Stopping a touring Broadway show isn’t as easy as turning off the lights, lowering the curtain, and asking the cast and crew to “come home.”
In the spring of 2020, as the COVID-19 virus swept the country, touring theater companies like Broadway’s “Waitress” rushed to put away every apron, waitress uniform, wig, mixing bowl, restaurant bar stool. and various other accessories.
The costumes and lighting used in the Tony-nominated show were hastily packed in sealed shipping crates with dozens of artificial foods, including pies served in the production’s imaginary restaurant.
With music and lyrics by Grammy winner Sara Bareilles (“Love Song”, “Brave”), “Waitress” tells the story of Jenna Hunterson, a baker and waitress stuck in an abusive relationship who sees a pastry contest as a way out.
Finding her way out of the pandemic hasn’t been as easy as Broadway cake. For over a year and a half the scenes were dark and the people who make a living in the theater found themselves out of work.
âWe didn’t know what to expect when it all came to a halt,â Jisel Soleil Ayon, who plays Jenna in the touring production of âWaitress,â told the Courier Journal. “At first we thought it would only last a few weeks, but then it turned into month after month and we started to feel hopeless.”
Ayon returned home to stay with her family in Southern California, then found work in Utah where theatrical restrictions aren’t as tight as in New York City.
Mackenzie Douglas, the show’s manager, returned home with her family who live in Columbus, Ohio. In the past 18 months, she started taking real estate classes online – just in case the theater never returned.
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No one would have guessed that it would be nearly two years before the cast and crew of “Waitress” get back to work. On September 14, Broadway came back to life, and touring national productions announced that they would soon be heading to theaters across the country. âWaitressâ opens in Louisville on November 9 as part of the PNC Broadway series in Louisville, which also includes âCats,â âCome From Away,â âMean Girls,â âHamiltonâ and âAnastasiaâ. Tickets are now on sale.
Ayon, who is the first woman of color to play Jenna permanently on the tour, said she was honored to hold the accolade. And, being back on tour is something she and her colleagues are thrilled and grateful to be a part of.
âSomething has changed as we are tested for COVID-19 every week and we wear masks whenever we are not on stage, but we are all so happy to be together again doing what we love that no one else doesn’t seem to care, âthe 22-year-old said. “I don’t think any of us will take this for granted for very long.”
But returning to live theater during a pandemic has not been without challenges. Finding space to rehearse was difficult.
In a typical year, Leslie Broecker, president of Broadway Across America Midwest, said her company, which includes PNC Broadway in Louisville, produces thousands of performances across the country and around the world. Last year there was none.
âBut suddenly everyone got the green light around the same time and it caused real estate issues,â Broecker said. Suddenly touring shows like “Hamilton”, “Tootsie”, “Aladdin”, “The Lion King”, “Wicked” and “Waitress” all need a rehearsal space.
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Finding so much space, even in New York City, is difficult.
âWe have decided to move our entire distribution and team to Springfield, Ohio, where ‘Waitress’ will open on October 2,â Douglas told the Courier Journal. “That’s not how we would typically start a show, but it’s certainly not a typical situation.”
In mid-September, Douglas and the crew entered the rehearsal space at the Clark State Performing Arts Center in Springfield and encountered a thick layer of dust covering stage equipment that had been idle for more than a year. year.
The dust was relatively easy to remove.
Those prop pies, which had been wrapped when the musical closed, weren’t that easy to clean up. When the crew opened the container full of fake pies, they got a messy surprise. In the rush to wrap the show up, some perishable items were locked away and spent over a year growing a thick layer of mold.
âIt turned out that not all of these accessory pies weren’t 100% fake,â said Douglas. “We use a few real pies on the show and luckily these were thrown out, but some of the others that were made with artificial fillings but had real pie crusts ended up being stored.”
Still considering what everyone in the theater industry has been going through since 2020, multiple moldy pie crusts aren’t a big deal.
âThere are a few small annoyances as we get together,â Ayon said, âbut when the curtain comes up I don’t think there will be a way to accurately describe what it’s going to feel like.â
And Louisville is ready to welcome Broadway again.
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âThere is immense gratitude to be back at work and being able to do what we love,â said Broecker. “We’re all thankful and I’ll be honest, maybe I’ll shed a few tears that first night. It’s going to be so good to be back.”
For a list of COVID-19 protocols and masks for the PNC Broadway series in Louisville, visit kentuckyperformingarts.org.
Contact Kirby Adams at [email protected] or Twitter @kirbylouisville.
PNC Broadway in Louisville Season 2021-22
All productions take place at the Kentucky Performing Arts Building, 501 W. Main St.
WHAT: This show is the recipe for happiness. It’s an uplifting and hilarious musical that features original music and lyrics by Grammy Award-winning Sara Bareilles.
âWaitress,â tells the story of Jenna, an expert waitress and pastry chef who dreams of getting out of her small town and her difficult marriage. Pouring her heart into her pies, she bakes desserts that reflect her life upside down, such as “The Key (Lime) to Happiness Pie” and “Betrayed By My Eggs Pie”. When a baking contest in a neighboring county – and a satisfying meeting with someone new – shows Jenna a chance for a fresh start, she must find the courage to grab it. Change is on the menu, as long as Jenna can write her own perfectly personal recipe for happiness.
COVID-19 PROTOCOL: To access this event, all customers must wear masks and provide proof of vaccination or proof of negative COVID PCR test no later than 72 hours prior to their arrival at the event. For more security measures, visit kentuckyperformingarts.org.
WHEN: November 9-14
WHAT: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Record-breaking Musical Show Arrives in Louisville with New Choreography, Lighting and Sounds to Tell the Story of a Magical Night where an Extraordinary Cat Tribe Gathers for their Annual Ball to Celebrate and Decide which cat will be reborn.
Original score by Webber (“The Phantom of the Opera”, “School of Rock”, “Sunset Boulevard”), original set design and costumes by John Napier (“Les MisÃ©rables”), all new lighting design by Natasha Katz (“Aladdin”) and the new choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler (“Hamilton”) turn this production into a new generation.
WHEN: 18-23 Jan 2022
“Come from afar”
WHAT: Immerse yourself in the remarkable true story of 7,000 stranded passengers and the small town of Newfoundland, Canada, which greeted them. Cultures clashed and nerves were at their wit’s end, but unease turned to trust, music flew into the night, and gratitude turned into lasting friendships.
WHEN: 15-20 Feb. 2022
WHAT: Straight from Broadway, “Mean Girls” takes audiences back to high school where a naive newbie falls prey to a trio of lionized enemies and learns the hard way that you can’t walk through a queen bee without getting stung.
The musical is from an award-winning creative team, comprising book writer Tina Fey (“30 Rock”), songwriter Jeff Richmond (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”), lyricist Nell Benjamin (“Legally Blonde”) and the director Casey Nicholaw (“The Book of Mormon”).
WHEN: March 22-27, 2022
WHAT: Alexander Hamilton, one of the principal architects of the United States of America, was an immigrant. Enough said. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical uses hip-hop, soul, jazz, blues and even Broadway-style musical numbers to make âHamiltonâ one of the greatest Broadway shows in its history.
Winner of 11 Tony Awards, âHamiltonâ created a revolutionary moment in theater as a musical that had a profound impact on culture, politics and education.
WHEN: June 7-19, 2022
WHAT: This show takes you from the twilight of the Russian Empire to the euphoria of 1920s Paris, as a brave young woman sets out to discover the mystery of her past. Pursued by a ruthless Soviet officer determined to silence her, Anya enlists a dashing con artist and a lovable ex-aristocrat. Together, they embark on an epic adventure to help her find a home, love and family.
WHEN: 2-7 August 2022
How to get tickets
Tickets for “Waitress” are on sale now at louisville.broadway.com. Tickets for “Cats”, “Come From Away” and “Mean Girls” go on sale later this year. The “Hamilton” and “Anastasia” tickets will go on sale after the New Year.
To receive early offers before tickets go on sale to the public, register for the free PNC Broadway at Louisville eCLUB. There is no membership fee and no obligation to purchase. To register, visit louisville.broadway.com.