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Over 17 months ago, the Hollywood Pantages Theatre was forced to put a halt to its Hamilton production, just hours before the show was set to launch March 13, 2020. After a painfully long and uncertain hiatus for Broadway productions and performers across the globe, the Los Angeles landmark theater finally reopened its doors Tuesday evening for the premiere of Hamilton.
There was a palpable buzz in the air, as a line of excited audience members gathered along both sides of the theater. Folks decked out in Hamilton merchandise — shirts, hats and even masks — lined up and down Hollywood Boulevard in anticipation of the city’s first night back at the theater.
With COVID-19 health and safety recommendations in mind, the Pantages made the decision last month to require proof of vaccination for all ticket holders. Guests under age 12 or with medical or religious accommodations will require negative COVID-19 PCR coronavirus test results.
“I’m so incredibly proud of the Los Angeles audience because they showed up fully vaccinated, fully masked and raring to go,” Pantages general manager Jeff Loeb tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Upon doors opening at 7 p.m., guests efficiently moved through security checkpoints to show proof of vaccination, along with participating in a standard bag check prior to entering the building.
“We’ve been in close consultation with the Department of Public Health, and they felt that we were very safe in opening our building,” Loeb said.
In addition to vaccination and mask requirements, the Pantages has taken steps to incorporate touchless ticketing features and hand sanitizing stations throughout the theater. With guidance from live entertainment specialists at the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, the theater also developed protocols to upgrade its air filters, as well as maximize the flow of fresh, outside air coming into the building.
As only the third Broadway national tour to reopen since initial shutdowns last year — following in the footsteps of the North American Wicked tour in Dallas and Hamilton in San Francisco — the theater’s excitement to finally be opening its doors to the public again was expressed by Loeb.
“This building is special,” he said. “But what I learned over the last 17 months is that it’s only magical when people are in the building. That’s when it sings.”
“Somebody asked me, would it be different to see a show with everyone being fully masked?” the general manager continued. “And it is no different. It’s like a rock show.”
Audience members appeared equally as thrilled to be back at the Pantages. While taking their seats, several guests embraced one another upon seeing the stage for the first time, as hoots and hollers sounded throughout the theater.
“I have chills everywhere,” one audience member told a Pantages ticket handler at the door, to which the employee responded, “We’ve been waiting, too!”
Backstage, the Hamilton cast prepared for their opening night — a kickoff that was meant to take place over 500 days prior. Amid the unexpected halt of the production as a result of the pandemic, the cast stayed closely connected throughout lockdown.
“I call [this cast] basically the UN of Hamilton because it is members from all different companies, pulling a quilt work of amazing Hamilton performers together for this Los Angeles company,” Rory O’Malley, who plays King George III, told THR. “We got to really know each other as a cast, not by performing on a stage in front of an audience, but from Zoom calls and going through this experience together.”
“Theater brings people together and we haven’t been allowed to be together,” added Joanna A. Jones, who plays Eliza. “But now that we’re allowed to, it just feels so meaningful and so poignant.”
In addition to being vaccinated and wearing masks when they’re not onstage, the cast are also being tested on a regular basis for an added level of precaution.
“All I can say is that we feel so incredibly safe, and I know that the audience members can feel the same way,” O’Malley affirmed. “This is a special moment that we can be confident that the theater industry is taking every precaution to protect our fellow theater lovers.”
“No expense is being spared,” Jones agreed. “We feel super taken care of and safe on our end.”
As for finally returning to the stage after over a year of performance hiatus, the two castmembers anticipate a flurry of emotions on opening night.
“Oh yeah, we were crying at the final dress,” O’Malley said before the show. “I’ll be crying tonight.”
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