Even COVID-19 can’t stop one Broadway tradition: The Thanksgiving Day parade
After months of solitary monotony, Celia Rose Gooding woke up on a recent Sunday morning and grabbed her denim jacket, plaid skirt and black boots. She traveled from Westchester — where she lives with her mother, Tony-winning actress LaChanze — to Manhattan, a familiar commute she had all but abandoned for months.
She and her fellow actors from the Broadway musical “Jagged Little Pill” were reuniting to tape a performance for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It was the first time they were able to sing together since Broadway shut down in March.
“To see all of the people I love, and do what we all love to do, felt so good,” said Gooding, who made her Broadway debut in the jukebox musical. “Even if it’s just for a few minutes, we got to get back into our characters and tried to make it feel as magical as it does when we do the show eight times a week. To get a taste of that energy again was really special.”
Airing Thursday at 9 a.m. on NBC and Telemundo, the pandemic edition of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a socially distanced mix of live and pre-taped segments. Marching bands and musical guests have been limited to the tri-state area to lessen travel risks, giant character balloons will be flown using specialty vehicles instead of the usual hundreds of handlers, and there will be no in-person spectators.
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Additional measures have been implemented because of New York City’s current spike in coronavirus cases, such as putting more physical distance between the parade’s elements and further reducing the volunteer staff. Their ranks, which usually number from 8,000 to 10,000 people, are down by 88% this year, to 950.“We’re taking every single precaution necessary to ensure the safety of everybody,” said Susan Tercero, executive producer of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
For Broadway musical stars, the gig has become a rite of passage that requires late-night, post-show rehearsals and making the earliest — and possibly coldest — call time of one’s career. But since singing as a group is a way in which COVID-19 can spread quickly, all participants were tested before meeting in person, and stayed masked when brushing up on the numbers indoors.
“It was surreal in so many ways, mostly because we could see people in person, outside of a box on a screen,” said “Jagged Little Pill” actress Elizabeth Stanley, in the parade for the third time. “And because we’ve all been singing alone in our homes, to be in the same physical space and harmonizing together — hearing these voices you’ve come to know on that line or that vocal part — was really powerful.”
The cast of “Jagged Little Pill” — as well as “Hamilton,” “Ain’t Too Proud — The Life and Times of the Temptations” and “Mean Girls” — then rehearsed and filmed their performances in Midtown. (Because “Jagged’s” costumes could not be retrieved for the taping, the cast wore their own clothes, selected by costume designer Emily Rebholz over video chat.)
Though they sang and danced without the usual crowds lining the sidewalks, their efforts were still rewarded with applause. “We finished a song and saw people in the apartment buildings around us clapping,” said Joshua Henry, who took a break from filming Lin-Manuel Miranda’s movie “Tick, Tick... Boom!” for the parade’s “Hamilton” medley. “I’ve really missed that feeling — the collective effort that goes into putting on a piece of art for an audience to immediately feel something.”
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As much as Gooding misses performing for large audiences in a theater, “I also know that by not doing it, I’m keeping everybody else healthy and safe, and that is more important than any show, than any contract, than anything else.” Though those at home will see only the actors onscreen, she says the performances also represent the industry’s designers, stage managers and other crew members: “the people who we cannot do shows without, and who are often the people who are last to be looked after.”
The NBC/Telemundo event will also feature the Radio City Rockettes and the New York City Ballet, and the casts of “Dear Evan Hansen” and “Come From Away” are taking part in CBS’ Thanksgiving parade. Henry hopes the festivities will remind viewers of a key “Hamilton” lyric.
“‘Look around, look around, how lucky we are to be alive right now,’” he sang. “In this moment of giving thanks, I hope people can really look at these performances and be grateful for what we do have, the things that we can do, that we’re still able to breathe. There’s been a lot of loss during this time, but the theater is still here. And we’ll be back.”
‘The 94th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade’
When: 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Thursday
Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)
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