Friday, October 22, 2010

The thing about dinner theater

I'm not going to lie to you. I've never been to dinner theater in the strictest sense of the word. I haven't experienced the magic of the Chanhassen Dinner Theater in the Twin Cities or laughed til I cried into my baked ham at La Comedia Dinner Theater in Springboro, Ohio (touted as "A Taste of Broadway"). I have, however, been to the kind of restaurant where the servers break out in song in the middle of service and I frankly find it embarrassing.

I'm not sure who I'm more embarrassed for, myself or the servers. When the Fairmont Hotel first opened in Chicago years ago, its flagship restaurant was one of those servers-who-sing kind of places. It was called Pastoral or Symphonie or Chorale or some other music-in-a-country-setting kind of name. The servers all wore dirndls and lederhosen and sang in earnest as they brought out the pasta primavera. Whenever I sensed they were going to break out in song, I would hightail it to the ladies room and stay there until it was over. I was just thankful they weren't wearing roller skates.

I never would have paid to go to a place like Pastoral/Symphonie/Chorale. My sister-in-law's father invited me. If someone else is paying, I'll go just about anywhere once, even Medieval Times, another dinner theater experience, this one with jousting. I might even pay for Medieval Times myself, because the idea of jousting and eating at the same time is just so random, especially when it happens in Schaumburg, that it verges on eccentrically brilliant.

Dinner theater menus and cruise ship menus are apparently written by the same people, with all-you-can-eat Baked Virginia Ham and Roast Beef from the Carving Station playing the starring roles. 'Seasoned' Tilapia is offered on many menus, too, and this likely means a sprinkling of Mrs. Dash. Toby's Dinner Theater in Baltimore serves something called Our Famous Spinach "Phunque" Casserole. "Phunque" has all sorts of unpleasant connotations, starting with aromas that emanate from the nether regions of the body, so I can't even imagine what that might taste like. Toby's also serves Knockwurst with Baked Beans and I have to wonder, is this a wise thing to put on the menu when people are expected to sit still and be quiet for 2 hours?

There was a restaurant in Greenwich Village that took the singing server routine to a whole new place, namely Tuckahoe, New York. Though I can't recall the name, I do remember it catered to a gay clientele. If there was a birthday at the table, the male servers would tartsy out in caftans and turbans, and belt out the theme to the TV show, "Maude." You know, Lady Godiva was a freedom rider, she didn't care if the whole world knew......It came as a complete surprise the first time around and I laughed heartily and thought, this place has mastered it. But by birthday number 9 that night, and the 36th sung chorus of "And then there's Maude!", I had reverted to my former, dinner theater-hating self.

I like music in restaurants. Ambient music is good. A jukebox in the right kind of place is fine, too. Even the Rolling Stones can have a place at the table (like at Mario Batali's Babbo in New York, where Sticky Fingers played in its entirety when we were there a few years ago.) But if I ever see a server wearing a costume again, I'm outta there.

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