This Is the Last “Normal” Photo I Took Before the COVID-19 Shutdown
There it is. That's the last "normal" photo I took, in public, before the COVID-19 pandemic virtually shut down the country. Here's the story of that photo and how, when it was taken, we had no idea what was going to occur literally less than 24 hours later.
Kevin and I were supposed to see the Broadway musical version of Moulin Rouge! last July. But the night we had tickets was the same evening of the rather ill-timed New York City Blackout of 2019. This was the scene outside the theatre around 7:30pm, July 13th, 2019.
There was no power on the west side of Manhattan. Nearly all Broadway shows that night were canceled because they were literally in the dark. Oh, yeah. That fire truck you see? It was there because there were people stuck in the elevator in the building to the right of the truck. That night was absolute mayhem. The traffic lights weren't working. Restaurants, most of them, closed immediately. No one knew where to go, what do to, what to think. We were terribly disappointed that we didn't get to see Moulin Rouge!, but we certainly left NYC with a story to tell.
On Wednesday, March 11th of this year, we FINALLY got to see the show! And, with our third row seats in the orchestra, it was completely worth the wait. What we didn't know, as we were watching, was that we were about to be forced to abruptly leave NYC with another incredible story to tell. A more incredible story and one I am still having trouble believing and fully comprehending.
The very next morning, the morning of March 12th, news broke that Moulin Rouge! was suspending Thursday performances. There were matinee and evening performances scheduled for that day. However, as reports of Coronavirus were spreading rapidly through NYC, the threat of infection hit home for this particular Broadway cast. The unimaginable was now confirmed. Just a day after news broke that a Broadway usher had tested positive for the virus, someone in the Moulin Rouge! cast did as well. The show had no choice but to temporarily suspend the production. Just a few hours later, midday on March 12th, all of Broadway was forced to shut down. Kevin and I had tickets for eight more shows during our trip. We wouldn't be seeing them. We were supposed to be in New York City for six more days. We wouldn't be staying.
After having dinner with our friends Kim and Dan the evening of the 12th and with literally everything shutting down around us, Kevin and I knew we were likely going to have to make a very tough decision. Were we going to stay in NYC as Coronavirus was literally ripping through the state, infecting its citizens and paralyzing the city that "never sleeps?" Or were we going to cut our losses and get out while we could?
By Friday morning, the choice was painfully obvious. We had to get out and we had to get out now. So, we made the decision to leave and within thirty minutes had packed our bags, canceled our original outgoing flight, scheduled a new one and informed the hotel we were checking out six days early. There was no alternative. We had no choice.
We headed to the subway, then hopped a train to Newark and flew home. We realize now that we did so just in the nick of time.
We later discovered, by reading through trade reports on Playbill.com and Broadway.com, that it wasn't just one member of the cast of Moulin Rouge! that tested positive for Coronavirus. Several, including some of the show's stars, did. At least one (Danny Burstein) was hospitalized. And, in retrospect, it's really weird. Everyone in the theatre that night had come to escape the reality of what was brewing, accelerating outside. After all, that's what the theatrical experience is designed to be. It's pure escapism. But, there was no escaping our new reality and it's like we all subconsciously felt it, knew it. During the performance that evening, I turned to Kevin and said of a cast member, "He doesn't look like he feels very well tonight." We later learned, he didn't.
It's weird looking at that photo today. It's just so hard to comprehend everything that has happened since taking it. We were so excited to FINALLY get to see Moulin Rouge! and were privileged to be there in that moment. But the joy of that moment has turned into something much different. That picture, in so many ways, encapsulates all the questions and feelings we now have.
We were in very close proximity to people we now know were infected with Coronavirus. Were we infected too and did we just fight it off? Or did we get really lucky with a narrow miss? We had so much more to do and see in NYC that week and into the next week. We love New York and we love Broadway theatre and we feel tremendous remorse for the people who make that their livelihood. When are they going to get to go back to work? When are we going to get to go back and watch them? And, when we do go back, what's it going to be like?
I'll be completely honest. We left for NYC in March blindly and smugly thinking we could ignore what was going on around us. We quickly realized that we couldn't. I look at that photo and understand now what's meant by the expression, "A picture's worth a thousand words." The cast of Moulin Rouge! hasn't performed on that stage since that night. Nothing in the U.S. has been the same since that night really. While theatre is designed to be an escape, we walked out of the Al Hirschfeld into a brutally harsh reality. And that reality, this new state of existence we find ourselves in, is not one any of us could really have imagined.
Yes, that's the last "normal" photo I took. But, looking at it today, it seems anything but.