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Entrees and Encores at America’s Dinner Theaters

Dinner theaters enjoy a steady patronage from travel groups.  To make sure you find the best entertainment for your group, we highlighted five dinner theaters with reputations for excellence.


Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater

Claremont, California

For over 30 years, Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater has delighted groups with a rare combination of fine dining and Broadway-caliber productions. Guests are encouraged to arrive early to take advantage of the full waiter service and menu, which features a wide selection of wines, hors d’oeuvres, appetizing entrees and homemade desserts.

“People can sit down and have a wonderful dinner experience, then turn their chair to have a wonderful theater experience as well,” said Mindy Teuber, who helps run the theater with her brother, Michael Billinger.

Though many dinner theaters reside in smaller cities, Candlelight Pavilion caters to the eclectic Los Angeles market and prides itself in presenting a diverse range of shows.

“One of the things we’ve accomplished is making sure there’s a musical in every season for every demographic, from something edgy like ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘South Pacific’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ for families,” said Teuber.

Candlelight Pavilion produces an average of eight to 10 musicals per year, each running for approximately seven weeks. Other shows on the 2017 lineup include “The Wizard of Oz”; “My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra”; “The Sounds of Christmas”; and “9 to 5,” a female-driven comedy about working in an office.

After their father, Ben Bollinger, passed on the business to them, Teuber and her brother worked hard to maintain a family feel within the theater environment.

“Mike does a curtain speech every night,” said Teuber. “You’re not just treated as a guest; you’re part of the family as soon as you come here. I think people sense that right away.”

Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse

Rock Island, Illinois

Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse occupies a building in Rock Island, Illinois, that has a long history of entertainment. Originally used as a movie theater for more than 50 years, the historic building was renovated and converted into a dinner theater in 1976.

Now in its 40th season, Circa ’21 offers professional Broadway productions from seasoned New York directors and producers. From May to July, the theater presents a new romantic comedy called “Snapshots: A Musical Scrapbook,” which blends beloved musical hits from composer Stephen Schwartz’s Broadway productions like “Wicked” and “Pippin” into a heartwarming story about a middle-aged couple rediscovering their romantic connection. Featured July through September, the classic Western romp “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” follows the lighthearted tale of a sister who decides to play matchmaker for her six brothers and inadvertently convinces them to kidnap six brides. Music lovers can catch a performance of “Ring of Fire” between September and November, which pays homage to rock and country music legend Johnny Cash.

Theater doors open two hours before the show, allowing groups plenty of time to find a table and enjoy a preshow from the servers, many of whom hold acting degrees. Circa ’21 is one of two theaters in the country that features a performing waitstaff. In addition, each show comes with a distinct five-entree buffet.

“We have a wonderful chef who gets really creative with the food,” said Brett Hitchcock, director of audience development. “We always try to take in dietary concerns such as gluten-free and vegetarian.”

On the productions’ off nights — Monday, Tuesday and Thursday — the theater often hosts concerts, such as Jimi Hendrix and The Eagles tribute acts.