It’s challenging enough for a live theater’s cast and crew to realistically transport their audiences to the locale and era in which a play is set.
When the venue is a dinner theater, however, the folks on stage and behind it can get a little help from the kitchen staff – if that staff can come up with menu items tailored to each show.
That’s how audiences at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse in Johnstown who come to see “Always … Patsy Cline” can feel right at home in the Houston kitchen of a fan of the legendary ‘60s country-pop singer while chowing down on chicken-fried steak with collard greens, “honky-tonk sweet tea,” “Tennessee stack cake” or “Elvis crème brulèe” made with peanut butter and bananas.
Brian Cook, who became food and beverage manager at Candlelight when Patrick Sawyer was promoted to production manager, remembers the cocktail he crafted for the theater’s production of “Grease” a few years back. “The character Rizzo was one of the Pink Ladies, so I wanted the ‘Rizzo’ drink to be pink,” he said. “It had vanilla vodka, amaretto, Kahlua, Chambord, cream and Grenadine.”
Hood also takes pride in local sourcing. The honey vodka in the honky-tonk tea comes from Spring 44 Distillers in Loveland, he said, and the bread pudding is infused with crumbled cinnamon rolls – those famous pastries from Johnson’s Corner next door.
The Loveland couple who run his kitchen and bar are self-taught, with no formal culinary training. They met when Devin Duran was working in the “dish pit” and Jeanie Bert was hired as holiday help to make salads. By 2011 they had taken over meal planning and brought the themed menus to “the next level,” Duran said.
They went all-Baltimore for “Hairspray” with crab cakes, crab-stuffed mushrooms and cod cake. “The King and I” inspired Asian fare. For the theater’s next production, “Singin’ in the Rain,” Duran and Bert researched and revived a dish popular in the 1920s – chicken in an almond-rose sauce – along with Prohibition-era classic cocktails.
“Each show has its own star,” Duran said, “and its own star menu item.”