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3 Broadway Veterans Prepare For Opening Night After The Pandemic Hiatus

NOEL KING, HOST:

Broadway is about to reopen. In just about two weeks, the curtain will rise on a handful of productions, and MORNING EDITITION is following three Broadway veterans as they get ready for opening night.

KRYSTAL JOY BROWN: I'm Krystal Joy Brown, and I am currently Eliza in "Hamilton" on Broadway.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "HAMILTON")

BROWN: (As Eliza, singing) I'm burning the memories, burning the letters that might have redeemed you.

RIZA TAKAHASHI: I'm Riza Takahashi, and I was in "Mean Girls" on Broadway as an ensemble member.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "MEAN GIRLS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Karen, singing) My name is Karen. My hair is shiny. My teeth are perfect. My skirt is tiny.

CHRISTEL MURDOCK: I'm Christel Murdock. I'm the assistant wardrobe supervisor for "Aladdin" on Broadway.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "ALADDIN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Genie, singing) Mr. Aladdin, sir, what will your pleasure be?

MURDOCK: So we shut down in March. So that was 2020. And then I think in October, I reached out to someone in television. She was supervising "The Equalizer," which was the new Queen Latifah series.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE EQUALIZER")

QUEEN LATIFAH: (As Robyn McCall) I'm the one you call when you can't call 911.

MURDOCK: Television - it's a whole different feeling. The energy that you get from a live performance - there's nothing like it. And I can't imagine what it's going to be like to go back.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "HAMILTON")

BROWN: (As Eliza, singing) I'm rereading the letters you wrote to me.

This is Krystal Joy Brown from "Hamilton." This is my first interview with my dear, dear friend Ryan Vasquez, who was in "Hamilton" with me before the pandemic hit.

RYAN VASQUEZ: Yes, I played many different roles in "Hamilton," so my position was as a standby for Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, George Washington, James Madison or Thomas Jefferson, depending on the day.

BROWN: What were the things that were getting you by when the pandemic hit?

VASQUEZ: As artists, we very rarely get to take breaks. And honestly, like, it was sort of nice. But then, of course, like, the pandemic was unearthing so much about our country and, like, inequality more broadly. And so I think that a lot of artists sort of pivoted to how we could be of service.

BROWN: And especially when you're hearing constantly, like, essential workers, and you're like, is musical theater (laughter) at all essential in this world? And the funny thing is, is that so many charities and organizations reached out to, like, just bring a little music, a little levity. That's been a big deal.

VASQUEZ: And I used to honestly lean on a show like "Hamilton" and say, oh, I'm in "Hamilton." Like, I'm sort of doing my part. Like, going to work every night in that show was like, at least I have this.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "MEAN GIRLS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS #1: (As characters, singing) You were so fearless - whoa-oh - you didn't cry or hide or throw up.

TAKAHASHI: This is Riza Takahashi. I was in "Mean Girls," but now, unfortunately, it's closed. So I'm starting from new again, where I'm auditioning and just had an in-person audition. Usually what happened before the pandemic hit was that for dancers, we had lots and lots of people crammed into one tiny little room. And I didn't know what to expect going into this audition. Are we wearing masks? No masks? Those - all those kind of questions - so I guess everybody's kind of trying to figure out what's the new norm when it comes to auditioning.

MURDOCK: Christel Murdock, "Aladdin," Broadway. We have 337 costumes. We have lots of costume changes. 108 of those changes take place in less than one minute. How is it going to work backstage with dressers with bite lights in their mouth. Dressers bite on a light so that they can see what they're doing in the dark and then they drop it. It's, like, on a lanyard around their neck. Like, how is all that going to work?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "ALADDIN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As characters, singing) Never had a friend like me - yeah.

BROWN: This is Krystal Joy Brown from "Hamilton." A couple weeks ago, I had kind of a tough day. So I called my friend, Karen Strader (ph), to talk about it.

KAREN STRADER: Hello, my dear. How are you?

BROWN: Yeah. I just had this really weird moment. All the news today - masks are coming back. We need to wear masks again. And I don't know. It got me really emotional today. I just don't feel safe anymore. And it's just like, how are we going to do this? I just, like, started crying, you know?

STRADER: Everything you're bringing up are valid concerns. It has disrupted your life. I know you were able to hustle your way through it.

BROWN: Yeah.

STRADER: But this kind of...

BROWN: It's just the hustle. It's, like - it's hard constantly, like...

STRADER: It's hard.

BROWN: ...Hustling and pivoting and hoping that, like, things come through.

STRADER: Krystal.

BROWN: Yeah?

STRADER: I know. I know.

BROWN: Oh, my God. I'm such a mess right now.

STRADER: No.

TAKAHASHI: Hello. This is Riza Takahashi, getting ready for my first in-person audition for "Moulin Rouge!" on Broadway. This whole year was just me and myself, (laughter) in front of a camera, setting up a Zoom audition, talking to a person in the square. So to show up in an actual room with other dancers - I haven't done that in so long.

MURDOCK: Christel Murdock, "Aladdin," Broadway. I'm sitting at my desk, and I thought it was really interesting. I came across my 2020 calendar. It was such a rush of sadness. We had so much that we were looking forward to - different actors coming and going, vacations, who was taking over for them, fittings that we were going to have to do. And it never happened.

TAKAHASHI: Hi. This is Riza Takahashi, after the "Moulin Rouge!" Broadway audition. Yeah, that was so fun to dance in the room. I forgot how that makes me feel. You know, whatever happens, happens. And I always say that - leave everything in the audition room, and don't worry about what happens after.

BROWN: This is Krystal Joy Brown from "Hamilton." So we just got out of this orientation. We're standing in front of "Hamilton," right in front of the front doors. And I'm with...

THOMAS KAIL: Thomas Kail, and I am the director of the show.

BROWN: The return of Broadway - what does it mean for New York, for the culture, for the pandemic? What do you think it means?

KAIL: Well, when you stand on 46th Street, where we are right now, and look and see the businesses that have been struggling or the businesses that are gone, I think it's just a reminder of how fragile the ecosystem is. But as other people have said before, the obituary for New York City has been written many times. And it always comes back.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "HAMILTON")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS #3: (As characters, singing) I wanna be in the room where it happens - I'm gonna be in the room - where it happens, the room where it happens... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.