Marie Mitchell/ Conversations Columnist

Marie Mitchell/ Conversations Columnist

In the theatre, there's a saying that "The show must go on." That means actors must put their personal problems on hold. Perform even when ill. And, adjust to last minute changes in cast, costuming and staging.

But, no matter how determined actors are to put on an outstanding show, sometimes they simply can't. It's rare. But circumstances beyond their control might make it impossible to perform.

Circumstances like -- a blackout. Specifically, the blackout in New York City on Saturday, July 13, that left about 72,000 Con Edison customers without power. Including most theatres in Times Square, the theatre district.

Early on it was determined that this wasn't an act of sabotage or terrorism. Rather, a transformer apparently caught fire around 6:47 p.m., and warning systems that should have caught the problem early, didn't.

Oddly enough, this was 42 years to the day of the 1977 NYC blackout that led to looting and violence. Fortunately, nothing on that scale occurred this time. In fact, civilians tried to help direct traffic on very dark streets to avoid accidents.

Only about four theatres were unaffected by the outage. The others had to cancel performances because there were no lights to light the front or back stages. No power to scan the tickets and seat the patrons. And no electricity for mics and special effects. Still, cast members from some shows that couldn't go on, like "Hadestown" and "Come From Away," went to Times Square and sang a few favorite tunes to entertain people there.

My daughter, Ruby, and I were staying around Madison Square Garden, a 15-minute walk from Times Square. We had tickets to see "Beetlejuice" that night, so we ate an early dinner at a restaurant near the hotel to avoid crowds closer to the theatre. Smart move.

As I got up to pay our bill, around 6:45 p.m., the restaurant lights flickered briefly. But no one freaked out or seemed concerned about it. No big deal. Everything electric popped back on immediately, so we left around 6:55 for our 8 p.m. show.

Walking down Seventh Avenue, a long block parallel to Broadway and Times Square, we didn't notice anything unusual. No alarming number of sirens. Or caravans of utility trucks. No darkened buildings. No panicked people.

It wasn't until we got to the Winter Garden Theatre, another eight blocks away, that things seemed strange. Even though it was 7:15, and doors opened at 7:30, there weren't many people in line. By 7:30, still not a long line. Then, at 7:45, all of a sudden the line wrapped around a full city block and people started talking about a blackout that had delayed them.

We checked our phones and sure enough, there were reports of massive outages from Midtown Manhattan to the Upper West Side.

No one from the theatre came around to thoughtfully update us about our show. We weren't close enough in line to tell if there was power or whether our performance would be cancelled. Miraculously, by 7:55, the line began to move. And surprisingly, we were all seated (about 1,500 of us) by 8:15, and the show began, just 15 minutes behind schedule.

Again, no announcements. No mention of the blackout. Until a character in the opening of "Beetlejuice" made an improvised comment about power outages.

So, we sat back. Enjoyed the show: amazing acting. Marvelous music. Creative choreography. Laugh out loud jokes.

When we left the theatre around 10:30 p.m., we weren't sure what we'd find. We walked down to Times Square, and while some lights were off on the continuously changing colorful billboards stretching to the sky, many were still flashing -- promoting shops, shows and movies. Some stores were even open. But many restaurants, like Hard Rock Cafe, were closed with handwritten notices on the doors.

We did manage to order a dessert at Red Lobster before heading back to our hotel. When we returned around 1 a.m., we were pleasantly surprised to discover lights and elevators working, and no sign of an outage. If the electricity had popped off earlier, it was back on now. (Most power was restored by midnight.)

We found out, during a Ghost Walk in Greenwich Village two nights later, that our guide's friend had been trapped on a suffocating subway car for three hours that night and when he was finally able to leave, he had to walk about 20 blocks to get home. Other people were trapped on elevators.

That made us extra thankful that we survived the NYC blackout of 2019 in an air-conditioned theatre, engaged by an entertaining show that did manage to go on.

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