A few minutes after 8 on Tuesday night, Walter Bobbie, the director of the long-running Broadway revival of “Chicago,” walked onto the stage of the Ambassador Theater. He did not even get a chance to speak before the crowd rose to its feet, applauding, shouting and cheering.
The ovation lasted close to two minutes.
“Have a seat,” Bobbie finally said. “Isn’t this an amazing way to celebrate a 25th anniversary? Oh, my God!”
And the ovations were repeated, again and again, through the whole first act of a show whose return to the stage felt like a catharsis after 18 months of a darkened Broadway.
The cast and crew had continued to polish details right up to the opening, going over notes from the final dress rehearsal on Tuesday afternoon.
“Act Two: Bianca, you are early with your ‘Hello, suckers,’” Greg Butler, the associate choreographer, said to Bianca Marroquín, who was playing Velma Kelly. He asked her to walk offstage and try the entrance again.
“Hello, suckers!” Marroquín said a moment later.
“Fierce, that’s how we do it,” Butler responded.
And with that, the cast of “Chicago,” the long-running musical by John Kander and Fred Ebb, got back to business.
“Eighteen months is a lot,” Marroquín, who had played Roxie Hart before playing Velma, said in an interview, coming off the stage to sit in the empty auditorium. “Everyone went through a lot of trauma and anxiety, and it wasn’t easy for us. Life goes boom-boom and takes the stage away. That was tough.”
She spoke of the emotions of being back. “This is what we do,” she said. “Without this, our life sort of dimmed.”
Now “Chicago,” which is celebrating its 25th anniversary on Broadway this year, is waiting to see what its next chapter will look like. Tourists, who make up two-thirds of the overall Broadway audience, are especially important to “Chicago.” One of the big lingering questions is when (or if) they will start flocking back.
“We are certainly a tourist-driven show,” Bobbie said. “We are going to find out. When you get to be past 10 years old, the New Yorkers who want to see the show have seen it.”
One of the people on hand for Tuesday’s opening performance was a lifelong New Yorker, Peter Massaro, who paid $250 for a premium package from Mastercard that included dinner and a meeting with members of the cast. (“I’m still shaking,” he said afterward.)
Massaro first saw “Chicago” 20 years ago. “I haven’t seen it since,” he said. “I’m a huge Bob Fosse fan. It’s a great show from start to finish. The dancing alone.”
Massaro, who wore a rhinestone bow tie for Broadway’s return, said he had no concerns about seeing a show in the midst of a pandemic. “They check for vaccines and masks,” he said. “People are respectful of that, especially in the Broadway community.”
There was some reason for optimism. Holly Armitage and her husband, Albert, who live in Kansas City, Kan., have made it a practice for years to fly to New York to see shows. She jumped to book flights as soon as she heard Broadway was opening again.
“I thought this was going to be the first night on Broadway,” she said at the “Chicago” reopening. “I realize now a few things have already opened.”
And “Chicago” is not the only show on their agenda. “We are seeing ‘Lion King’ tomorrow,” she said, adding that they would return later this month for “Moulin Rouge! The Musical.”
Will out-of-towners start coming back to New York? “Oh, absolutely,” she said.