Embassy Theatre: A Beloved Gem

The same community spirit that saved the Embassy Theatre from ruin also ushered it through the pandemic. Now its supporters are celebrating a return to full-capacity productions.

The Broadway at the Embassy series officially kicks off this fall and other events, films and shows are booked throughout the year and beyond, says Carly Myers, chief marketing officer for Embassy Theatre.

“We’re back to feeling pleasantly overwhelmed and are experiencing the anticipated activity that comes with the fall and winter seasons,” says Myers. “We’re treating the upcoming season as a regular season. We’re an organization of resiliency and were able to make it through the pandemic without furloughing people and shutting the doors.”

The theater is booking events well into 2023 and is talking about dates for the following year.

The Broadway series opens Nov. 3 with “Anastasia” and will continue with “Rent” on Nov. 20, followed by “Cats” Jan. 24 and “Hairspray,” “Waitress” and “Jersey Boys” next spring.

“We know Fort Wayne loves the classic Broadway hits and we try to get popular shows,” says Myers. “Our vision now and for the future is to offer some shows on two or more nights to give people more options to choose from.”

“Anastasia” transports the audience from the twilight of the Russian Empire to Paris in the 1920s, as a brave young woman sets out to uncover the mystery of her past and forge her future.

For more than 25 years, “Rent” has inspired audiences to choose love over fear and to live without regrets.

“Cats” is the story of one magical night when an extraordinary tribe of cats gather to rejoice and decide which cat will be reborn.

“Hairspray” follows 16-year-old Tracy Turnblad in 1960s Baltimore as she dances her way into changing the world with her big hair and big dreams.

“Waitress” tells the tale of Jenna, an expert pie-maker who dreams of using her talent to find her way out of her small town and rocky marriage.

“Jersey Boys” is the story of four “ordinary” guys whose extraordinary music transforms them into Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

When Fort Wayne began quarantine in March 2020, the staff kept working. By June, the theater was hosting events with reduced capacity and social distancing.

“When a lot of venues had to close, we were able to stay open because we have so much space,” explains Myers. “We partnered with local organizations to host events here because they couldn’t take place where they were, and we just figured out how to make things happen. We worked closely with the health department and set up COVID-19 protocols. It was different, but we were determined, and the community was very supportive.”
The 2,471-seat theater is large enough to attract national acts, but small enough to give audiences an intimate experience and tout, “There’s not a bad seat in the house.” A former seven-story hotel wraps around the north and west sides of the theater and has been transformed into business offices, a two-story ballroom, and other rental spaces. A rooftop patio is rented out for weddings and other events.

Although many people are eager to get back to in-person events, the theater is also working to determine how virtual productions can serve the community, especially rural residents and aging populations, says Myers.

The theater’s history began with the opening of Emboyd Theatre in May 1928 as a movie palace and vaudeville venue. For 25 years, it hosted the brightest stars of stage and screen, such as Perry Como, Lawrence Welk, Louis Armstrong, Tony Bennett, Doris Day, Duke Ellington, Red Skelton, Victor Borge and Bob Hope, who made his first emcee appearance in Fort Wayne. Alliance Amusement Corporation purchased the venue in 1952, changed its name to Embassy Theatre and continued operating it as a movie palace. The ornate pipe organ, originally used for providing a score during silent films, was preserved by a group of local organ enthusiasts.

When the theater faced the wrecking ball, as had been the fate of some of its peers, a handful of community leaders and volunteers formed the Embassy Theatre Foundation in 1972 with a goal of protecting and preserving both the building and the organ.

With just two days to spare, $250,000 was raised to rescue the building from demolition. It was added to the Register of Historic Places in 1975. Soon, many fundraisers were established, such as the annual Festival of Trees, which is still held today.

Major renovations continued and dedicated volunteers have kept the theater vibrant as the place of education, entertainment and inspiration it is today.

Learn more about all upcoming events and how you can help to support this community gem at fwembassytheatre.org. ❚