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After 18 months of no in-person theatre, I'm happy to leap to my feet these days
When I saw Company last month, I jumped up to applaud before the cast even started to bow. My companion turned to me and asked, "So, is this ovation-worthy?," a not-so-subtle dig at my infamous 2017 essay in which I criticized the ubiquity of standing ovations. While I meant every word five years ago, after everything the theatre community has been (and is still going) through since March 2020, these challenging days I don't stand by that opinion. Instead, I stand for curtain calls because pulling off an in-person show during a pandemic is a heroic feat.
In the case of Company, I was inspired to stand for many reasons. This was my most anticipated show of 2020—I was supposed to attend on March 26, but everything shut down. After waiting 22 months to see it, I was suddenly worried it might not happen because of omicron. The night I attended, many other Broadway performances were canceled because of breakthrough infections, so I was not-so-sorry-grateful to be in good Company.
On top of that, it was my first in-person Sondheim musical since his death. And, most importantly, I loved the performances. Christopher Fitzgerald and Jennifer Simard cracked me up; Matt Doyle's "Getting Married Today" was marvelous; Claybourne Elder's himbo flight attendant was delightful; and I don't have strong enough adjectives to describe Patti LuPone's sublime Joanne. Since I couldn't propose a toast, I stood and applauded along with pretty much everyone else in the audience. We wanted to make sure the performers (and director and designers and dressers and front of house staff, everyone involved!) knew we were as thrilled to be back as they were.
My standing ovation conversion has been easier since I've enjoyed most of the shows I've seen since theatres reopened. The joyous Merry Wives at The Public's Shakespeare in the Park was the production that welcomed me back to in-person theatre. And I've admired many of the productions I've seen on the Main Stem, particularly Trouble in Mind, a still timely 1955 play receiving its long overdue Broadway debut.
Although I don't always lead the standing ovations as I did at Company, I am game to join in, and not even grudgingly. Actors are risking their health to entertain us. A lot of us are able to work from home, and even those who go into offices or work backstage can wear masks to protect themselves and others. Actors can't take those mitigation measures onstage as they speak and sing into each other's faces. If performers are potentially being exposed to COVID-19 while I sit comfortably in my KN95 mask, the least I can do is get off my butt to clap!
There is still so much uncertainty for everyone in the industry. Many theatre workers are still unemployed, and for those fortunate enough to be working, there is no guarantee it will last. Waitress, Jagged Little Pill, Thoughts of a Colored Man and the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular all shuttered abruptly last month after canceled performances made soldiering on financially impossible. None of those productions got a proper closing night. That's a compelling argument for treating every performance like it could be the last and giving the artists an enthusiastic send-off. So, here's to standing up!
How do you feel about standing ovations? Let us know in the comments.