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Weekend edition July 21, 2023 | Shannon Smith

Broadway at the Tennessee Theatre brings revenue, culture, people to Knoxville

Only 100 feet separate the edge of the stage and the back of the house at the Tennessee Theatre, where tens of thousands of people take their seats to soak in the magic of Broadway each year.

After a nearly year-long season featuring rapping founding fathers, dancing cats, and everything in between, the most recent Broadway season at the Tennessee Theatre is wrapping up this weekend.

Thousands of theatergoers sat for 56 performances of six stellarly reviewed Broadway shows that added Knoxville as a stop on their national tours.

“This current season that we’re wrapping up right now in July has been the biggest season yet,” said Becky Hancock, Executive Director of the Tennessee Theatre. “It was the first year that we went to full-week runs for all the titles, adding another 4,500 seats or so.”

This season’s anchor show was Hamilton, which came to Knoxville in February. Hancock said there was an unprecedented ticket demand for the Tony-winning show.

“For Hamilton, we sold 25,357 tickets,” she said. That amounts to just over $3 million in ticket sales for that show, half of which the theatre got to keep. “It just really elevated the theater’s Broadway season to the next level.”

That next level is bringing the Broadway classic Wicked to Knoxville next January. About to celebrate its 20th year, the origin story of the witches of the Wizard of Oz continues to captivate audiences across the globe.

Hancock said the theater is having to undergo a bit of construction just to fit the set of Wicked inside.

“We’re actually having to drill new holes in the ceiling for one of the set pieces,” she said. “So that was a big investment for us, but having Wicked in the building is worth it.”

Wicked, like Hamilton, will run for 16 performances. All other shows will run for eight each.

“We are already really, really thrilled with the subscription purchases for next year. It’s actually ahead of where we were for Hamilton, which is surprising,” said Hancock. “So we will have single ticket sales for all the shows, but the inventory is going to be pretty tight.”

Those single-ticket purchase dates were just announced for every show but Wicked, which will be announced soon. If you’re interested in seeing Six, Jagged Little Pill, Wicked, Hadestown, To Kill a Mockingbird, or Beetlejuice, make sure to keep an eye on the purchase dates.

The Tennessee Theatre is a nonprofit and gets about half of its ticket revenue each year just from Broadway shows. But these performances also add a lot of revenue to the City of Knoxville.

“It’s great for the downtown businesses and hotels. We do pull in a lot of people from outside the market who stay the night, go to the restaurants, the bars, retail,” said Hancock. “It just creates the sort of cap of the day. You can come into town and do a lot of fun things and then go to the Broadway show at night.”

Celebrating its 95th year of operation, the Tennessee Theatre has long been a staple of downtown Knoxville, and Hancock said that iconic presence is part of what keeps people coming back.

“Some patrons have been coming for decades, some for generations,” she said. “People talk to me all the time about having come here with their parents or their grandparents as early as all the way back to the 1930s and 40s. So there’s a commitment to the building and to the venue as a historic theater.”

As Knoxville continues to grow, and an emphasis is placed on recruiting tech companies to the area, Hancock notes that a thriving arts culture is important for the attraction and retention of people to any city.

“I think arts demonstrate a well-rounded culture and an open-minded culture,” she said. “The arts offer a place where you can experience something new in a safe environment. The theater’s doors are always open and welcome to everyone, and we look forward to making a lot of new memories over the next 95 years.”

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