Broadway Stars on Returning to the Stage: 'It's a Part of Who We Are'

Theater lovers everywhere rejoiced — or maybe even felt a song coming on — when news of Broadway reopening in New York City broke, but for the performers who will be taking the stage in just a few months, the feeling is not just mutual, it's an identity.

"For us, it's a part of who we are," Haley Swindal of "Chicago," told Travel + Leisure while chatting about Broadway's reopening. "It's not just singing, it's sharing that with an audience. It's being able to look into all of your eyes and be there with you."

Swindal, who was cast in 2019 as the iconic show's role of Mama Morton, spent time in the pandemic on various projects and teaching via Zoom but is ready to be "Mama" again to future spectators, although the show's return date has yet to be announced.

"They say that when an audience is watching a performance, [their] heartbeats sync with the performers on stage and they really do," she said. "Art brings us together, and in this time apart I think it's been difficult for everyone, but I do think art is going to be coming back with a vengeance and it'll be an exciting and wonderful time." 

The "Chicago" star was joined by several fellow Broadway actors, near Manhattan's theater district at French restaurant Marseille last week, in a showcase put on by Inside Broadway, a non-profit theater company focused on bringing arts and music programs to New York students. The event, entitled "Broadway's Back for the City's Best!" was filled with performances by the likes of Zachary Noah Piser from "Dear Evan Hansen," Jennifer DiNoia from "Wicked," and Nteliseng Nkhela from "The Lion King."

As for the event's host, N'Kenge, who previously starred in "Motown: The Musical," her return to the stage has been a long time coming. The actress' latest gig — a starring role in the revival of "Caroline, or Change" — was due to open the day before the theater and live performances came to a halt.

"It was very mixed feelings," she said of hearing the news of Broadway's closure at the start of a rehearsal. "I felt depressed a bit because we were so excited, but then I also felt like I understood because you start seeing these numbers [of COVID-19 cases]." 

And although she had time to focus on other theater and television projects in the time she wasn't performing, the producer and mom is looking forward to the day that "Caroline, or Change" can make its debut on Oct. 8, while New York City continues its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

"At the end of the day it's about the community and helping everyone," she said. "I'm so happy these restaurants have survived to reap the benefits of Broadway coming back and the tourists that are coming here. New York is already hopping right now, I feel like Broadway opening up is like icing on the cake." 

Jeremy Stolle, star of "Phantom of the Opera," recounted the moment he got the news — virtually, along with the show's cast and crew — that "Phantom," which he's starred in the leading role of for 13 years, would return on Oct. 22.

"I would say it was more of a parade or a party," Stolle, who stunned the crowd with the show's iconic song "Music of the Night" at the event, told T+L. "We did a zoom call with all 200 people in the building — it was just a joyous moment."

The actor, who lives just blocks away from the Majestic Theater where "Phantom" has held its residency since 1988, told T+L that the neighborhood is more than ready for tourists to return.

"Without tourists, it doesn't exist," he said. "The locals are here but really tourism is key, and when they come back, life is going to come back, and they're not going to come back until we're going to, so I cannot wait." 

Christine Burroni is Travel + Leisure's Digital News Editor. Find her keeping up with just about everything on Twitter or see what she's up to in NYC or on her latest trip on Instagram. 

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