Salty Dinner Theater’s Sleepy Hollow is Full of Spooky Fun

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By Jeremy Preston Jonsson

Dinner Theater is a curious beast. Not quite standard theater,  not quite cabaret entertainment, not quite anything else. It is its own medium. Half play, half party, all entertainment. It has its serious devotees — loyal fans who see show after show. I’m not going to write this review for them. They are the converted. They couldn’t be dissuaded from going by any review. No, this review is going to be aimed at those who might not otherwise go. Those who perhaps turn their noses up at such “lesser” entertainments. Anyone who ignores or disdains “dinner theater” does so to their own loss, as it is a format that offers a whole range of experience for actors and audiences that traditional fourth wall theater cannot.      

                For the uninitiated, dinner theater as it is commonly done today is an interactive theater format in which characters mingle with and interact freely with the audience.  As Salty Dinner Theater does it, it’s a chaotic, colorful, loud immersive experience, a party punctuated by scripted scenes, more about laughter and fun than about story, character, or drama.

                Salty Dinner’s latest offering for the Halloween season is their original take on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the story of schoolmaster Ichabod Crane in a Tarrytown, New York circa 1790. Ichabod comes to town and falls in love with the lovely Katrina Van Tassel, running afoul of the town tough guy, Abraham “Brom Bones” Van Brunt. The two compete for Katrina’s affections, and Ichabod is ultimately run out of town, pursued perhaps by the legendary headless horseman of Sleepy Hollow. 

                Salty Dinner’s version puts most of its emphasis on the rivalry of Brom (Jonathan Tate) and Ichabod (Chris Kucera) for the hand of Katrina (Alisha Hall), and leaves the Headless Horseman element mainly out of the story. It is included as a final note. This is perhaps a mistake, as it is the most memorable part of the story, and the show is marketed for Halloween. Including the horseman earlier and more often would have afforded opportunities for spectacle, special effects, and spooky Halloweeny thrills.  The love triangle story occasionally bogs down into wordy scenes, which are not Salty Dinner’s strong suit.            

                What Salty Dinner is good at, and what is best about this show is:

  • The looser, less scripted material.
  • ·The portion of the show where audience members are put on the spot and made to say silly things, or do silly dances. 
  • The songs.
  • The times when the audience is included.

These are the places where the show diverges from regular theater, and becomes something different. Something special. These are the parts of the evening that are never the same night to night. These are the parts that make each performance an event, a happening.

                It takes a special kind of performer to pull these moments off. Someone more host than actor, more social butterfly than artist. It takes improvisational skills, conversational skills, and traditional acting skills. I was once chatting with a well known local director about the challenges of dinner theater. He said he knew of no better way for an actor to practice their craft than the fast paced banter of dinner theater. In this particular Salty Dinner Theater production, these moments are often handled by the original character of Bob, Brom Bones’ transvestite sidekick (Shantel Bingham.) She has great, funny, high energy reactions to female audience members’ declarations of love and attraction.

                 The production really doesn’t slow down or stop all evening. As dinner is served, then dessert, then the business of checks is attended to by wait staff, the audience is treated to songs performed by two characters: Sabrina Specter (Jamie Haderlie) and Julia Verne (Natalia Noble). These interludes serve to keep the energy up while the “acting” cast gets a break. The characters of Sabrina and Julia are connected to the show in a rather pointless fashion, but they are both capable singers. Jamie has an awesome belt, and Natalia a lovely smooth sound.

                The jokes fly fast and furious in Salty Dinner’s Sleepy Hollow. They are thrown out so quickly that most of the audience probably doesn’t even catch all of them, and that’s fine. Many are groaners. Many are hilarious. Occasionally, they are brilliant gems of wit.

                There are a few things I would have done differently. The production includes a lot of small snippets of narration that seem disconnected and random. There are also a fair number of pop culture references that really went nowhere, and snippets of music that were more distraction than enhancement to the action. Occasionally, when a character dropped a pop culture reference, there would be a little bit of a song played to drive the point home, as in “Get it, that’s from Breakfast Club, get it, get it?” I don’t think these are necessary. I think the jokes should stand or fall on their own. Do these things detract from the overall experience? Not really. They are things I wouldn’t have done, were I in charge, but the audience didn’t seem to mind. They ate it up, all night long

                 Speaking of eating, I should mention that I saw the show at Mimi’s Cafe in Murray, one of several venues that Salty Dinner performs at. The room was too dark. That’s hard for Salty Dinner to control, but there it is. The show was hard to see. Some of the other venues are better lit. Also outside of Salty Dinner’s direct control is the food. I’ve been to Mimi’s before, and for the most part, I like the food there. However, I cannot let it slide that the server told me the “French style steak” on the menu was a filet mignon. It wasn’t. It was a decidedly less expensive cut of meat.  I’m a good eater, I know the difference.  I know this isn’t Salty Dinner’s fault, but the dinner is part of the whole experience, so it should be commented on.

                If you haven’t been to a dinner theater production, specifically a Salty Dinner Theater production, do yourself a favor and go. You theater types will be amazed. Night after night, Salty Dinner packs the house, and night after night, they send home a happy crowd, with full bellies, and exhausted funny bones. It’s an experience that should get you thinking about the nature of theater. And should, if you’re smart, expand your outlook on what’s possible in it.

Sleepy Hollow plays through October at a variety of locations from Davis County to Utah County. It’s probably best if you just visit their website for details. www.saltydinnertheater.com

Salty Dinner Theater’s “Emperor’s New Clothes” Shines with Great Performers

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By Jennifer Mustoe

I asked my niece Kerisa to come see Salty Dinner Theater’s latest production, The Emperor’s New Clothes, which was at the University Mall’s The Old Spaghetti Factory. SDT always promises a fun time, and as Kerisa is one of my zaniest friends, I knew she’d enjoy herself.

For those unfamiliar with dinner theater, you go to the restaurant and the performers banter with the guests, in character, while everyone gets settled. It helps the crowd anticipate what they will see. The play starts, we eat salads, the play keeps going, then takes a break while we eat dinner, and then the play finishes. All this happens in amongst the crowd, wending and winding through tables, though there are a few boxes the actors stand on. A good staging move as sometimes it’s hard to see who is where.

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During the eating breaks, SDT has a new singer, who plays The Fool. Johanna Blair may play a fool, but she sings like an angel. She is cute, perky, and fun, and her vocals were the bomb. I was not completely happy with the songs she was given to sing as they weren’t the typical SDT fare, oldies that everyone knows and jumps up to dance to. Instead, there were some lesser known oldies, that, while cute, weren’t recognizable enough for everyone to clap to, and Disney songs, which were nice, but weren’t necessarily fun. Also, Blair needs to insist she get a tie for her really cute hat as she spent a considerable amount of her time with the mic in one hand and her other hand on top of the hat to keep it on her head.

The plot (scripted and directed by Beth Bruner) for The Emperor’s New Clothes was sort of a morphing of the original story by Hans Christian Anderson (played by Joseph Thompson) and a king-looking-for-a-worthy-prince-for-his-daughter aspect. The script was funny in bits, but it actually seemed slightly risque and not as tight as I would have liked. It may have been that what seemed like an awful lot of moving around with no real reason might have distracted me.

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What I liked about this production was a lot, however. First, each actor was amazing. There was Tonia Sayer, a SDT regular, and can play a good and bad fairy like nobody’s business. She goes from a horrible crone to a stately Advisor with just a little costume changing but some awesome acting chops. Thompson, as HC Anderson was delightful. He was quick with some one-liners, and very approachable and affable. I enjoyed whenever he was onstage. Clayton Barney’s Prince Eric was wonderful. Barney can sing, act, and is in every way adorable. Kerisa said he was “very cute” and she is right. His love interest, Princess Penelope, played by Marion Strobell, did a great job and their musical duets were nice, the second one more than the first, which was slightly out of Barney’s range. Strobell gave Penelope an innocent wonder layered with a “hey, I’m ready to live my life, Dad” attitude that I really enjoyed. The self-absorbed Emperor was played convincingly by Jason Jones. He was so fun to watch. You could tell that Jones loved this silly, preening, and completely blind to parenting Ruler. And hey, when your last scene is in a (spoiler alert!) pair of red long johns, you gotta have some fun with it, right?

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Salty Dinner Theater has grown dramatically since I started seeing their productions several years ago and in fact, often sells their shows out, and has added several venues. These are fun family shows that get the audience involved and are high energy. I have seen more audience interaction at other productions, and as I said, I think this show’s musical choices are responsible for fewer people just spontaneously (meaning me and my guests among others, usually) getting up and dancing and acting crazy generally.

I will say, too, that I haven’t been to all the venues and can’t say whether the food is great or only passable at all places, but The Old Spaghetti Factory is really only slightly better than fair. It took forever for me to get a refill on my water and their lasagna is really horrible. I say this from experience and the opinion of one of the people at my table. In their favor, though, I did notice several of the wait staff not only handily moving out of the way, but actually sort of hamming it up with the guests, as well. Hey, they work for tips, right?

All in all, I would recommend this show, though you may want to consider going to one of the Salt Lake venues if possible.

For more information, please go to their website: http://www.saltydinnertheater.com/

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Salty Dinner Theater’s Sherlock Holmes is Fun for Mystery Lovers

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By Kendra Hill

I have now been to a couple of Salty Dinner Theater’s shows and have really enjoyed those I attended. It is a unique experience to have the actors on the same level as you and interacting with you during the show (at the beginning of this show I was actually pegged as Sherlock Holmes first murder suspect, yikes! Thankfully he proved me innocent.)

                This weekend I had the pleasure of seeing Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Violinist’s Beau at the Spaghetti Factory in Orem. It was written and directed by Beth Bruner and was Salty Dinner Theater’s first mystery. With a show that performs in many different restaurant venues, I think it would be hard to direct. Beth did a good job spreading characters through different parts of the restaurant, but it’s tricky to see everything at once, as the actors are all over the place. There was a good sound system and we could always hear the actors. There was one small glitch when one of the mics was left on, but the actors were very quiet off stage (which is tough – I’m an actor, we love to talk!) and was quickly fixed.

                When we (Jennifer Mustoe and I) arrived at the restaurant, we were greeted by Sherlock and Watson. They chatted with us as we waited to be shown to our seats and really helped set the mood for the show. The other actors were inside and wandered from table to table and talk to the audience giving background information and (in a sense) setting the stage for the show.

                I was impressed with the acting choices the actors made. They were all very bold and it made it easier to distinguish between the characters to solve the mystery. While many of the characters were silly in nature, the majority of the dialogue and jokes in the show seemed to be aimed toward an older audience and may become boring for younger children, unusual for most SDT shows. There are some things that kids will enjoy including one of the characters often being treated like a dog (sort of like Scooby Doo and his Scooby snacks), and the magician does a couple of magic tricks, but I don’t know if that is enough to keep their attention the whole time. There also seemed to be times where there was a lot of dialogue and the story started to drag. Though, when that happened, there was always a yummy dinner to keep you occupied until the show picked up again.

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Sherlock Holmes (Mike Brown) put a very entertaining and fun spin on the character and was very good at silly improv lines when audience members said unexpected things. Watson (Ryon Sharette) was a very good balance to Sherlock’s silliness and they were a very good team. Sometimes it is hard for actors to have such a good chemistry, especially when they were often separated by tables of patrons, but Mike and Ryon really did a great job at playing off of one another. Jane – the romantic heroine – (Sheri Gillies) was very cute and fun to watch. She would change her emotions quickly, from crying to sedate explanations, which was rather silly, though it didn’t get many laughs. I blame it on the rather low energy audience of the evening because I really enjoyed her performance and was surprised it didn’t get more positive audience response. Sasha (Tanner Haderlie) was very entertaining to watch and really projected his performance through the room. He had a very thick Russian accent, but still was easy to understand. Inspector Marsan (Megan Tholen) had a very strong presence on stage, which was especially good when she had her stand-offs with the chauvinistic Hagman, the magician. However, with all of the eccentric characters in the show, she sometimes was a little drowned out. Hagman (Christopher Kucera) did very well at being an outrageous magic Texan (never thought that would all be together in one sentence). He was very big and over the top, which really worked with this cast and the strong character choices that were made. Irene Hall (Jamie Haderlie) had a great singing voice. During the breaks of the show, she entertained the audience with a large range of songs including Broadway tunes, mainstream songs, as well as some the audience could join in. She really did a good job at keeping the show lively and upbeat after some of the longer dialogue areas.

As every actor knows, each audience is different. Some nights you get loud laughter and applause almost constantly, while other nights the audience seems not to understand what is going on and is quiet. Sadly, the night I went to review, the crowd seemed to lack enthusiasm and it brought the energy of the show down a little bit. The majority of the jokes, though many were funny, seemed only to get small chuckles. The actors, even with a lack-luster audience, kept their energy thriving and still were able to entertain those of us who were enjoying the show.

                The best part of the evening was the ending. Not because the show ended, but because the audience was able to participate in the punishment of the culprit. During the show, each audience member has a booklet with information on the characters where they can take notes as they try to discover who the killer is. When the dessert course is brought around, everyone is invited to write their guess of who was the murderer on a piece of paper as well as how to punish said culprit. If more than half of the audience is correct, then the actor or actress must act out the punishment. Luckily for us, the majority of our audience correctly guessed the killer (who shall remain nameless.) While we had an audience lacking in energy during the show, they were sure creative with their punishments. The poor culprit had to do many things including dancing the Harlem Shake/Gangham Style while announcing that Sherlock Holmes was fantastic, all the while being pelted by spaghetti noodles, and to top it all off, had ice cream smeared in their face. What a good sport they were, and it had the audience roaring with more laughter than was heard the rest of the show.

                This show was funny and entertaining, and a good way to spend the evening. At times it did drag, but it was made up by the fun characters and the performances by Jamie Haderlie. You may not want to take younger children as they might get bored by the long areas of dialogue and the more mature jokes, but if you do there are still a few silly things that they will enjoy.

                The Salty Dinner Theater performs almost every night, but in varying locations throughout Utah and Salt Lake Counties. To find the best location for you, it would be best if you go to their website and pick where and when you would like to go.

                The price of admission is $15 for adults and $8 for children, not including the price of dinner.

 Salty Dinner Theater presents Sherlock Holmes: Case of the Violinist’s Beau

Arrive by 7:15, check website for dates

TICKET PRICE: $15 adults $8 children (dinner not included)

CONTACT INFO: (801) 262-5083 info@saltydinnertheater.com

WEBSITE: http://www.saltydinnertheater.com/

Salty Dinner Theater’s “Bonnie & Clyde: a love story” is On Target

By Jennifer Mustoe, with Caden Mustoe

Two years ago, I fell in love with Salty Dinner Theater at their Valentine performance of Romeo and Juliet – Choose Your Own Adventure. Since then, I’ve rarely missed a SDT show. Why? Because they are lots of fun.

This year’s selection, Bonnie & Clyde: a love story, written by Daniel Brassard, is a bittersweet and somewhat unusual choice for the Valentine show. I talked to Mary Brassard, Salty Dinner Theater’s founder and owner (and wife of the playwright), and she said that they had asked the season ticket holders what show they’d love to see this season of love and it was an overwhelming request for a play about Bonnie and Clyde.

Mary, who has now become a dear friend, told me that she and Daniel did copious research so their play would be accurate. I was impressed with their research and how they were able to implement small details (did you know that Bonnie Parker was a poetess?) into the script. You’ll notice in the promotional photos, the Brassards found original photos of the notorious criminals and then recreated them with their actors. Very. Nice. Touch.

As with all Salty Dinner Theater performances, there are some inside/current jokes interspersed into the story, and there is a whole gag about Hunger Games that had my teenage companions and me (and the rest of the audience) laughing hysterically. Throughout the show, Clayton Barney, who winningly plays Buck Barrow, croons to the audience. He has a remarkable voice and his confidence is delightful. All the characters of the show hob nob with the audience members before the show. Barney was affable and fun, and set up a few details of the story that would soon unfold. His character also is one of the narrators, which helps, as this isn’t really a layered plot line. It is a history, which needs to be told as well as acted.

Ryan Sharette’s Clyde Barrow and Sheri Gillies’ Bonnie Parker had great chemistry and their physicality in the show was fabulous. We saw the show at University Mall’s Old Spaghetti Factory and the actors need to wind and wend through the tables and make it look like they are traveling along in a story, not through a restaurant. These two did this very well and made us feel like we were part of the show, not bystanders.

SDT regular Tonia Sayer plays Blanche Barrow, and is the other narrator, and she glides through the show with her natural grace and polished skill. I’ve seen her in several shows and in each, she portrays the character meticulously and well. I look forward to her performances.

Rounding out the cast is Madman, who plays lawman Frank Hammer. The couple sitting next to me, who told me they are season ticket holders, said they love Madman and can’t wait to see him in SDT shows. He really is a fun performer.

 

 

 

 

Salty Dinner Theater always does a great job with costumes, and their sound is always perfect. You don’t know how nice good sound is until you don’t have it. Hooray for good sound at all of their shows!

There are three things I wish had been different with Bonnie & Clyde: a love story. When performing familiar plays (like Romeo and Juliet and Wizard of Oz, both of which were fabulous) typically audience members are asked to play a small part in the show. Tonight, audience members were pulled up to participate, but there weren’t really ‘parts’ for them, and it was a little disappointing. It’s always fun to see improv from audience members.

Also, all of the songs Clayton Barney sung while we were eating dinner (don’t get the lasagna–stick with the fettuccini) were current numbers. I would have loved to hear songs that were popular when Bonnie and Clyde were famous. I realize this was a stylistic choice and current songs encourage people to sing along. But because Bonnie & Clyde: a love story really does ring authentic, I’d have loved to hear music from that era.

Finally, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were murderers. This was never defined in the SDT play. I’m not exactly sure how this could have been detailed and not ruin the entire show, but I like truth and these two notorious people were, at the very least, flawed. They were criminals, and yes, they were more than robbers. I’d have liked to see them portrayed as not quite so ‘fun’. I think this cast and these writers have the talent to push their audiences to see Bonnie and Clyde as villans, not merely a madcap couple that get their money by robbing instead of working at jobs and still make the show worthwhile. I’d have liked to see this important but difficult detail because I have faith in Salty Dinner Theater’s writing and acting. It’s top notch.

However, let me be very clear. Bonnie and Clyde: a love story seems to be Salty Dinner Theater’s most challenging and compelling production to date. They have taken a rather tragic story and made it not only enjoyable, but the phrase: “we all choose our own path” is reiterated several times. They aren’t making Bonnie and Clyde heroes. But they are saying that they did love one another, and they did stay true to one another.

I admit, I was also intrigued to see this show as Utah Repertory Theater Company, which I’m associated with, is doing Broadway’s Bonnie and Clyde, the Musical, this fall and I wanted to see what SDT did with the same material. I applaud Mary and Daniel Brassard. They represented this story with clarity and style.

The ending, which I won’t reveal, is very sweet and leaves us with a Valentine-ish feeling.

Bonnie & Clyde: a love story

February 8-16. At various locations (see website for information). $8.00 for children, $15.00 adults (dinner is additional)

http://www.saltydinnertheater.com/

Nothing Says Merry Christmas Like Music, Laughter…and Spaghetti

By Joel Applegate

As their name implies, it’s Salty Dinner Theater’s job to add a little extra flavoring to all their offerings. They don’t stint on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, now playing at various venues in Utah and Salt Lake Counties through December 21st (see below for schedule).

Though not an oxymoron, I eschew humility when I say that “Dinner Theater” is a violation of both. My bad, but I don’t think I can be fair about this. I’ve never seen a more bowdlerized version of this beloved tale.

But that doesn’t matter! What’s important is that you will be entertained by some very skilled actors and a beautiful singing voice or two, as I certainly was. Salty Dinner Theater’s purpose is to have fun, not to mimic the many other “Christmas Carols” reproducing like so many rabbits this time of year. Or to please academics like old stick-in-the-mud, yours truly.

From the beginning it’s evident that improv skills are very important. All the actors did a good job. I do not envy them having to do it while the audience eats. This is difficult work to pull off, and it is to their very great credit that these actors made it look easy. My hat is off to them. Continue reading

Salty Dinner Theater Provides a Night of Fun with Dracula, This Show May Bite

A Utah Theater Review by Chelsea Kennedy

If you like having fun, and you like good food, you’ll love Salty Dinner Theater!  Be prepared to be up close and personal with the cast, and possibly pulled up out of your seat!  Salty Dinner Theater has several different venues in which they perform on different nights of the week.  The venue my husband and I attended was The Old Spaghetti Factory (Orem). You can refer to their website for a venue near you.  If you plan to go reserve your tickets soon!  Many of the nights have already sold out!

When we entered The Old Spaghetti Factory we were directed to the back room where we were met by a hostess who quickly directed us to our seat.  Seated near our table was a strange man in a strait jacket, sort of mumbling to himself.  He soon joined us at our table asking me and the others at our table questions about ourselves.  We were then greeted by other members of the cast.  I really liked this part of the show.  It allowed me to get a feel for the characters before the show actually began. Continue reading