When the Fireside Restaurant hosted a local theater production that needed a place to perform, the owner, Dick Klopcic, fell quickly and completely in love with theater. His enthusiasm for the art form compelled him to take a risk and transform his popular restaurant into a professional dinner theater, which has brought joy to an estimated 7 million audience members since 1978.
The passion Klopcic felt for theater is the same fervor that has induced so many others to create these entertainment experiences. Dinner theaters strive to offer customers the thrill of the theater, the rich flavors of high-quality cuisine and the ease of enjoying everything under one roof.
Whether the dinner theater seats 200 or 500, each hopes to build an intimate experience sometimes lacking in huge theater venues. Choosing Broadway musicals both new and old keeps these productions timeless and sought-after by church groups. An all-inclusive evening of dining and escaping into the world of musical theater will leave faith-based groups with a warm memory of an experience they will want to repeat many times over.
The Fireside Dinner Theatre
Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin
When Klopcic constructed a pyramid-shaped restaurant with a fireplace at its center in 1964, many were skeptical of its success.
“We started as a pyramid restaurant sitting in the middle of a cornfield,” said Jean Flynn, box office and sales manager for the Fireside Dinner Theatre. “You can’t get more of an original story than that. I grew up not far from here. Fireside was my birthday treat, so to work here is amazing and so much fun.”
Now transformed into a 652-seat theater, a three-level dining room and a shopping hub, the complex produces about seven shows a year. The Actors’ Equity Association member hires professional actors from across the country to participate in the theater’s classical and modern Broadway musicals, live band shows and occasional comedies.
In alternating years, the theater produces “A Fireside Christmas,” which has remained one of its most well-attended shows, even showing up among the American Bus Association’s Top 100 Events.
Unlike many dinner theaters, the Fireside separates the theater from the spacious dining area. Guests enjoy plated meals for all but two of the shows, which are buffets.
“Since the restaurant was started first, our emphasis on food is important,” said Flynn. “We have our own bakery here, so everything is fresh and made from the finest ingredients. Our Wisconsin hospitality shows here, so everyone is treated like they are coming into a large home that seats hundreds of people.”
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
Visitors’ taste buds introduce them to the upcoming Candlelight Dinner Playhouse show with menu items such as Hello Dolly Bars and Big Apple Cinnamon Roll, chosen for the currently playing “Hello, Dolly!” production. The Candlelight Dinner Playhouse is Colorado’s largest professional dinner theater with year-round offerings of Broadway musicals.
“We tailor make our menu for each show so it is themed with the musical happening on stage,” said Don Berlin, director of marketing for the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse. “For example, we’re just opening ‘Hello, Dolly!,’ so the menu is inspired by turn-of-the-century New York. There is a new menu each time.”
Servers bring audience members’ food selections to them before the show, with prime rib as one of the specialty items on every menu. Appetizers and desserts can also supplement the standard ticket of soup, salad and entree.
Now in its eighth season, the dinner theater presents Broadway musicals such as “South Pacific” and “The Wizard of Oz” and a yearly holiday musical. The 400-seat, two-level theater was designed so that every seat would have a great view of the stage.
Religious groups often attend the holiday show and many of the other American musical theater productions throughout the year.
“Church groups are one of our biggest demographics,” said Berlin. “We were built for the entire group experience. That includes every detail, from the moment you are greeted at the door to the food, costumes, sets and everything.”