REVIEW: “Reopening: The Broadway Revival” (Great Performances)

Courtesy of Frank DiLella / PBS

For a year and a half, Broadway was dark. There were no shows, no audiences, no live theater at all. Until the fall of 2021, where almost as quickly as it shut down, Broadway came roaring back to life. But how do you even go about reopening a Broadway show after all of that time? PBS’s latest Great Performances documentary, “Reopening: The Broadway Revival,” answers just that. Featuring rehearsal footage from several shows and a host of interviews from Broadway actors and creators, “Reopening” follows a handful of Broadway musicals from their initial closure in March 2020 to their grand reopening in the fall of 2021. It’s an uplifting, hopeful watch – even if it never quite goes into as much detail as you might like. (4 out of 5 wands.) 

Great Performances: Reopening: The Broadway Revival
Go behind the scenes of Broadway as shows reunite, rehearse and re-stage for their long-awaited reopening nights while the theater industry learns how to turn the lights back on after its longest hiatus in history due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hosted by Frank DiLella, “Reopening” primarily focuses on the reopening of a handful of Broadway shows – including Waitress, Diana, Aladdin, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, and Phantom of the Opera. Told mostly through interviews between DiLella and the actors and creators involved, the documentary provides a broad overview of how these shows survived that hiatus. And these interviews run the gamut of emotions. For example, hearing Adrienne Warren’s fears that Tina might’ve been over before it ever really found an audience is heartbreaking. But then it’s equally joyful to hear her talk about the electricity of the show’s reopening. And the same is true for everyone else who’s interviewed too – including Aladdin‘s Michael James Scott, Diana’s Jeanna De Waal, and Waitress’s Sara Bareilles, all of whom touch on the highs and the lows they’ve felt between Broadway’s closing and its reopening.

However, if you’re hoping for a super in-depth look at how these shows managed to reopen in the middle of a pandemic, “Reopening” isn’t gonna be the documentary for you. Most of the interviews echo the same, hopeful story that’s been repeated throughout countless other interviews since Broadway’s reopening, hardly delving into any new territory. And aside from the occasional bittersweet anecdote, they mostly paint a rosy picture about Broadway’s reopening. While the documentary occasionally shows some of the harder parts of the reopening, everything mostly stays very surface level. And I really wish we could’ve gotten a better look at the nitty-gritty of how these performers got back into the groove of things with their respective shows.

The same is true for the rehearsal footage, too. While we get a glimpse into the rehearsals of several of the shows, we don’t get to see a lot. And most of what we do see comes from early music and dance rehearsals. Then we jump to opening night, where we (again) get to see a few moments here and there, but nothing particularly revelatory. Honestly, it feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity at times. I mean, how often do you have the chance to follow a show from early rehearsals to opening night? Seems like that kind of a journey would be the selling point for something like this. And yet, that’s not what “Reopening” does. Instead, it jumps back and forth between the shows, trying to cram as much into its 50-ish minute runtime as possible. And, subsequently, it never explores how any of these shows actually got back on their feet in any real depth. 

But that’s not what “Reopening” seems to be aiming for. Despite appearances, this isn’t really a documentary about how these specific shows reopened. Instead, it’s more of a celebration of Broadway in general. A big, happy, joyous look at how one of America’s biggest artistic and economic institutions bounced back to life. And there’s a lot of value in that – especially now as several Broadway shows have had to close again in the face of another wave of COVID cases. So, in this specific moment, it’s nice to see a hopeful vision for Broadway’s future. That despite the hardships that have happened, and those that are yet to come, live theatre can thrive right now. Everyone interviewed seems so hopeful about the future of Broadway, and that hopefulness is infectious and comforting. And right now, it’s probably what’s needed the most. 

If you’re a theatre fan, much of the past two years have probably felt pretty hopeless. But “Reopening” highlights all that there is to be hopeful. That there is a light at the end of the tunnel, one that’s worth hoping for. And sure, as someone who adores learning all they can about the ins and outs of how a Broadway musical gets staged, I would’ve loved it if “Reopening” had gone into more depth and explored exactly how these shows were able to reopen. But for what it was aiming for, I think it hit the mark pretty closely. “Reopening” is a great overview of how this giant industry came roaring back to life. And it’s a hopeful, joyous watch for anyone who loves live theatre. While I don’t feel like I learned a whole lot about how these shows reopened, I did walk away with my love of live theatre reinvigorated. And in many ways, that’s just as much a win.

4 out of 5 wands.

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