Does Broadway at Memorial Auditorium signal a new normal in Chattanooga?

Photo courtesy of Chris Bennion and Jeremy Daniel / The cast from "Hairspray" performs "You Can't Stop the Beat" in a previous performance of Broadway at the Tivoli. The Tivoli Foundation hopes to be able to start landing even bigger Broadway shows.

The Tivoli Foundation's 2021-2022 season comes with some significant changes, and they represent some very exciting news regardless of whether you're a fan of big theater productions or not.

This year for the first time, all of the shows will be produced in Memorial Auditorium instead of the Tivoli Theatre. The basic reason for the change is the entire Tivoli Center - which includes the 1,700-seat venue and the offices, dressing rooms and rehearsal spaces next door - will be undergoing a major renovation starting in January or February.

When finished, the center will have space for numerous arts organizations, new bathrooms and concession areas, and elevators for easier theater access for people with disabilities. There will also be a rooftop bar and event space.

Organizers made the decision to move everything to Memorial for several reasons.

First, according to foundation Executive Director Nick Wilkinson, it just made sense to keep things consistent, but also, Memorial and the smaller Walker Theatre inside have undergone quite a bit of renovation work of their own since last welcoming visitors. The concession areas have been updated and a huge curtain was purchased which will allow staff to close off the balcony, reducing capacity to 2,200 seats from 3,800.

Utilizing the curtain should create a more intimate feeling for shows that don't need the full capacity. Nothing kills the ambiance of a great show like an empty-feeling room.

And, new equipment has been installed to improve soundproofing in the building so that shows can be produced in both theaters on the same night.

Wilkinson also says the hope is that having the shows there this season preps Broadway fans for if and when the Tivoli Foundation is able to book really huge shows like "Wicked" and "The Lion King." The foundation has spent five years branding the series as Broadway at the Tivoli, he says, but this move "lays the groundwork as we continue to expand and have bigger and better seasons."

Until work begins on the Tivoli complex, shows will be produced there, as well. Currently, the Bobby Stone Film Festival dominates the calendar, but live music events including two Black Jacket Symphony shows and concerts by Theo Von, The Monkees, Patty Griffin and Ashley McBryde are scheduled for September and October.