May 6, 2010

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Drama and dessert
The latest in theater: dinner and a show
By Adam Coughlin
arts@hippopress.com

With the explosion of new media from Twitter to Facebook and everything in between there is no shortage of technology  vying for people’s attention. And yet one form of entertainment that dates back to the 1950s in America is thriving.

Dinner theater, sometimes known as “dinner and a show,” is a classic combination that made its formal debut in the U.S. at the Barksdale Theatre in Richmond, Va., in 1953. Since then the fad of one-stop entertainment has come and gone and now, seemingly, come back again.

“I wish I knew the magic formula ... about why it so successful,” said A. Robert Dionne, artistic director at The Majestic Theatre. “A few years ago we had two shows; now we put on five dinner theater shows a year and it has really taken off.”

Part of that popularity may be due to the fact that dinner theater is a bit of a novelty. Very few theater houses in New Hampshire offer the option.

Michael Gendron of the Greater Derry Arts Council said he would love to have dinner theater shows but because the Adams Memorial Opera House is a public building its managers would have to jump through hoops to be able to have alcohol served. Still, Gendron thinks it might be worth it.

“It is something that is convenient for people,” Gendron said. “They love to go out to dinner. It would really bring people into the seats.”

But as Dionne pointed out, that dinner has to be worthy of a fancy restaurant.

“It can’t be spaghetti on paper plates,” Dionne said. “You have to have real china and cloth tablecloths. It’s the little details. People hold us to a higher regard and are expecting a classy event.”

Class often comes with a price, and dinner theater can get a little expensive. However, there are options. Dionne said the Majestic recently introduced dessert theater, which allows audience members to sit in the balcony, enjoy the show and consume light dessert treats, which satisfies the belly but is lighter on the wallet.

While it is smart business to appeal to a variety of checkbooks, it also helps, in the case of The Majestic Theatre, to offer a variety of shows to a diverse demographic. 

The appeal of dinner theater is often in the experience more than the show.

“I’m not going to show The Diary of Anne Frank because that is a downer,” Dionne said. “But we don’t have to put a well-known show because the dinner theater sells it.”

Dionne said he usually picks a comedy or a musical. And of course a murder mystery, which, by adding audience participation, adds to the interactive experience.

The Majestic Theatre will be premiering Murder’s in the Heir, written by Billy St. John, directed by Larry Pizza and Kim Cassetta, beginning on Friday, May 7, at 7:30 p.m. In the play, billionaire Simon Starkweather is murdered and any one of his numerous heirs had the ability and motive. Secret ballots gathered at intermission from the audience will determine the killer.

“We’ll have three shows and we could have three endings,” Dionne said. “We really like to incorporate audience participation but we only involve the audience as much or as little as they like.”


Murder’s in the Heir
Where: The Majestic Theatre, 281 Cartier St., Manchester, 669-7469, majestictheatre.net
When: Dinner theater is Friday, May 7, and Saturday, May 8, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, May 9, at 1:30 p.m. Dessert theater is at 8:30 and 2:30 p.m., respectively.
Tickets: Dinner theater $35 Friday and Saturday, $31 Sunday. Dessert theater $22. Advance reservations are required.
Info: majestictheatre.net

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