The return of Broadway is gaining steam.
The producers of “Pass Over,” a bracing play about two Black men trapped on a street corner, announced Tuesday that they plan to begin performances on Broadway on Aug. 4, advancing the industry’s planned restart by nearly a month.
The producers, who include the playwright, Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu, cited the improving public health situation in explaining their plan.
“Every single day it feels like New York specifically, and Times Square in a focused way, is coming back to life, and I want our show to be part of that,” Nwandu said. “I want our show to be a very visible and very instrumental part of leading that charge, and so after we had done our due diligence and I knew that it was a safe thing to do, I said yes.”
Broadway has been closed since March 12, 2020, and resumption plans have shifted several times. Three juggernauts, “Hamilton,” “The Lion King” and “Wicked,” chose the initial restart date — Sept. 14 — and then “Hadestown” chose Sept. 2. “Pass Over” now has the earliest performance date announced thus far, but it remains possible that another show could begin even sooner.
A critically acclaimed riff on “Waiting for Godot” that also includes echoes of the Book of Exodus, “Pass Over” has some characteristics that make it easier to stage in this era of Covid-19 safety concerns: The cast consists of three actors, and the show runs an intermission-free 85 minutes. The play is also timely: The two leads are immobilized by their fear of dying at the hands of the police, a concern that has been much a part of the American conversation over the past year.
Directed by Danya Taymor, the play was staged in 2017 at Steppenwolf Theater Company in Chicago, and Spike Lee filmed that production for Amazon Prime Video. Taymor also directed a 2018 production at Lincoln Center Theater and will direct the Broadway run. The Lincoln Center cast will transfer to Broadway, including Jon Michael Hill (a Tony nominee for “Superior Donuts”), Namir Smallwood and Gabriel Ebert (a Tony winner for “Matilda”).
Nwandu is planning to rewrite the play’s ending for Broadway. In the earlier productions, one of the two main characters died, but she said last month that “nobody needs to see that theatrically rendered anymore,” and she is working on an alternate ending with a healing tone.
The play, capitalized for $2.7 million, will have previews throughout August and early September before opening on Sept. 12 at the August Wilson Theater; it is scheduled to run until Oct. 10.
The producers said they expect to perform to full capacity audiences — an anticipated 1,190 seats, during previews as well as post-opening — and they will consult with health authorities and labor unions before determining which safety protocols will be in place. They said they will seek to make the play accessible to those who are not regular theatergoers by holding back some tickets from those immediately put on sale while seeking ways to make them available to new audiences.
It is relatively rare to stage a serious play on Broadway in August, a time of year when the audience traditionally has been dominated by tourists. But the play’s lead producer, Matt Ross, said he was not concerned about that.
“Our industry has long been plagued with traditional wisdom, and I’m not saying all of it is untrue, but it prevents a lot of great work from being done,” he said.
“This is not about opening early, opening first, or anything like that,” Ross added. “It was about, ‘How soon can we bring this story, which I feel is really vital, to audiences?’ and ‘How soon can we employ people in a way that is safe and responsible?’ We feel that this is the right time for us.”