Does Chanhassen Dinner Theatres have trouble getting over the theatrical stigma contained in its very name?
Michael Brindisi, the company’s resident artistic director for the last two decades, has a straightforward answer:
“Yes,” he says over coffee at a shop across Highway 5 from the dinner theater’s home. “It’s something that we are dealing with all of the time.
“The only way we can counteract is to put on good work.”
For those with images of overcooked buffets and Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker/Nathan Detroit in “Guys and Dolls” in their heads when the phrase “dinner theater” is mentioned, Chanhassen is a different beast altogether. The company spends up to $300,000 to put on a main stage production, hires an average of 30 Equity actors and features a 10-piece orchestra. Even the dinner, while not a four-star meal, is certainly solid — and light-years ahead of typical fare at such a theater.
“The perception certainly has changed over the years,” Brindisi says. “And out-of-towners are often impressed with the quality of the shows.”
That factor is certainly clear. The theater developed and produced the first production of “Easter Parade” last year. “The producers saw our production of “Cats” and saw what we could do in such a small space. They were very impressed by what we did.”
With three theaters and a quarter of a million patrons a year, Chanhassen is one of the biggest players in the area theater community. The company also does good work, excelling when given “Les Miz” or “42nd Street,” and also doing a fine job with newer pieces that haven’t been time tested, such as the recently opened “Married Alive.”
“It¹s a very funny and heartfelt show,” Brindisi says about the musical revue, crafted by Sean Grennan (book and lyrics) and Leah Okimoto (music).
“Married Alive” follows a pair of couples — one young, one old — through the trials, tribulations and joys of matrimony.
The show has already been produced a number of times, but the creators, Brindisi says, were especially impressed with Chanhassen’s take on the material. “They are saying this is the definitive version of the show.”
That doesn’t mean the work was done. While the show had opened for previews, the official opening was still a few days away and the director had a number of pieces in the show that still needed work.
“We have a rehearsal … and we are going to rework a few sketches that don’t have the right zip,” he said. “And there are other smaller, subtle things I¹d like to do to make the show run better.”
An experienced cast always helps that process, and the quartet — Tod Petersen, Seri Johnson, Nicole Fenstad and Robb McKindles — all have plenty of Chanhassen, and other area and national, credits.
“They just nailed their parts from the beginning. That made things much easier,” he said.
Scheduling made for a busy few months for Brindisi. After “42nd Street” opened at the end of March, he moved right into rehearsals for “Married Alive.” And it isn’t smooth sailing from here on out. While the next show he directs, “The Producers,” doesn’t open until the fall, Brindisi needs to get casting done and work started on the show.
“Maybe I’ll have free time in July and August — before rehearsal starts.”
What: Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, “Married Alive”
When: Through Sept. 6
Where: Chanhassen Dinner Theatres’ Fireside Theatre
Contact: (952) 934-1525
Schedule change at Gremlin
Audiences who want to check out Alan Berks’ latest play, “Everywhere
Things Fall,” at the Gremlin Theatre will need to make a slight
adjustment to their schedules.
Since one of the actors will be out of town this weekend shooting a film, performances have been canceled for May 9 to 11. In their place, performances have been added May 15 to 17. For information about tickets, times and how to get to the Loading Dock Theatre, visit the Gremlin Theatre website.