This week marks Broadway’s biggest in more than a year.
On Thursday, two major musicals had performances for the first time since theaters were shut down way back in March 2020: “Waitress,” starring Sara Bareilles, and the 2019 Tony winner for Best Musical, “Hadestown.”
In the latter show, which runs at the Walter Kerr Theatre, Tony Award winner André De Shields plays Hermes, the storyteller who guides the audience through the updated myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.
The indomitable De Shields, 75, is excited, if cautious, about returning to the neighborhood where he’s wowed audiences for decades in “The Wiz,” “The Full Monty,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and more.
Here, he tells The Post what it’s like getting back on the boards.
You’re returning to Broadway this week after more than a year away. How does that feel?
It’s been very exciting … Part of the many emotions I’m feeling right now is this has a sense of déjà vu. In 2019, we opened on Broadway and we did well in terms of Tony Awards, then the pandemic happened, and for 18 months I didn’t have an active memory of having to go to the Walter Kerr Theatre for eight shows a week.
What were you doing when you heard that Broadway was going to reopen?
I was at the Shakespeare Festival in St. Louis doing “King Lear.” I thought, “Should I pack my bags and leave now? Is it that imminent?”
What was that first rehearsal after shutting down like?
As it is for all Broadway families, when we came back for the first rehearsal, we wanted to jump into each other’s arms and start kissing. And you could see the concern on each individual’s face as we stopped ourselves mid-motion and said, “Oh, wait a minute.” We’re still very generous with our affection, but there’s a new protocol about loving people now.
You’re back at the Walter Kerr Theatre. Are there new safety procedures in place?
Jujamcyn [Theaters, which owns Walter Kerr,] is very generous in terms of their protocols. They’re taking care of us. We have to self-test at home twice a week. The theater has been refurbished; [we have] purifiers in our dressing rooms. We get checked at the stage door. We have to exchange the mask we wore in for one they give to us. Everyone is taking care, because we want this time to stick.
Do you see your character, Hermes, in a new light now?
I do. He’s the creature who accompanies the human who’s making a visit to the Land of the Shades, which is what Hades is. So if you look at it in the prism of the regeneration of Broadway, it’s the very same game. We now have to risk going into the unknown — the Land of the Shades. We now have to deal with the dark part of our personalities in order to regain the light that we think we lost during the pandemic.
What is reopening night going to be like?
We’re doing our first public performance as an invited dress rehearsal, and we’re doing it for first responders. We’re sort of stacking the deck. You have to love us, right?!