NEW YORK Broadway came back to life Thursday as stage-starved fans lined up in the cold for tickets and theaters reopened their doors following a 19-day stagehands strike that took a big toll on the local economy.
The mood was ecstatic all around the theater district. Tourists, actors, stagehands, restaurants, musicians, hot dog vendors basically anyone remotely affected by Broadway were all thrilled about the return of musicals and plays.
"I never thought I'd have the opportunity to see a Broadway show! And the price is right," Canadian tourist Susie Biamonte said as she waited for steeply discounted $26.50 tickets to "Chicago" reopening Thursday with a new cast that included two stars from "The Sopranos."
The strike inflicted serious harm on Broadway during one of the best times of the year, when the city is teeming with tourists and Christmas shoppers. Officials estimated that the city lost about $38 million because of the strike.
The end of the walkout meant a scramble for new opening nights for shows that were in previews when the strike hit. Aaron Sorkin's "The Farnsworth Invention" will now open Dec. 3; "August: Osage County" from Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Dec. 4. "The Seafarer" arrives Dec. 6; and Dec. 9 will be the new opening for a long-lost Mark Twain comedy, "Is He Dead?"
Disney's "The Little Mermaid" has already announced it would push back its scheduled Dec. 6 opening with a new date set Thursday for Jan. 10. And a revival of Harold Pinter's "The Homecoming," which had been set to start previews the day after Thanksgiving, will now premiere Dec. 16.
Popular musicals such as "Wicked," "Jersey Boys," "Mamma Mia!" and "The Lion King" were among the more than two dozen shows that were shut down during the lucrative Thanksgiving holiday week. These big hits regularly gross more than $1 million each week this time of year.
Most plays and musicals that were shut during the walkout were expected to be up and running Thursday evening, even if the cast and crew were a little rusty after a nearly three-week layoff. "Chicago" held a last-minute afternoon rehearsal to work out some kinks before going back on with a new cast that included "Sopranos" actors Aida Turturro and Vincent Pastore. By midday Thursday, the show was sold out, and its discount ticket offer was extended to the Sunday matinee.
Michael Van Praagh, a stagehand for 34 years who was returning to work on Tom Stoppard's "Rock 'n' Roll," said the settlement was a sign "that we're finally getting the respect we deserve on Broadway."
He flashed a big smile as he looked across West 45th Street at the Imperial Theatre, where actor Jeff Perry was even more relieved the strike was over. Perry would finally appear in "August: Osage County," the critically acclaimed Tracy Letts play that was to have opened on Nov. 20. Perry said the walkout allowed him to spend a lot of "hand-holding" time with family and friends over the Thanksgiving holiday.
"Business was very bad for everybody," said Mohamoud Ali, a cart vendor in Times Square.
The stagehands and theater producers reached a tentative agreement late Wednesday. Right up to the last day, both sides struggled with what apparently was the final hang-up: the issue of wages. It concerned how much to pay stagehands in return for a reduction in what the producers say were onerous work rules that required them to hire more stagehands than are needed.