There is nothing wrong with a good dinner or a spot of evening entertainment, but it’s always great when you can give your group as much surprise and delight after dark as during the day. Cities throughout the Midwest offer a number of entertaining and inspiring opportunities for groups after night falls.
Putting these two stalwarts — dinner and a show — together, you have options that are classy and fun for all ages with updated takes on the dinner theater model, like the Kansas Belle Dinner Train, which combines dinner, a show and a functioning antique train. You can also opt for Indianapolis’ Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre, which brings Broadway to your dinner table.
If your group still has the energy to be up and about in the evening, start your theater outing with a backstage tour of a theater that has so broken the mold of what a theater should be that in addition to winning the world’s top architecture prize, it’s been named one of the most important buildings of the 21st century: Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater.
For something even more active and out of the box, wander the streets of Springfield, Illinois, with a resident Lincoln ghost expert or let your travelers try their hands at being a spy with just 60 minutes to complete a mission in the new escape room adventure opening in Grand Rapids, Michigan, this month.
Kansas Belle Dinner Train
Baldwin City, Kansas
After 24 years in Nebraska, the Kansas Belle Dinner Train has arrived in Kansas. During the evening the train travels 11 miles of track from Baldwin City to Ottawa, Kansas, and back as guests enjoy a three- or five-course meal and the evening’s entertainment, such as a murder mystery or a period singing group fitting the predominantly 1940s train cars.
While the trains always play 1940s music in keeping with the period of the trains, the month or so between Memorial Day and July Fourth is a particular highlight on the train because that’s when the World War II memorabilia come out in full force.
“The uniforms come out — we have a lot of them that we display — along with some original advertising and other artifacts to create what we call a canteen as part of the USO shows,” said manager Bruce Eveland.
Eveland prefers to have three months lead time at a minimum when working with groups if possible, both to make sure they have the space and to try to meet custom entertainment needs of the group.
“We have one group right now that we’re trying to find a Dickens-style carol group for, and in the past, we’ve had cabaret groups that do a lot of music from the 1940s,” he said. The train’s four passenger cars can accommodate up to 160, but Eveland will make a run private for groups of more than 100.
Menus rotate on a quarterly basis, although Eveland said some items, like the prime rib on the five-course menu and the strip steak on the three-course menu, carry across the seasons. All major and minor food allergies and intolerances can be accommodated with advance notice.
Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre
Regional dinner theater productions are not the places you expect to see top talent from New York, but drawing upon Big Apple’s pool of performers has served Beef & Boards well enough to keep it going from its opening in the dinner theater heyday in 1973 until today. Every year, the casting director heads to New York to cast the upcoming season directly from the same pool from which Broadway producers choose.
Over its more than four decades, Beef & Boards has hosted stars such as Carol Channing, B.B. King and Tina Turner, so you never know who you’ll catch on the stage today.
“Right now, the girl playing Peter Pan is actually a local who went on to act in New York, and now she’s back in Indianapolis for her first time performing with us,” said Patricia Rettig, director of marketing and media relations. “We’ve had people from Australia, Israel, you name it, because all the best actors end up in New York.”
Along with the quality of the acting, some things never change, like Beef & Boards’ signature roast beef, served hand-carved from the buffet set up on the floorboards of the stage itself shortly before the curtain goes up. But the menu typically rotates in keeping with the themes of the show.
Later this year, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” will make a splash from the end of the summer through the fall before Beef & Boards debuts a new show for the theater, “The Addams Family,” on October 8.