Courtesy Derby Dinner Playhouse
Published June 03, 2014
With dinner theaters both old and new keeping the tradition alive, there’s no shortage of entertaining meal stops for groups, no matter where in the country you find yourself.
Indiana’s Derby Dinner Playhouse and Wisconsin’s Fireside Dinner Theatre are celebrating their 40th and 50th anniversaries, respectively, this year, and just under a decade-old Laffing Matterz started a new dinner theater trend introducing improv comedy to the mode. Groups will also find great dinner theater at the Barn in North Carolina and the Middletown Arts Center in Colorado.
Derby Dinner Playhouse
Running year-round, with a season of May to May due to the theater’s original opening in May 1974, the 40-year-old Derby Dinner Playhouse stages eight shows a year, focusing on Broadway-style comedies and musicals.
Unlike many dinner theaters aimed at out-of-town guests, Derby seats 8,800 local season ticket holders in each production. With a 500-seat, in-the-round theater, the house can be nearly half full of subscribers, so groups need to plan ahead to get seating, which is the same for both dinner and the show, together.
“If groups call soon enough, they can get 40 or 50 all together on one level,” said Cindy Nevitt, group sales director. “If we have to split them up, we make sure they don’t sit with people they don’t know. But if you have a catalog, call as soon as you can. Three months out is good.”
This summer, the Derby is running “Mary Poppins,” which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, which will primarily run through October.
“The champagne fountains will come out,” said Nevitt.
Fireside Dinner Theatre
Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin
Celebrating the 50th anniversary of its restaurant this year, the Fireside Dinner Theatre offers visitors a threefold experience: After dining in the 1,000-seat restaurant, they take in a classic show in the theater before heading out into the boutique shopping area.
When it comes to dinner theater, the dinner often takes a backseat to the theater part of the evening, but Fireside has made a name for itself with its food. Guided by a chef trained at the Culinary Institute of America, the restaurant develops a signature menu keeping with the themes of each production, like the French beignets for dessert with “Les Miserables” and sticky toffee pudding with the holiday show.
For its anniversary season, the Fireside is showcasing classic shows from many decades, including “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Smokey Joe’s Café,” “Les Miserables” and “A Fireside Christmas.”
“Our Christmas show is always a big hit,” said Jackie Brisko, director of audience development. “The director has been doing it all 37 years we’ve had the theater. There’s a different show every year. He always writes it differently, incorporating Christmas stories, secular themes and a living Nativity.”