Times Square was shut down for several hours tonight after what cops feared was a bomb was found inside a smoking vehicle with bogus license plates parked in front of a Broadway theater — sending frantic people racing for safety to nearby restaurants and stores, authorities said.
Pedestrians spotted the smoldering Nissan Pathfinder at 6:30 p.m. on West 45th Street near Seventh Avenue, directly in front of an entrance to the Minskoff Theatre, which houses the hugely popular “The Lion King.”
The car’s Connecticut license plates were actually registered to a Ford F-150.
When the Fire Department arrived, they heard what “sounded like fireworks” going off so they called the NYPD’s Bomb Squad and Emergency Service Unit, sources said.
“It just looked like more than a typical car fire,” a source said.
Several staffers in the Minskoff told The Post they heard an explosion.
A robot was used to handle the suspicious package in the back of the vehicle, officials said.
Inside the “box within a box,” cops found gasoline, gunpowder and other materials they wouldn’t reveal.
The Bomb Squad was on scene as of 9 p.m.
The disturbing find led cops to close West 45th Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues, forcing thousands of theatergoers to miss their Saturday night Broadway performances.