Everyone knows the familiar song and dance of watching the latest Broadway production, but what about watching a Civil War play next to the same seat in which Lincoln was shot or watching Othello in an Elizabethan theater similar to the one Shakespeare himself would have used? Original experiences in live theater can be found across the country at dinner theaters, historic regional theaters, outdoor shows, opera productions and Shakespearean festivals.
Exploring all the options of live theater can help ensure an entertaining evening that groups will not soon forget.
La Comedia Dinner Theatre
Imagine the comfort of combining entertainment with dinner, only the show is Broadway caliber and the food is a buffet praised by critics. Groups can spend a whole evening relaxing while cuisine and theatrics come to them at dinner theaters such as La Comedia Dinner Theatre.
The 612-seat theater rolls out a buffet on stage each night before a performance with offerings that include deep-fried Norwegian cod, chef-carved meats, fresh baked bread and the popular sweet-potato soufflé.
Six Broadway-style performances fill Ohio’s only year-round dinner theater, such as 2009’s productions of Annie and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
“We have quality performances that people are often surprised by how professional they are,” said Justin Walton, marketing director for the theater. “We are not touring; we do everything on our own. It’s like a one-day vacation in one place.”
La Comedia designs and creates its own sets and costumes, but looks to the ready talent from New York for a professional cast of high caliber. In November, La Comedia will produce Christmas Spectacular, which tells a seasonal story with dancing, traditional songs and Santa Claus.
During a theatrical production of Our American Cousin on April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln before jumping onto the stage to escape the theater. Both the theater and the boarding house across the street where Lincoln died the next day remain preserved today as Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site.
In the League of Resident Theatres, Ford’s Theatre is one of many regional theaters with quality performances and a historic building that is just as much an attraction as the show.
“Ford’s Theatre is unique in that it is both a National Historic Site and a working theater,” said Laura Beyea, publicist for the theater. “Typically we produce plays that tell something about the American experience, such as a history play or a play about Lincoln. For example, last season we produced Civil War. It was a concert of works with lyrics based on letters and diary entries from the war.”
The theater’s fall season includes Black Pearl Sings! with songs from the African tradition brought to America; A Christmas Carol; The Rivalry, with the Lincoln and Douglas debates; and Little Shop of Horrors, for a classic musical piece.
Groups can watch one of these evening performances or watch a one-act play during a tour of the theater. Two one-act plays tell about the events of Lincoln’s assassination and Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant.
The theater also features a museum downstairs that will reopen after renovations are finished in July. Artifacts from the Civil War and information on Lincoln depict the atmosphere in Washington during the Civil War.
The Lost Colony
Mystery still clings to Roanoke Island, where 120 men and women vanished from the first English colony in the New World in 1590. No hint of their whereabouts was ever found except the word “Croatoan” carved on a post. The puzzling story continues to replay each summer at the site where the colony disappeared at the Lost Colony Outdoor Drama, inside Fort Raleigh National Historic Site.
“Our theater is different from other theaters, because it is performed outdoors on the same spot where the story historically occurred,” said John Buford, public relations and market
ing director for the theater. “You may get to see a performance of Shakespeare in an Elizabethan theater, but you probably won’t see Julius Caesar on the same place where Julius Caesar lived.”
One of the first and longest-running historical outdoor dramas in the world, The Lost Colony also helped shape the modern American musical by combining drama, music and dance. Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Green originally penned the 1937 show to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the birth of the first English child in America: Virginia Dare.
Gunfire, fireworks and elaborate Elizabethan costumes transport audiences to the 16th century, when the continent consisted of a vast unknown wilderness.
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With captions, free previews and free bulletins about an upcoming production, the glass-shattering highs and lows of opera have never seemed so easy to enjoy. Opera companies across the country, such as the Glimmerglass Opera, welcome opera newcomers with productions that are easier to follow yet retain the moving music that has kept the art form alive for centuries.
“When a group comes here, they have an experience they will remember,” said Brittany Lesavoy, director of public relations for the opera. “The productions are innovative, and the atmosphere is comfortable and casual. We are not a stuffy opera company. There’s something for everyone here.”
Named after Glimmerglass Lake of James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales because of its scenic location on the shores of Otsego Lake, the Glimmerglass Opera Company runs the Alice Busch Opera Theater. The nonprofit summer opera company produces four shows each season with a mix of new and classic opera.
This year’s lineup includes traditional favorites such as Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata and Gioacchino Rossini’s La Cenerentola. Glimmerglass has hosted world premieres, such as Stephen Hartke’s The Greater Good in 2006.
One of the first American halls designed specifically for opera, the 1987 Alice Busch Opera Theater offers excellent acoustics, barnlike agrarian architecture and some of the leading singers in opera each year.
Oregon Shakespeare Festival
The play’s the thing at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where the angst of Hamlet, the mischief of Puck and the history of Julius Caesar prove the enduring power of William Shakespeare. The 1935 festival started when a young teacher noticed the similarity between the still-standing walls of a torn-down theater and a 17th-century sketch of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater.
A Works Progress Administration project constructed the walls into a replica of an Elizabethan theater that now holds up to 1,190. The festival also owns the 360-seat New
Theatre for new, innovative works and the 600-seat Angus Bowmer Theatre.
Each year, the festival presents about four Shakespeare plays and a mix of new and classical works. Among the 11 works in the 2009 season are Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing, Paradise Lost, Don Quixote and The Music Man.
“Not only can people choose the type of play they want to see, but we have other options, such as The Green Show,” said Amy Richard, media and communications director for the Festival. “The Green Show occurs before our regular stage production, and it’s free. It offers local and national art, which could be music, dance or improvisation. It’s been very popular.”