Broadway in Detroit: Inside the Fisher Theatre’s first show in 19 months

What it was like to be in an audience of show-starved patrons for opening night

The company of RENT: The 25th Anniversary Farewell Tour. (Amy Boyle, Photo by Amy Boyle)

DETROIT – The lights dim, the audience roars in applause.

“525,600 minutes …”

Those immortal lyrics from the hit musical “RENT,” the first show to play in the Fisher Theatre since the start of the global pandemic, frames the length of a year in moments. Unfortunately, the theater has been without a show for even longer than that.

For 820,800 minutes, in fact.

For a self-proclaimed theater nerd like me, those are 820,800 minutes too long. So, of course, I had to be at the first theatrical production to grace the historic stage in 19 months and it was everything I dreamed it would be.

The lobby of the Fisher Theatre for opening of RENT on Tuesday, October 19, 2021. (Copyright 20201 by WDIV ClickOnDetroit - All Rights reserved.)

The excitement builds just walking through the revolving doors of the famed Fisher Building with the sheer grandeur of the lobby. The warm glows of the brass and gold gave me flashbacks of being in New York on my way to a show on Broadway. Seeing families and couples dressed up on a Tuesday evening for a night out at the theater was a sight I didn’t even realize was something I missed.

My tickets were scanned and I was quickly seated by very friendly ushers who were just as excited for the return of theater as I was. I could hear people talking about how much they missed these shows: reminiscing about musicals they’ve seen before. There was even talk about how many times people have seen RENT itself – this is the 25th anniversary tour after all.

A few minutes after 8 p.m. the cast rushes to the stage. The audience goes electric. There was howling and cheering. You could feel the pent-up demand and the energy is given back to the audience by the young and stellar cast.

The stage of the Fisher Theatre for the opening night of RENT on Tuesday, October 19, 2021. (Copyright 20201 by WDIV ClickOnDetroit - All Rights reserved.)

As each character is introduced through different moments in the show, the audience gets even louder. Every high note and belt was met with rapturous applause. Aiyana Smash, as Mimi, stole the show with her high-flying, high-kicking performance of “Out Tonight.” Jayvon King, as Angel, stunned not only with his vocal runs, but also in his acrobatic dance moves in “Today 4 U.”

While the theater and the show are in pristine condition, the experience of watching a show right now is understandably different. Vaccination or negative tests are checked before entry. Sanitation stations line the lobby in stark contrast to the Fisher’s beautiful gold accents. This is also the first time I have watched a show wearing a mask.

All very minor things for the joy of experiencing the magic of live theater again. Yes, several taped musicals have appeared on streaming services, but the feeling of being in the same room can’t be replicated on screen. The amalgamation of live actors on a moving set with a live orchestra, and the countless ways any of those things can mess up at any moment, there’s a unique rush that comes with it all. It’s live theater, baby.

But above all things, it’s great that everyone involved in the industry has a job again. The show must and will go on.

RENT plays at the Fisher Theatre through Sunday, October 24th.

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