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Broadway is back – starting with The Boss.
Bruce Springsteen, 71, took the stage for his part-singing, part-storytelling show at Jujamcyn’s St. James Theatre in New York City on Saturday night. Springsteen on Broadway is the first production to open since Broadway went dark in March 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Letter to You singer was greeted by a sustained, roaring standing ovation from the audience. “Shut the f— up, please!” he had to say, just so he could start the show.
Proof of vaccination was required to enter the theater. “Unmasked, sitting next to each other,” Springsteen said of the crowd, which filled nearly all 1,684 seats in the house. “It’s been a long time coming.”
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Opening night was star-studded: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, 39, and his husband Chasten, 32, Jack Antonoff, 37, and Springsteen’s E Street bandmate Steven Van Zandt, 70, all sat in the orchestra section.
Outside the theater, however, a crowd of anti-vaccine protesters lined up with chants and signs, opposing the theatre’s policy to require proof of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Near the top of the show, Springsteen joked about his November 2020 arrest for suspicion of DWI. “I was handcuffed and thrown in jail,” he said, after casually listing his other quarantine activities – releasing a podcast and a new album. “That took some doin’. … I didn’t wake up one morning, get on my motorcycle and say, ‘I think I’ll drive to jail!'”
The musician was arrested by police at the Gateway National Recreation Area in Sandy Hook, New Jersey, after reportedly taking a shot of tequila while meeting with fans, according to the New York Post. His alcohol blood-alcohol content was below New Jersey’s legal limit, Asbury Park Press reported. In February, he pleaded guilty and paid a fine for consuming alcohol in a prohibited area. Charges for driving while intoxicated and reckless driving were dropped.
Springsteen recounted that in “Zoom court,” the case was labeled “United States vs. Bruce Springsteen.” “You have engaged in an act so heinous, the entire U.S. is against you,” he said, adding, “Two shots of tequila!”
Throughout the show, Springsteen took audience members through the journey of his life with just his piano, a couple of guitars, and a harmonica around his neck. An intimate experience, the 2.5-hour show is filled with moments that erupt in laughter and others that pack the quiet power of a sermon.
Like his stadium tours, it was of course peppered with audience cheers of “Bruuuuce!” between songs.
Springsteen shared it all, from childhood memories of guitar lessons in New Jersey that were so “boring” he almost quit, to more searingly personal revelations. He spoke of his father, who died in 1998; his 95-year-old mother, who has Alzheimer’s and can’t walk or speak, but, in her way, still loves to dance; his beloved late bandmate, saxophonist Clarence Clemons; and his own survivor’s guilt that came from meeting veterans after he’d avoided being drafted for the Vietnam War. (“I do sometimes wonder who went in my place,” he mused.)
Never did Springsteen look happier to be performing again than when his “Jersey girl,” wife Patti Scialfa, 67, joined him for two duets. The pair looked as in love as ever, high-fiving when he mentioned their recent 30-year anniversary.
Springsteen on Broadway originally played a yearlong, sold-out run at the Walter Kerr Theater starting in 2017. It was later released as a Netflix special and live album.
As for why he was eager to come back to the stage – before other Broadway productions are slated to open in September – Springsteen offered one reason. “I get to visit my dad every night that I’m up here,” he said, through tears.
After a year of imaginable loss for so many, Springsteen traded his original run’s finale song “Born to Run” for the cathartic “I’ll See You in My Dreams” from his latest album.
“You’ve provided me with purpose and a whole lot of joy,” he told the crowd. “I hope I’ve done the same for you.”
Springsteen on Broadway will run at the St. James Theatre through September 4.