Bruce opened Broadway.
After more than a year behind closed stage doors, the packed house at the St. James Theatre for the June 26 opening night of Bruce Springsteen on Broadway, marked the first full-capacity theater show in New York City in 15 months and proof that Broadway is back.
As anti-vaccination protestors—many making their rounds through vax-mandatory concerts and events, including the Foo Fighters’ recent Madison Square Garden re-opening show—held their post outside the theater, inside attendees were required to show their vaccination cards to enter the evening event, which brought out E Street bandmate and actor Steven Van Zandt, who sauntered in to his orchestra seat to a standing ovation, along with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, singer-songwriter and producer Jack Antonoff, reporter Brian Williams, and Broadway actor Brian Stokes Mitchell, and more sprinkled throughout the St. James.
“This is one of those moments in time you’ll remember for the rest of your life,” shared audience member Dave Baggett, who drove from Potomac, Maryland with his wife and son for the show, based on Springsteen’s 2016 autobiography Born to Run. “It’s the COVID experience.” Visiting New York was a regular trip for the family prior to the pandemic, and seeing Springsteen made this return all the more memorable. “New York is not back to where it was, but it’s getting there,” said Baggett. “New York still seems sleepy, but it’s waking up.”
Driving in from Jersey, Douglas Eagles, a Red Bank, New Jersey native and executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Monmouth County, which encompasses the Asbury Park unit of the organization, remembers working with Springsteen years earlier for a charitable event held at Asbury Lanes, and goes further back with “The Boss,” who would regularly visit the video store he worked at as a kid in Rumson, New Jersey to rent movies.
“I grew up in New Jersey, so whether you want to or not, it’s in your DNA,” said Eagles of his lifelong devotion to Springsteen.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Monmouth was also one of the beneficiaries of the evening performance with proceeds from the opening night ticket sales going to NJ Pandemic Relief Fund, The Actor’s Fund, Long Island Cares, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids, Community FoodBank of New Jersey, Food Bank for New York City, and the Fulfill food banks of Monmouth and Ocean Counties in New Jersey.
Returning to the show (which initially had its run just four blocks north at the Walter Kerr Theatre, Oct. 3, 2017 through Dec. 15, 2018, and streamed on Netflix, picking up a Tony Award and Emmy in 2019), The Boss nonchalantly stepped on stage to a standing ovation of cheers, claps, and the collective drawn out chants of “Bruce,” all met by a brash “Shut the fuck up please,” arousing audience laughter, then a heed to his words.
Starting from his earlier years, playing a rented guitar at 7, and wanting to learn those three magic chords so he could “twist and shout,” Springsteen opened on “Growin’ Up,” off his 1973 debut Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and keeping faithful to the original set list, plucked from his nearly 50-year career with “My Hometown,” off Born in the U.S.A., “My Father’s House” from Nebraska, and Born to Run tracks “Thunder Road” and mid-set pleaser “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.”
”It’s good to see everyone together, unmasked, sitting next to one another in one room,” Springsteen said following his poignant opener. Offering a summation of his past year, The Boss joked about his DWI arrest and going to “Zoom Court” after accepting two shots of tequila from fans in a federal park in New Jersey, while on his motorcycle, and gave due reverence to the release of his 20th album Letter to You and his podcast series, Renegades: Born in the USA, with former president Barack Obama.
Continuing through “Born in the U.S.A.,” “The Promised Land,” “Tougher Than the Rest,” “Long Walk Home,” “The Rising,” “Dancing in the Dark,” and “Land of Hope and Dreams,” were three diversions, including the replacement of Tunnel of Love single “Brilliant Disguise” with “Fire,” which Springsteen sang with wife, and E Street-er, Patti Scialfa (following their duet on “Tougher Than the Rest”) and his acoustic rendition of “American Skin (41 Shots),” inspired by the 1999 police shooting of Amadou Diallo, in place of “Long Walk Home.”
Sticking mostly to his script, an orated life story, Springsteen switched the repertoire to reflect on the pandemic and show more adoration for his beloved 95-year-old mother, Adele, who has been battling Alzheimer’s for more than a decade.
“She can’t speak,” said Springsteen. “She can’t stand, but when she sees me there’s a smile and there’s still a kiss and there’s a sound she makes and I know it means I love you. When I put on Glenn Miller she starts moving in her chair, reaching out for me to take her in my arms once more and dance. I love her.”
Vacillating between more intimate revelations, his strained relationship with his late father Douglas, and loss, including losing E Street Band mates, saxophonist Clarence Clemons, organist Danny Federici, and his Randolph Street family, Springsteen left the audience in varied states of emotion throughout the nearly two and a half hour, no intermission, set.
“We live amongst ghosts,” said Springsteen. “They’re with us every step of the way.”
He added, “I’m glad to be doing this show again this summer, because I get to visit with my dad every night that I’m here. It’s a lovely thing.”
Wiping away his own tears, Springsteen said “The soul is still here… I want to hear my grandmother call me in,” before reciting an “Our Father” and thanking the audience for coming out.
Set to pin-drop silence in the room, Springsteen stopped strumming and continued to sing, a cappella, through the final lines of “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” off Letter to You—the final change to the musical itinerary—replacing “Born to Run,” and all hearts beat to his rhythm as he lit up the night.