“It’s the perfect Cinderella story,” says Jerry Mitchell. “When [Vivian Ward] is offered everything, she turns [Edward Lewis] down. She doesn’t want money. She wants love.”
Mitchell is talking about Pretty Woman: The Musical, the adaptation he first directed for Broadway in 2018, but he could just as well be talking about Providence Performing Arts Center, where he is currently directing a fresh new production. PPAC stopped staging live productions in March 2020, along with nearly every theater on earth. Now that Rhode Island is heavily vaccinated, the Downcity hotspot is kicking off a new season – and they’ve been selling 100 season subscriptions per day. Cinderella, indeed.
“I think it’s helpful that people know what Pretty Woman is,” says J.L. “Lynn” Singleton, president of PPAC. “It’s not Equus.”
In other words, PPAC wouldn’t say no to a runaway hit. COVID-19 was devastating to the global economy, and few industries were hit harder than the performing arts. For 17 months, PPAC’s 3,100-seat auditorium has sat empty. PPAC never fully closed, but employees worked remotely and performance dates were repeatedly pushed back. Even as vaccines were approved, PPAC couldn’t commit to shows in January, and the lineup was reset for September.
“I always felt that our industry was vaccine-dependent,” says Singleton. But he takes pride in the fact that all PPAC employees have returned to work, as of September 1. At its height, PPAC had to furlough about half of its staff, yet not a single healthcare plan was dropped. Nearly all of the big shows remained on the calendar, just for fall instead of spring. There was only one replacement: Hamilton, one of the most successful musicals in Broadway history.
The PPAC staff has gone to great lengths to keep audiences healthy, earning it a STAR accreditation from the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC). Every single employee or associate at PPAC has been verifiably vaccinated. The theater has 90 stations for hand sanitizing. Ushers scan tickets, and even concessions are contactless. Most importantly, PPAC installed a new filtration system, reducing airborne contamination.
Mitchell also kept busy during lockdown, collaborating with writers and mentoring students remotely from his home in New York. Mitchell is well known among Broadway enthusiasts, as both director and choreographer. Now, directing Pretty Woman in Providence is something of a homecoming: He first directed Legally Blonde here in 2008, and the production went on to tour nationally – the first such production launched at PPAC. Pretty Woman is the 20th national tour to begin at PPAC, and Mitchell is again at the helm.
“I saw the movie [of Pretty Woman] for the first time in 1990,” recalls Mitchell, “and I immediately tried to acquire the rights. The characters were larger than life. Those are the characters I’m attracted to.”
In 2018, Mitchell got his chance: He directed the world premiere of Pretty Woman in Chicago, and the show became a Broadway hit. This summer, Mitchell directed a production in London as well. He has already seen the effect of live performance on a post-lockdown audience, and he looks forward to seeing it again at PPAC.
“Art is ephemeral,” says Mitchell. “There’s no way to hold onto it except in your mind. It’s like a rollercoaster; you can’t experience it until you’re on that ride. It’s just going to be spectacular for everybody.”
Click here for new COVID-19 protocols in effect until further notice.