PROVIDENCE — For more than a year, the velvet curtains inside the Providence Performing Arts Center have not been opened, the doors to the grand lobby have been locked, and the more than 3,000 seats inside have stayed empty. For months, while crowds have flocked to the docks of Newport or shores of South County, much of downtown Providence has been left quiet and bleak.
“Downtown Providence is an event-based economy and in the last 13 months, it’s become Chernobyl,” Lynn Singleton, president of PPAC, told a Globe reporter Tuesday. “And we’ve been in the middle of the pandemic war. The things that make downtown work, and make people want to live downtown, are no longer happening. And we have to make a return.”
On Tuesday morning, Singleton unveiled downtown’s first sign of hope for recovery when he announced PPAC’s 2021-2022 Broadway season, which will be back in-person this October. The theatre’s 44th Broadway season will open with “Pretty Woman: The Musical” from Oct. 9 to 16, followed by a two-week return engagement of “Hamilton” from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12. The family-friendly holiday show “Cirque Dreams Holidaze” will also return for three performances starting Dec. 17.
“Our business was the first one in and undoubtedly the last one out,” said Singleton, recalling last March when theaters across the country were shut down because of rising COVID-19 cases.
While the launch of the Broadway season is a start, the rest of the recovery plan for downtown Providence is still up in the air. The Rhode Island Convention Center is still shuttered after being used as a temporary alternative hospital site, even though it’s been largely abandoned by patients for months. Singleton said that both the city and state needs to develop a strong marketing campaign by “spending millions” and using businesses like PPAC reopening as a focal point.
“Boston is the Athens of America and Providence is Sparta. And all roads lead to downtown,” said Singleton, who has worked for PPAC since 1983. “And unless downtown recovers, the state won’t. That’s just the bottom line.”
PPAC, which is now a Global Biorisk Advisory Council STAR accredited facility, will conduct wellness checks for all staff and guests before they enter the venue. They will be screened for symptoms, have their temperature taken, and will be required to wear masks. Contactless ticket scanning, restroom fixtures, food and drink ordering, and payment processing has been added ahead of the season opener.
Singleton said that downtown’s recovery will be gradual as consumer behavior changes, even if they are fully vaccinated. He said that everyone that works at PPAC — both full and part time — and everyone involved in the Broadway shows will be required to get vaccinated.
While it was closed for the pandemic, PPAC revamped its façade for the first time after 93 years. The building was previously known as the Loew’s State Theatre, and originally opened as a Movie Palace in October 1928. Now, new, custom-made terra cotta tiles and exterior lighting have been installed.
The update included restoring 2,300 terracotta stone tiles; about 400 more were remade, 1,000 were repaired, and 900 needed to be cleaned, according to PPAC’s Board Chairman Joseph W. Walsh. The renovation — the second largest renovation in the theatre’s history — cost $2.1 million.
Singleton said there will likely be shows other than the Broadway series when PPAC will open its doors for this year, including some rock concerts. Some one-night shows, which only take about six to eight weeks to set up, Singleton said, will likely be announced at a later date.
Heading into the New Year, the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning musical “Rent — The 25th Anniversary Farewell Tour” will run Jan. 14-16, 2022. “An Officer and a Gentleman,” Based on the 1982 hit film, will make its Providence debut Feb. 18-20, 2022.
Also on the schedule: the musical comedy “The Prom,” which will run March 8-13, 2022; the Tony Award-winning “Oklahoma!,” March 22-27, 2022; “Ain’t Too Proud — The Life and Times of the Temptations,” April 12-17, 2022; and Lincoln Theater’s production of Lerner & Loewe’s “My Fair Lady,” May 11-15, 2022. Blue Man Group will return to PPAC May 20-22, 2022.
“We’ll always be the people that moved the back wall out. But it’s going to take time to learn how to walk again,” said Singleton. “But at the end of the day, it’s all about the shows.”