Dinner and a show — it’s a classic combination.
Dinner theaters offer the best of both, either at the same time or in separate spaces. Many provide the traditional experience that allows theatergoers to enjoy their meal while watching the performance, and others have side-by-side facilities that make for an easy commute from the restaurant to the theater.
Although classic musicals are alive and well at these dinner theaters, guests can also enjoy contemporary productions, concert series and even comedy acts.
Ohio Star Theater
The new Ohio Star Theater is opening April 1 of this year in the heart of Ohio’s Amish country, marking the theater’s sixth season and its first in its new space.
During its first five seasons, a hotel conference center served as the venue, with a stage surrounded by 187 banquet chairs on risers. Although the audience was “just inches away from the actors,” the company decided to “build an actual, state-of-the-art theater,” said Vicki VanNatta, public relations coordinator for Dutchman Hospitality Group, the company that owns the theater and the neighboring restaurant and inn.
And it will have a few more seats to fill — 512 on the sloped main floor and in the balcony — but the Guy Penrod concert on April 1 was already sold out as of this writing, as were two Mark Lowry performances scheduled for Labor Day weekend.
The theater sits across the parking lot not 100 yards from Dutch Valley restaurant, Dutch Valley Market and the 69-room Carlilse Inn. For dinner, groups can enjoy Amish cooking during a family-style meal or at the all-you-can-eat Barn-Raising Buffet in the tradition of a church potluck. At the Dutch Valley Market, visitors can browse and buy an array of Amish goods, including cheeses, relishes, spreads, pickles and preserves.
In addition to about 15 concerts throughout the year, the theater’s sixth season will feature four live musicals, starting with “Home Game,” which tells the story of an Amish boy who has a shot to play professional baseball. “The Confession,” the first musical the company performed, will return to tell the story of an Amish girl who finds out she was adopted into an Amish family.
“Mennonite Girls Can Cook” started as a blog, then became a one-act play and is now a full musical that tells the story of two Canadian Mennonite women who started a cooking blog. The theater will wrap up its season with the return of “Our Christmas Dinner,” about a family that “gets caught up in all the wrong things at Christmas,” VanNatta said.
Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre
“With six, semicircular tiers wrapping around the stage at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre in Indianapolis, “you’re never far from our stage,” said Patricia Rettig, director of marketing and media relations.
The intimate setting allows the company to put on shows with “less flash and more heart” and allows actors to play with the space, she said. During a run of “Cats,” the cats are out among the tables interacting with guests.
“There’s such an energy when you’re really close to it and see their eyes and feel what they’re feeling,” Rettig said.
The theater originally opened in 1973 as part of a chain, but the College Park location is the last remaining privately owned Beef and Boards theater. It can seat up to 450 people, depending on configuration. When guests arrive, they can fill their plates at the buffet, which is replaced by the stage about half an hour before curtain call.
Beef and Boards puts on seven main-stage productions a year, and although classical musicals are its bread and butter, the theater is now incorporating more new productions. In the past, the theater has put on two newer shows each season to complement the classics; this season features four contemporary productions including “Shrek the Musical” and “Ghost the Musical,” both based on their respective hit movies, and “Ring of Fire,” a musical about the life of Johnny Cash. The theater has also mounted classic productions such as “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “My Fair Lady” and “West Side Story.”
“After a while, people have seen the shows that have been around, and they’re ready for something new, all while still keeping those mainstay classics,” Rettig said.
This year will mark the 25th annual “Beef and Boards Christmas,” an original variety show, and the theater also offers a holiday buffet with a truncated one-hour “A Christmas Carol” matinee.