Broadway may be dark for several months to come, but actors from four shuttered shows have been given the opportunity — a rare one during the coronavirus pandemic — to put on their costumes and perform. The venue: Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
The term parade is being used loosely this year. The helium-filled balloons and star-studded floats will not be traveling their typical jam-packed, two-and-a-half-mile route starting at West 77th Street. They will be gliding just one city block down 34th Street, near the flagship department store, and without an audience.
But even if it’s more television show than crowd fest this year, the parade will provide a brief respite from the doldrums of a darkened Broadway with performances by the casts of “Hamilton,” “Mean Girls,” “Jagged Little Pill,” and “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations,” all shows that have not taken the stage since March.
Parade organizers said the Broadway performances will be filmed sometime in the next few weeks but aired with the rest of the parade on the morning of Nov. 26. Given the virus, and the long layoff since March, the appearances are requiring rigorous rehearsals and meticulous planning to make sure that the entertainers are back on game and the performers and production team do not pose a health risk to one another.
Sergio Trujillo, the Tony Award-winning choreographer of “Ain’t Too Proud,” said that he choreographed a new number to a medley of two iconic Temptations songs, “My Girl” and “Get Ready.” Last year, the entire cast of the show performed at the outset of the parade broadcast, but this time, Mr. Trujillo kept the number to the five stars. He said he choreographed with social distancing in mind, making sure that the formations were staggered and the performers could keep separated while dancing.
“Anything we can do to make sure our Broadway lovers stay engaged and invested,” Mr. Trujillo said.
Anyone involved in the performance receives coronavirus tests and temperature checks before convening, and everyone will wear masks on the set, though the performers will be able to remove them to sing, he said.
In a typical year, Macy’s and NBC work together to select the Broadway shows that will perform live on Thanksgiving Day, usually emphasizing productions with flashy, dance-heavy numbers. This year, some producers said that they would not be able to make the performance work because their cast members were spending the pandemic shutdown period outside the state or country, said Wesley Whatley, the parade’s creative producer. The four performances that ultimately came together are being paid for by NBC, giving the performers a welcome paycheck after months of no work.
This is the 94th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and it has been reimagined in almost every way. In a typical year, it has between 8,000 and 10,000 people working the route, said Susan Tercero, the event’s executive producer. This year, there will be about 1,500. And there will be an in-person audience of zero. (The area surrounding the parade route will be shut down, even during planning, so there will be no opportunity for street viewing).
Participants must be at least 18 years old and cannot come from outside the tristate area. And the massive balloons will no longer be flown by smiling, uniformed handlers, but instead, driven by utility vehicles to limit the number of people involved.
“We still wanted to deliver what people expect on a Thanksgiving morning,” Ms. Tercero said. “But it’s going to look like a parade during Covid times: We’re going to have people in masks and we’re going to be socially distanced.”
The show, to air on NBC, will be hosted by Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb and Al Roker and will feature a typical roster of celebrities from the worlds of music and television. The lineup includes Lauren Alaina, Jimmie Allen and Noah Cyrus, Ally Brooke, Sofia Carson, CNCO, Jimmy Fallon and The Roots, Karol G, Tori Kelly, Patti LaBelle, Ella Mai, Miss America 2020 Camille Schrier, the cast and Muppets of Sesame Street, Leslie Odom Jr., Keke Palmer, Dolly Parton, Pentatonix, Bebe Rexha, Jordin Sparks, Sebastián Yatra, and Brett Young.
They will be followed, as usual, by Santa Claus, who is in good health despite the fact that the coronavirus has even made it to the Arctic.
In New York, where the worst impact of the virus has waned but cases are climbing again, the parade planning team at Macy’s aimed to feature artists who have been deprived of the opportunity to perform over the past several months. So one appearance will be by a ballerina with New York City Ballet who will dance as the Sugar Plum Fairy from George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker,” which has been canceled entirely this season.
And in a display of empathy for their fellow parades of New York City, the event is integrating performers whose appearances at various events in recent months were canceled because of Covid-19. The pretaped entertainment will include those who were scheduled to participate in St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the Pride March, the National Puerto Rican Day Parade and the West Indian American Day Carnival Association, which were all canceled this year.
“Why not showcase New York at a time when a lot of people have missed being able to participate and watch these types of performances and cultural displays?” Ms. Tercero said.