By Callan Gray

There was yet another sign of a return to normal in Minneapolis on Friday night. Theaters are reopening and Broadway has returned to the Orpheum Theatre. The national tour of Disney’s "Frozen" opened this week.

Minnesota-native Caroline Innerbichler helped welcome theater-goers back through her role as "Anna" in the musical.

“It’s so emotional to be back home,” said Innerbichler, who attended shows at the Orpheum as a child.

“It felt like a really beautiful full-circle moment for me. Even coming back to the stage after being away from this for so long, I know it's not just me, it's a really humbling and big experience," Innerbichler said. "I just feel so grateful to be back.”

As theaters reopen, influx of customers takes center stage for downtown businesses

Innerbichler and the rest of the cast are being welcomed to the Twin Cities. Hundreds of tickets have been sold heading into the first weekend of the show.

“Very excited to get out again and be able to see a live show,” said Dana Bain, from Bloomington. “For me personally, I think it’s just the excitement of seeing shows that we love right there in front of our faces […] You feel like you’re part of the show.”

Bain and her husband, Richard, were downtown Friday, on her birthday, buying tickets for a show next week.

"I'm excited, we'd like to see COVID behind us but, that being said, we're all careful so it's really nice to have the opportunity to get out again," Richard Bain said.

They hope to surprise their 5-year-old daughter with a trip to the theater for her birthday, which is next week.

“She is a huge fan of Frozen,” Dana Bain said. “I’m just glad that here in Minneapolis we have things like this that we can bring the kids to or just enjoy ourselves.”

The Hennepin Theatre Trust implemented new COVID protocols before starting the 2021-2022 Broadway season. Each guest 12 years old or up has to be fully vaccinated. Masks are also required.

The Bains said they appreciate the precautions.

“There’s always that feeling of, ‘Gosh will I be safe?’ wherever you go,” Richard Bain said. “We carry our own protection with us as far as masks and you can’t social distance that well in the theater but we’re counting on everyone else being careful, too.”

The Guthrie Theater also opened on Sept. 30, with "What The Constitution Means To Me."  The theater is requiring either vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.

“It’s a great way to enter the last part of 2021,” said Steve Cramer, the president of the Minneapolis Downtown Council. “We’re still kind of in this process of recovery and to have the theaters coming back live, the Orpheum, the Guthrie, see families downtown with joy in their expressions because they’re seeing Frozen, that’s really heartwarming.”

Cramer is encouraged by the momentum in Minneapolis. The re-opening of theaters is building on the return of professional sports and concerts earlier this year.

“It’s really beginning to feel like it did before,” Cramer said. “We still got a ways to go but it certainly feels better than last year at this time.”

Cramer estimates 35% to 38% of office workers have returned downtown. He expected a more significant increase after Labor Day but believes the delta variant played a role in deterring workers from going back into the office.

About 75% of downtown businesses are open, according to Cramer.

"It's going to be a slower, longer recovery period than we were anticipating," Cramer said, adding that he thinks they'll have a pretty good feel for what the downtown economy will be like by the end of the second quarter next year.

Each show in the city is helping bring customers to shops and restaurants.

“We get a lot of good business when those shows come in,” said Ronald Johnson, the manager at Union. “They fill up the whole place.”

Johnson hopes the momentum will continue.

Smaller theaters are also working to reopen. Lawmakers have talked about making sure they're taken care of, too. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, said theaters were the first to close and knew they'd be the last to reopen. Her "Save Our Stages" legislation was passed last year to help provide relief to those venues and said, so far, the legislation has helped more than 240 Minnesota venues and businesses receive grants.