CLEVELAND — For 15 months the curtain at Cleveland's Playhouse Square was closed. There were no shows and no audience members. But the wait is over and Broadway is back.
On Friday night, Disney's The Lion King will open its North American Tour for the first time in 18 months at the KeyBank State Theater.
“We’re calling all the audiences back to Playhouse Square, saying it’s time. It's time for us to be together and have these experiences again," said Cindi Szymanski, the Director of Brand Marketing & Communications for Playhouse Square.
Szymanski said hosting live theater is not only important to Playhouse Square but the local restaurants and businesses surrounding the theater district.
"It is so important to us that we are able to keep the performing arts industry going because it employs so many people and it has such a positive economic impact on our region," she said.
“It’s a mixture of nerves. It’s a mixture of [asking] 'do I still got it?’ There’s a mixture of excitement because the energy of the audience is what makes it amazing," said Kayla Cyphers.
Cyphers, a Southern California native, plays Nala in the musical. She described getting back into the swing of rehearsals, after nearly two years off, as challenging but extremely exciting.
“We’ve had countless talks of, 'hey take a moment. This is real, and what you’re going through is real and it’s going to be a process.' It’s not something that is going to be immediate and we all just… you can really feel the love," she said."
Cyphers, who began with The Lion King North American Tour just six months prior to the pandemic, is performing in Cleveland for the first time. She said she's enjoyed the city and has felt welcomed by locals.
"It's been great. Everyone's been very kind and welcoming," she said. "The theater is beautiful."
The Lion King, the third longest-running Broadway show, travels with nearly 140 people. About 50 are cast members in the musical. The show has won more than 70 global theatrical awards over the last 20 years.
Ameenah Kaplan serves as the Resident Director for the tour. Kaplan said the actors and dancers are excited to be doing what they love once again and are taking the health and safety protocols seriously to keep the show on the road.
“The actors have come into the room ready to work. They’ve come in with open hearts and open minds and again full of gratitude just being able to do what we do," she said. “The audience and that symbiotic relationship between us and the audience. We’re in this thing together - truly we are. And we are excited to see them and give them The Lion King.”
Geoff Myers is the tour’s Resident Dance Supervisor. He said during rehearsals he’s found himself getting emotional about the return of live theater.
“I'm sure it will be a very emotional performance not only for the audience to see live theater again but for us," Myers said.
Members of the tour are tested for COVID-19 on a daily basis and have strict protocols to follow in order to remain on tour.
This is the first show at Playhouse Square where audience members will have to bring proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative test.
"It's so important that everyone is prepared to enter the theater so that we can get everyone in a timely fashion," Szymanski.
For show tickets and information regarding health and safety guidelines, click here.