Bruce Springsteen reopens Broadway — and opens up about his DWI

The 471-day shutdown of Broadway, the longest in its history, ended Saturday night in a way none of us ever expected  — with Bruce Springsteen.

Leapfrogging the traditional razzle-dazzle musicals like “Hamilton,” “Wicked” and “The Lion King,” which will return on Sept. 14, The Boss kicked off a 30-performance limited engagement of his solo show this weekend at the St. James Theatre.

While the summer stint is sure to help reinvigorate the struggling Times Square neighborhood — which has suffered from crime, homelessness and stagnation during the pandemic — Springsteen never uttered the word “Broadway” once on Saturday, despite his historic role in reopening it.

“It’s great to be here,” Springsteen said to his excited audience, who had to prove they were vaccinated to take their seats and shout “Bruuuuuuuuuce!”

“No masks, sitting next to each other in one room.”

The crowd roared.

Besides us plebeians, also sitting in those freshly dusted theater chairs were rocker Steven van Zandt, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and his husband Chasten, Jujamcyn Theaters President Jordan Roth, Tony Award-winner Brian Stokes Mitchell and MSNBC journalist Brian Williams.

“Springsteen on Broadway” ran at the smaller Walter Kerr Theatre a few blocks away for more than a year back in 2017 and 2018. It was a huge success and was filmed for Netflix. In his latest run, a lot of the “Born in the USA” singer’s banter is the same, as are his song choices. But he did get candid about his recent scandal.

Springsteen on Broadway
Fans outside “Springsteen on Broadway” at NYC’s St. James Theatre on June 26, 2021.
Stefano Giovannini
Springsteen on Broadway
Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa during the return of “Springsteen on Broadway.”
Johnny Oleksinski
Bruce Springsteen greets fans at "Springsteen on Broadway."
The Boss greets fans after the show.
Johnny Oleksinski

Springsteen told us that during the pandemic he released a new album, made a podcast with Barack Obama … and was very publicly arrested in New Jersey for a DWI (the charges were dropped).

“I was handcuffed and thrown in jail,” he said. “That took some doin’ … I didn’t wake up one morning, get on my motorcycle and say, ‘I’ll go to jail!”

Like he was performing a stand-up set instead of a concert, The Boss ended the bit with this zinger: “My case was, ‘The United States vs. Bruce Springsteen.’ That’s always comforting to hear — the entire nation is against you!”

Springsteen, 71, played and sang like he had never taken a months-long break from live shows, though there was one speck of rust. He flubbed a line in the song “10th Avenue Freeze-Out,” which he duetted on with his wife, Patti Scialfa. He made a joke of it.

“She loves me even when I f–k it up,” he said, with his girl on his arm. 

For a consummate performer like Springsteen, the deeply personal show was routine, but damn was it inspiring for me and the rest of the audience. On Saturday, we learned that tourists are back. Everytime Springsteen mentioned a town — San Francisco, Phoenix, Asbury Park — there were loud cheers from people who live there. He had to tell the out-of-towners to “shut the f–k up.”

Then, at the end, walking out onto 44th Street was like entering the Land of Oz. Maskless fans mobbed the stage door waiting for their idol to emerge, and Times Square was teeming with life. Two months ago, if someone described such a scene, you’d tell them to sober up and seek treatment.

The wondrous night was a welcome reminder that Times Square, Broadway theaters and shows are not meant to be shut down. Baby, they are born to run.