With change in ownership and name, dinner theater hopes for better times

January 27, 1995|By Shirley Leung | Shirley Leung,Sun Staff Writer

Two veteran performers are hoping the third time is the charm for the Annapolis Dinner Theatre.

Doug and Sherry Kay Yetter signed on last week as the latest owners who will try to revive a theater that has gone through two bankruptcies since it opened in 1989.

The Yetters, who declined to specify the purchase price, are better known locally as the husband-and-wife cabaret act at Marmaduke's Pub in Eastport.

The theater opens Wednesday under their management -- and under a new name, the Chesapeake Music Hall -- with "Butterflies are Free."

The last managing company, Annapolis Entertains Inc., left in September and filed for bankruptcy. Since October, director Roland Chambers and his company, the Roland Chambers Group, have been keeping the theater open.

The Catonsville couple hope to erase several years of bad memories with a complete overhaul of the 273-seat theater just off U.S. 50.

Of the name change, Mr. Yetter said, "I just think the Annapolis Dinner Theatre has had enough trouble. I thought we would have a fresh start. It's been a painful decision."

The name reflects a change in programming, he said.

"What I'm trying to do is change it into a music hall. It's a place where you'll see just about anything -- comedy, musical shows, variety," said Mr. Yetter, 37. "I'm trying to stick to more entertainment and more cabaret atmosphere."

Although they will continue the Saturday morning children's show and weekend comedy routines, the Yetters have canceled Mr. Chambers' season and inserted their own lineup: "The Foreigner," "Jerry's Girls" and "Sugar Babies."

Finally, Mr. Yetter said, they have decided to put the "dinner" back into the dinner theater, hiring a local chef to make the food as good as it was five years ago.

The theater was opened 5 1/2 years ago by two civilians from the Naval Academy. They closed it in June 1992 and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Ronald Denz, a retired businessman, and Robert Hewitt, a real estate investor, took over and reopened the theater in January 1993. Six months later, they hired Annapolis Entertains Inc. to manage it.

Last summer, the theater ran into trouble again. Paychecks bounced and stagehands weren't paid, Mr. Chambers said. Then, one August evening, nearly 300 theatergoers were left sitting in a sweltering theater with no show to watch and no dinner to eat.

New ownership was sought.

"When [Mr. Denz and Mr. Hewitt] contacted us, they asked us what we'd like to do, and we said, 'We'd like to turn you back into landlords. How does that sound?' " Mr. Yetter said.

The Yetters are no strangers to their new theater. Mr. Yetter was the original musical director, and Mrs. Yetter was its first choreographer. They left after a full year of shows.

Mr. Yetter, a singer, composer and piano player, has been in dinner theater since he was 13. Mrs. Yetter, 37, has been a singer and dancer for 20 years and has taken part in several national tours. "Frankly, I think they've got the best shot we've ever seen," Mr. Denz said. "They just don't seem to have the artistic talent -- which most of them had -- but also the managerial."

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