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‘It’s like coming home’: Performers return to the stage as pandemic winds down

Desiree Roots will return to the stage Friday playing Ella Fitzgerald more than a...
Desiree Roots will return to the stage Friday playing Ella Fitzgerald more than a year-and-a-half after theatres were closed due to the pandemic.(NBC12)
Published: Jul. 6, 2021 at 3:07 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - For nearly a year-and-a-half stages across Richmond have been left empty, but now many theatres are turning the lights back on and getting performers back on stage.

Ella and her fella Frank opens Friday night at the Virginia Repertory Theatre; for one of the lead performers it is like “coming home.”

“Our lives were stripped away,” said Desiree Roots, a lead performer at the Virginia Repertory.

Nearly a year and a half ago, the Virginia Repertory Theatre, a stage off busy W. Broad Street in Richmond, went dark in a snap.

There is a lot of meaning behind a snap, and Roots has carried the weight of it.

“It was literally just being stifled and wondering what’s next, what can I do, how can I reinvent myself?” Roots said.

It is a feeling thousands of other artists experienced in 2020. However, performing is in Roots’ roots and the show went on for her in a different way.

“I’ve been able to do it through place of worship, virtually, some virtual concerts,” she said.

However, Friday, July 9 marks a different occasion - when the lights come back on at Virginia Repertory.

“I love the east, I love the west,” Roots sang on stage Tuesday morning.

Songs will soon carry across the seats in the theatre which will be filled once again.

“Cuz I love being here with you,” Roots continued to sing.

Those words, sung by the Queen of Jazz Ella Fitzgerald, ring true for Roots who will play Fitzgerald on the stage for the next two months.

“If you could see my insides, there are just fireworks going off,” she said.

“It was a lot more than just magic,” said Phil Whiteway, Managing Director of the theatre.

Planning for the 2021-2022 season at Virginia Repertory Theatre started well before COVID-19 restrictions were lifted. That planning also happened as much of the staff was furloughed.

“Just a hard decision to make,” Whiteway said. “We’ve invited everyone to come back; we’re about 3/4 of the way there right now.”

Now with six shows on the schedule for the season, the theatre is still taking a safe approach as the country emerges from the pandemic.

“This is a two-person show,” Whiteway said. “[We built] the season throughout the year in a similar fashion and sort of ramp up over a 12-month period.”

More of the musicals with larger casts are scheduled towards the end of the season. Additionally, concessions are not available for patrons at this time, and seating will look a bit different in the theatre.

“We do build in some spacing even with the restrictions being lifted,” Whiteway said. “Patrons are buying tickets in twos, and we have seats in-between them just to provide some form of transition for our patrons.”

However, there are also measures in place to keep performers and staff safe as the Richmond area navigates its way out of the pandemic.

“We have to be tested weekly, it’s something like we’re in this bubble; I feel like we’re sportspeople, we’re in this bubble,” Roots said.

That bubble will soon expand to allow people back in the intimate setting.

“It’s just indescribable,” Whiteway said.

Meanwhile, Roots hopes to help snap the audience into a different time and place after a crazy year.

“To escape to the stage and to be able to come back and do it in this building, again, it’s like coming home,” she said.

Ella and her fella Frank will run from July 9 until Sept. 12. For more information, click here.

Copyright 2021 WWBT. All rights reserved.

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