Arts and Culture

Tuesday will mark 616 days since the last Broadway touring show was onstage at the Kentucky Center in downtown Louisville.

“Far too long,” said president of PNC Broadway in Louisville Leslie Broecker, who’s been keeping count. 

Broecker never imagined the pandemic-induced hiatus would go on for such a long amount of time when she first canceled performances in spring of 2020. But she’s thrilled to be in preparation mode for the curtain to go up on “Waitress” next week. 

The hit musical, which features songs by Grammy Award winner Sara Bareilles, opens at the Kentucky Center Tuesday for a week-long run.

“I’m a little nervous about being there on Tuesday night and how emotional I think it’s going to be for everyone,” Broecker said. 

This is actually the third attempt to bring “Waitress” to Louisville. The pandemic thwarted the most recent attempt and a fire at the Kentucky Center in 2018 foiled the first try to open the show in the River City. 

“This is definitely a ‘third time’s the charm’ show,” Broecker said. 

Audience members seem to be eager to get back into the theater as well. 

According to Broecker, ticket sales for the run of “Waitress” are doing well; each show can seat roughly 2,400 people and only a few hundred tickets are still available across the eight performances. 

“So I think the appetite is huge for the show in Louisville,” she said.

Waitress” follows an exceptional pie-maker named Jenna, who works at a diner in a small town. Jenna mentally escapes her terrible marriage by dreaming up delectable treats that reflect the highs and lows of her life, like “Key (Lime) to Happiness Pie” or “Betrayed By My Eggs Pie.”

Gabriella Marzetta, who plays the role of Dawn in the national tour and has been with the company since before the pandemic, told WFPL it “feels incredible” to be back on the road and performing for live audiences.

“Last tour was amazing, but there’s something about this time around where everyone’s coming in with such gratitude because we just were locked up for so long and didn’t know if this is going to happen,” Marzetta said. 

Returning to performances, however, also means stringent COVID-19 protocols. 

Over the summer, ahead of Broadway’s reopening in New York City, the labor union Actors’ Equity and industry association Broadway League announced that theater workers would be required to be vaccinated and undergo regular testing

Marzetta said the touring company is also doing frequent testing and masking when not onstage. They also travel with a “COVID safety director,” and can no longer greet fans at the stage door after shows.

“COVID changed a lot of things, and luckily, we’re still able to do this show,” she said. “But we are absolutely a lot more careful.”

Safety measures are also in place at the Kentucky Center, Broecker said.

“They’ve implemented a lot of touchless things as well as upgrading their HVAC systems,” she said. “So I feel great about it.”

Marzetta was apprehensive to resume performing while the pandemic is ongoing, but she also thinks this kind of show can bring some brightness to people’s lives after a difficult few years.

“‘Waitress’ is a show about following your dreams, believing in yourself, sisterhood and the power of friendship,” Marzetta said. “And I hope that people can come, see that for themselves and have a really, really good time at the theater because we’re excited to celebrate with Louisville.” 

Also on the PNC Broadway in Louisville 2021-2022 season lineup are the musicals “Cats,” which opens in January, “Come From Away,” “Mean Girls,” “Hamilton” and “Anastasia.”

Broecker said they have more than 12,000 season subscribers for this performance calendar, which is close to where they were prior to COVID-19, so she’s feeling optimistic about what’s to come. 

“We were able to rebook everything,” she said. “We’re just very excited, and frankly, getting ready to announce the ‘22-’23 season, so never looking back.”

She also hopes live theater’s comeback will be a boon for downtown. 

“I’m sure many folks recognize, but some perhaps not, is the importance of the arts being back in downtown Louisville, to all of the restaurants, everybody that’s down there just to generate the sidewalk traffic,” Broecker said. “The economic impact of the arts is tremendous for our downtown community. … And I just encourage everybody to come down and support not only the Broadway series, but all the other arts groups that are up and running.”

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts & Culture Reporter.