NEW YORK – In the end, Broadway’s leaders saw the light – and decided to turn them off.
The Broadway League, which represents theater owners and producers, reversed itself Tuesday and chose to get Broadway’s theaters to dim their lights in honor of Joan Rivers.
The league had said Monday that Rivers did not meet the criteria for the honor, triggering a controversy when several theater owners said they would turn off their marquee lights Tuesday anyway. An online petition was launched and several celebrities came out in favor of granting the honor.
The league changed course Tuesday afternoon, saying the lights would dim at 6:45 p.m. for one minute.
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“Joan Rivers loved Broadway and we loved her,” Charlotte St. Martin, the league’s executive director, said in a statement. “Due to the outpouring of love and respect for Joan Rivers from our community and from her friends and fans worldwide, the marquees of Broadway theatres in New York will be dimmed in her memory tonight.”
Rivers, who died Thursday at 81, was known primarily as a TV actress and comedian, though she was seen as a champion of Broadway and off-Broadway shows and earned a Tony Award nomination.
Before the league’s reversal, 10 theaters – out of 40 – were set to break with the league and dim their lights. And theater producer Tom D'Angora had started an online petition asking the league to reverse its decision. It had attracted more than 5,000 signatures.
“I promise you, the majority of the community wants to thank and honor her,” D'Angora, who has produced the off-Broadway shows “NEWSical” and “Naked Boys Singing,” said before the league’s reversal. ‘'She did so much. She was such an outspoken champion.”
“I can’t believe we can be denied the last chance to show respect and thank her. I also think if you watch her interviews and documentaries, this would hurt her feelings,” he added. “Plus, how hard is it to hit a dimmer switch?”
A spokeswoman for the Rivers family said they were in mourning and didn’t want to comment.
The controversy triggered the creation of the Twitter hashtags (hash)dimthelightsforJoan and (hash)Dim4Joan. Celebrities including Cyndi Lauper, Harvey Fierstein and Donna Murphy came out in favor of the honor.
Rivers wrote and starred in the 1971 quick-to-close “Fun City,” was in Neil Simon’s “Broadway Bound” in 1988, and wrote and starred in “Sally Marr … and Her Escorts” in 1994, where she earned her Tony nod.
Some celebrities who have been recently granted the honor include Philip Seymour Hoffman and James Gandolfini, whose TV and film careers often overshadowed their theater contributions.
There was no denying Rivers’ Broadway connection at her funeral Sunday. Audra McDonald sang “Smile,” Hugh Jackman sang “Quiet Please, There’s a Lady On Stage” and theater stars in attendance included Bernadette Peters, Alan Cumming and Tommy Tune.