New York City became River City on Thursday night.
Tony-winning stars Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster took the stage at the Winter Garden Theatre to kick off the long-delayed revival of “The Music Man,” which withstood COVID outbreaks, production pauses and the removal of lead producer Scott Rudin over nearly two years.
Before the curtains even raised, opening night festivities began with a high-school marching band rousing the eagerly waiting crowd with renditions of “76 Trombones” and “The Wells Fargo Wagon.” Producer Kate Horton, who was appointed after Rudin left the show in June 2021 due to allegations of abusive and bullying workplace behavior, welcomed the early attendees alongside NYC Schools Chancellor David Banks.
“Our kids have been through a lot throughout this pandemic,” Banks said. “Music and theater and dance are what’s needed by the soul and spirt of all of our young people.”
Once the red carpet started, the A-list celebrities began pouring in, including Jackman’s friend and fellow Marvel star Ryan Reynolds, director Shawn Levy, who directed Jackman in 2011’s “Real Steel,” and Reynolds’ wife Blake Lively. Jackman’s “Les Miserables” co-star Anne Hathaway was also in attendance. In Foster’s camp, her “Younger” co-star Peter Hermann and creator Darren Starr walked the carpet, as did Hermann’s wife Mariska Hargitay. Other celebrity guests included Broadway legend Andrew Lloyd Webber, Andy Cohen, Seth Meyers, Cynthia Nixon and Gayle King, in addition to politicians like New York City mayor Eric Adams, Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mike Bloomberg.
The star-studded premiere was fitting for an opening night that was years in the making.
“There were a lot of ups and downs,” Jackman told reporters after the show. “You spend two-and-a-half, three years since we first started this journey. Parts of it felt like, ‘Maybe we’ll never get there.’ And here we are… Everything about this feels really miraculous.”
Jackman and Foster were first cast as con man Harold Hill and his love interest Marian Paroo in 2019, with an original, must-attend opening night set for Oct. 22, 2020. Little did they, or anyone, know that the COVID-19 pandemic would upend the world and temporarily shutter Broadway theaters not long after.
“Hallelujah, we’ve made it,” Phillip Boykin, who plays baritone Olin Britt of the barbershop quartet, told Variety. “We’ve been rehearsing for months. This has been the longest preview that I’ve ever experienced with a Broadway show. I think we did 30 or 40-something previews, and I was just really happy and relieved we finally got to opening night.”
Not only did “The Music Man” have to push its opening night twice during the pandemic, Jackman and Foster both tested positive for COVID-19 in late 2021, forcing the show to cancel several performances heading into the new year. Like many other Broadway shows, “Music Man” had to rely on the flexibility of its understudies and swings, who sometimes had to take on new roles in just hours.
“We’re a team,” Jackman told Variety. “It was really important for us to make sure, particularly those kids, they have a really great experience. Nobody is doing it on their own. We’re all in it together. We got together as a cast before we went on tonight, and making sure that everyone feels appreciated, seen, heard and valued is important.”
The hot-ticket musical, about a con man who poses as a music instructor to swindle a small, Midwestern town, is directed by Jerry Zaks and produced by Barry Diller, David Geffen, Horton and Fictionhouse. And it arrives as Broadway and other institutions begin to reopen while the omicron waves starts to subside — not a moment too soon.
“It feels like the industry, we’ve had such a struggle throughout the pandemic, as all the arts have. I want to say a shoutout to all the intrepid people who first opened on Broadway a few months ago. It was a scary, risky business to do it, and it took the bravery of them to build toward this moment, when we can be here and open very well,” Jayne Houdyshell, who plays Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn, told Variety.
The opening-night crowd burst into applause during several numbers and showered the performers with a roaring, standing ovation once the curtains closed. Jackman, Foster and the rest of the cast had a seemingly perfect night.
“There are trombones being tossed, 75 books being tossed in the library sequence, library carts that roll. Hugh has a number of dangerous stunts,” choreographer Warren Carlyle told Variety. “I think we dropped one book — I saw one hit the deck — but we did pretty good.”