Saturday, August 13, 2011

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse (and "Big River")

Based on recommendations from multiple friends, we decided to go see Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse in Johnstown, Colorado. We are very happy that we took their recommendations seriously.

Tara and I have always enjoyed seeing plays at The Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA) in theaters such the Buell Theatre, the Space Theatre, The Stage Theatre, and the Ricketson Theatre. Although we're always pleased with the performances there, there are times, especially after a long work week, when the idea of driving in rush hour into Denver and then dealing with parking issues and needing to get into and out of dinner in time for the show sound unappealing.

One of the advantages of a dinner theater is the ability to have dinner and see the show in the same location. This can definitely be a more relaxing experience without needing to worry about finishing dinner and getting to the theater in time for the show. There are some excellent restaurants in the Denver area near the DCPA, so it is possible to have a really nice dinner before seeing the shows. We liked several things about the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse including the fact that we enjoyed the food and the show.

The Candlelight Dinner Playhouse sells tickets for dinner and show or for show only. We enjoyed their food enough that I doubt we'd go there for the show only, but it is an option. The tickets that include dinner and show cover one entree (there are several to choose from) along with a salad. Optional items that can be purchased above this base price include appetizer, premium entrees, desserts, and soft drinks or other beverages. People who purchase show only tickets can choose to purchase appetizers, desserts, and beverages as well. We really liked getting our dessert at intermission and I think it would be difficult to watch everyone else enjoying desserts at intermission without having one for myself. I recommend purchasing dessert in either case (ticket and show or show only)!

The entree and other choices appear to be selected to fit with the theme of the show. For example, as the Dining page currently indicates, there was a "Big River Menu" when we went. This menu shows the five entrees one can choose from as part of the dinner and show package as well as the optional entree upgrades, appetizers, and desserts. The menu also shows choices that fit well with the show experience in the deep South.

Our main waiter for the evening happened to be the actor (Keith Hatten) who plays Jim in Big River. He has a great, deep singing voice and it was nice to be able to talk to him briefly before the show and during the intermission. The entire staff was friendly and we enjoyed the friendly atmosphere.

The Candlelight Dinner Playhouse is a modern facility and this was noticeable. The seating areas are spacious (one of the advantages of watching the show from where one eats is the necessary extra space afforded the theater-goer) and the newness and cleanliness of the building were appreciated. I could not tell from the photograph I had seen of it how large it is. According to the website, it houses 280 theater-goers and is a $6 million building. A better perspective of the building is available via the virtual tour. Even the restrooms are very nice.

The parking at Candlelight Playhouse is free. It appeared that overflow parking on the street was necessary, but this is a street that's not very busy and it should be relatively easy to park on it if necessary.

Others' reviews of Candlelight Dinner Playhouse and of their Big River production have also been enthusiastic and positive. Bryan VanDriel (The Greeley Tribune), wrote in "Theater Review: Candlelight’s ‘Big River’ cast blows the roof off every performance":
“Big River” marks the beginning of Candlelight’s fourth season, and I’ve been able to see every one of the shows so far. The company’s built a reputation for outstanding food and high quality entertainment, and this is the best show yet.

Other reviews include the recently released Mile High Critics review and Big River rolls into Northern Colorado’s Candlelight Dinner Playhouse.

I wholeheartedly agree with VanDriel's assessment of the acting and singing abilities of some of the main cast members in "Big River." He articulates this better than I can do by describing why some of the main characters (Mark Lively as Huck Finn, Keith Hatten as Jim, Dominique Simmons as Alice, and others) are played so well. Lively presents an energetic, imaginative, and mischievous Huck Finn we picture when we read Twain's writing. Lively's singing, especially with Lively on "Muddy Water" and "River in the Rain," produces significant dramatic effect. I think I wasn't the only one who also welcomed any opportunity to hear Simmons' gospel-inspired singing. The rest of the cast was very good as well and the actors playing the Duke (Brian Burron) and the King (Scott Severtson) captured Twain's well-known comedic portions side well, which helped to keep the very serious subjects being covered in this play from becoming too weighty. Because of the great performances, Candlelight Dinner Playhouse's production of "Big River" delivers important reminders and lessons while entertaining at the same time.

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse's location in Johnstown, Colorado, puts it within reasonable driving distance of Denver, Fort Collins, Greeley, and even Cheyenne. We felt it was well worth the drive. We enjoyed the food, the acting, and the overall experience immensely. The "Big River" production comes to a close in less than two weeks.

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