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Entrees and Encores at America’s Dinner Theaters

Fireside Dinner Theatre

Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin

The Fireside Dinner Theatre first opened as a restaurant in 1964, later expanding to include the theater. Since then, the third-generation, family-owned company has added four gift shops where visitors can browse specialty items like music and movie memorabilia, home decor, garden accessories and boutique handbags as they wait for shows to start.

The theater offers seven shows a week year-round, with matinee performances on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Each production is accompanied by a new story-themed menu; the recent staging of “South Pacific,” for example, featured savory items such as tropical salad, shrimp tempura, Hawaiian rib-eye steak and banana pudding with caramel rum sauce for dessert.

“The dining is completely first-rate across the board,” said Julie Nordeen, marketing manager for the company.

Starting in June, “Back to the 50’s” pays homage to the decade that gave the world rock ’n’ roll through tributes to artists like Jerry Lee Lewis, Patsy Cline, Nat King Cole and Ricky Nelson. “Elvis Lives” treats fall audiences to performances from finalists of the international Ultimate Elvis Tribute Contest, and “Miracle on 34th Street” opens during the holidays.

Any visitor with a religious background will appreciate the good-natured humor of “Church Basement Ladies,” featured July through September. The comedy musical follows the antics of four well-meaning women in their church basement as they attempt to helm a community dinner, a funeral, a fundraiser and, finally, a wedding, resulting in one misadventure after the next.

The Fireside is also one of the first regional theaters to obtain the rights to “Newsies” and “The Little Mermaid” as part of its 2018 lineup.

www.firesidetheatre.com

Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre

Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Tom and Debbie Prather produced shows throughout Pennsylvania for more than 20 years before founding the Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre in 1987, allowing them to implement their expertise and create a quality food and theater experience. As the theater flourished, they later opened the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre in Fort Myers, Florida, as well as the Prather Entertainment Group, which is now on tour performing the acrobatic hit “Pippin.”

At the company’s base in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, audiences can look forward to a varied show lineup beginning with “Peter Pan” from June to August; that is followed by “Pippin” until September and “White Christmas” over the holidays, in addition to an original production written by owner Tom Prather called “Second Chances: The Thrift Shop Musical.” Though Dutch Apple generally presents musicals, it occasionally hosts comedies and interactive murder mysteries as well.

“We utilize Broadway sets for some of these shows, which is so much fun to work with,” said Denise Trupe, general manager and marketing director for the theater. “To incorporate it into our facilities, we have to step outside the box and reimagine the shows in a way that still captivates the audience.”

The theater features an American-style buffet Sunday through Wednesday, with more upscale options like prime rib and specialty salads available Friday and Saturday. On Thursdays, guests can take advantage of a rich four-course meal served directly to the tables by waitstaff.

www.dutchapple.com

Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre

Indianapolis

Located in College Park near The Pyramids in Indianapolis, Indiana, Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre is famous for two things: classic musicals and mouthwatering hand-carved beef.

Groups are asked to arrive 90 minutes before the show to enjoy a buffet dinner in the main auditorium, where the stage is rolled back to provide more dining space. This intimate semicircle holds 450 seats in six rows, so guests are never far from the stage.

“You’re right there experiencing the performance with the actors,” said Patricia Rettig, director of marketing and media relations. “We’re able to pull off shows with a little more heart and a little less flair.”

Menu options include a salad bar, gourmet desserts, a full-service bar and the theater’s signature hand-carved beef, though certain foods can be tailored to group preferences with notice.

“We’re happy to adjust the experience to the group, so all the group leader has to do is communicate their needs,” said Rettig.

During intermission, servers return with drinks and desserts. Coffee, tea and lemonade are included in the ticket.

As the theater prepares to celebrate its 45th season next year, it will kick off the 2017 summer program with its first-ever showing of “Shrek the Musical.”

“Every year, we do a show right around when school lets out that’s geared toward families,” said Rettig. “Last year, it was “Beauty and the Beast.”

In the summer and early fall, the theater shifts toward more traditional productions like “Ring of Fire” and “West Side Story,” followed by “Ghost the Musical” from October through November.

“We have a lot of fun with the Halloween season,” said Rettig. “Last year, we did ‘Into the Woods.’”

This winter, the annual Beef and Boards Christmas show will mark its 25th anniversary.

www.beefandboards.com

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