The pandemic will not cease any day soon. As the Delta variety spreads over the world, infection increasing from India to Ireland, it will likely be a long time before COVID-19 is just a horrific memory. But, on Saturday night, Bruce Springsteen walked onto the stage of New York’s St. James Theater to begin an encore run of Springsteen on Broadway.
It was not only his first appearance in front of a live audience since January 2020, but also the first Broadway play of any kind since the outbreak began.
And the capacity crowd, which included many well-heeled Springsteen fans, greeted him with the iconic “Brooooce” shout, drowning out the anti-vaccine protestors assembled outside the theater.
“It’s nice to see everyone here tonight,” he said to the audience. “We’re not wearing masks and sitting next to each other in the same room. It’s been a long time coming. It’s a huge excitement. What a year it has been. I’ve been on the globe for 71 years and have never seen anything like this last year. And I was fortunate. We stayed fit and productive. With the E Street Band, I released a record. Letter To You is a film that we made. I hosted a radio show, recorded a podcast with President Barack Obama and was chained and imprisoned.”
He’s referring to the November 2020 incident in which he was charged for DUI after only two shots of tequila. Until this program, he had not publicly commented on the topic. It resulted in the most serious charges being dropped and a fine of $540.
“I didn’t get up one morning, hop on my motorcycle, and say, ‘I guess I’ll drive to jail,’” he explained. “After that, I had to go to Court! The United States of America vs. Bruce Springsteen was my case. It’s always comforting to know that the entire country is against you. ‘You have committed an act so vile that it has insulted the entire United States! You, my obstinate, law-breaking, bridge-and-tunnel buddy, have consumed two shots of tequila.’
It served as a reminder that a lot has changed since Bruce Springsteen first Broadway engagement.
That was before the epidemic, George Floyd, Black Lives Matter and Trump’s defeat in the 2020 election.
The general structure of the show will be familiar to anyone who saw the previous run or the Netflix special. However he did drop a handful of different songs and rearranged some of the spoken-word parts to reflect everything that has changed.
Unfortunately, his mother’s health has deteriorated in recent years, and he appeared to be fighting back tears as he updated the audience on her condition before a touching rendition of The Wish. “She’s been suffering from Alzheimer’s for ten years,” he explained. “She’s 95 years old. Her desire to dance, on the other hand, has not faded. When she sees me, she smiles and gives me a kiss. She makes a sound that I know indicates ‘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 and dance.”
There was a political segment, in which he replaced his comments about Trump and Charlottesville with a new speech.
“These are hard and troubling times,” he remarked. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen, definitely not in my lifetime, a period when democracy itself, not just who is going to run the show for the next four years, but the survival of democracy itself, was so seriously challenged. The Rule of Law, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution have been so casually bludgeoned, ignored, and trampled on that I fear for our future. I understand those people on the street. It’s a scary period, full with uncertainty.”
He made no mention of George Floyd or Black Lives Matter, but he followed that statement with a haunting rendition of “American Skin (41 Shots)” that revealed exactly where his mind was at. This song was penned over 20 years ago in response to the death of Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo at the hands of the New York Police Department. It was extremely powerful, delivered just one day after Derek Chauvin’s punishment.
All of his previous Broadway shows ended with Born to Run, but he skipped it this time in favor of I’ll See You In My Dreams from the Letter To You album. It was the perfect climax to his statement about how nobody is truly gone as long as we remember them.
If all goes as planned the world will see him return to the road with the E Street Band in 2022. Until then, Springsteen will be holding court on Broadway, reminding fans that good times are ahead.