The plush seat. The Playbill in hand. The low rumble of a gathering crowd. The stage, set as if no one had ever left.
Then the applause, thunderous and unifying, before anyone even stepped into the spotlight, as an offstage voice welcomed the audience. The lights dimmed, actors took their places, and an explosion of joyous appreciation rang out again.
Live theater is back, another sign of our return to a new normal.
Sitting in the balcony at the reopening of "Hadestown" earlier this month, I became — for a while at least — whole again. A missing piece — the piece that needed performance, song and a community with whom to enjoy it — had returned and fit itself back into place.
Laughter, tears, song, dance and standing ovation after standing ovation filled the next two and a half glorious hours. After the musical's curtain call, hundreds of vaccinated, masked patrons spilled onto the street, singing and dancing some more. No one wanted to let the evening go.
"To the world we dream about and the one we live in now," Orpheus toasts during the "Hadestown" story of a trip to hell — and the effort to leave. The line met with ringing applause that first night back.
That world we live in now is brightening, ever so slowly, after a year and a half of darkness. Piece by piece, each of us is finding the wedges of our lives whacked out of place by the pandemic. Slowly, tentatively, we’re pushing each one back where it belongs.
Our children are discovering their own missing pieces, in classrooms, with friends they've longed to see and teachers who lock eyes with them, even while wearing a mask. For some, the hole fills with a visit to a hockey rink or baseball stadium, with a trip or meal with friends. Or, the theater.
Broadway's doors began to reopen last month and several shows restarted Tuesday. Across Long Island, orchestras have begun to swell, too.
"Spring will come again," Orpheus promises in "Hadestown."
It will, even as the air chills and the pandemic hovers.
Twenty years ago, after a very different tragedy, the quiet, fear and sadness that enveloped New York City in the days following the Sept. 11 attacks made us question whether spring would come again, whether the region would come back to life.
That fall, Broadway closed for just two days. But when the lights flipped back on, people didn’t come back immediately. For the theater world, and beyond, it took time, work, false starts, imagination and hope to rebuild. But rebuild we did. Through highs and lows since, the arts have continued to carry us, to bring joy even through tears. It's appropriate that one show reopening next week is "Come From Away," which tells a Sept. 11 story of its own.
As before, we can mark our "firsts" on our way back. As before, that journey comes with change. As before, a new normal will settle into place, one that hopefully combines the communal joy we crave with the safety we still need.
As that happens, each of us can restore a bit of what was lost. It might not look the same. We might not look the same.
But as Hermes pledges at the close of "Hadestown": "We’re gonna sing it again and again."
And we'll be there to watch, to listen, to applaud and to find our missing pieces — again and again.
Columnist Randi F. Marshall's opinions are her own.