, who plays Billy Flynn told Inside Edition. How to motivate yourself to sing and be active all the time.”

Four other shows began performances Tuesday as well. “The Lion King,” “Wicked” and “Hamilton” returned, and the play “Lackawana Blues,” began its first preview performance. 

But attending a show is slightly different than it was pre-pandemic.

Before ushers can scan their tickets and direct audiences to their seats, workers are stationed outside to check IDs and vaccination statuses. Guests need to be fully vaccinated with an FDA- or WHO-authorized vaccine in order to attend a show and must show proof of vaccination at their time of entry into the theatre, along with their ticket. Masks are required for audiences inside the theater of a Broadway show, except while eating or drinking in designated locations. 

Outside the theater, fans cheered to be back at a Broadway show. “There’s an energy tonight that feels like opening night again,” ticketholder John Monton said. “It’s like the rebirth of theater. Without Broadway, there is no New York City.”

Notables such as Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League, and costume designer William Ivey Long, were among those in the crowd. 

Inside the theater, with not an empty seat in sight, “Chicago” director Walter Bobbie greeted the audience with a tribute to its original star and choreographer, Ann Reinking, who died last December during the Broadway shutdown. 

“When we put this show together wanted it to be an homage to [Bob] Fosse. What has happened with Ann’s work in our collaboration over the years is that ‘Chicago’ has turned into the legacy of the dear late Ann Reinking,” he told the energetic crowd. “You are on this stage.”

After 25 years, “Chicago” is still all that jazz. 

“I’ve been waiting for a long time to see it,” a fan said. 

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