Dinner theater's closing to leave an artistic void

Reflection: For years, the Chesapeake Music Hall offered an evening of dining and quality acting for $40 or less.

Arundel Live

December 09, 2004|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The news that the Chesapeake Music Hall, the dinner theater in Annapolis, will close its doors Dec. 26 is sad on several counts.

For the many gifted actors in the area, the Music Hall offered an opportunity to work in the theater and hone their craft in an intimate setting with immediate audience feedback - while being paid for something they love to do.

The Music Hall has been a treat for audiences as well.

Any dinner theater offers a hybrid experience. Theater food is seldom as good as in a top-notch restaurant, and the performances tend not to be as distinguished as those in a professional theater. But with an evening of fine dining for two easily topping $100 and a pair of tickets at, say, the Kennedy Center running even more than that, a dinner theater offering food for both the body and soul for $40 a person or less is a bargain.

It's possible that someone may take another stab at operating a dinner theater in the Annapolis area, but it would be nearly impossible for anyone to assume the many roles Sherry Kay Anderson played while running her theater during the past decade. She administered, produced, choreographed, designed, costumed, cooked and, on occasion, acted, sang and starred in Music Hall productions.

One of her best roles was the irrepressible matchmaker Dolly Levi in the Music Hall's 1998 production of Hello Dolly. A delight from start to finish in the part, she was a Dolly who could make the room sway and the band play with the best of them. When Kevin Wheatley as crusty old Horace Vandergelder sang the title song to her in the final scene, it was hard not to cry.

The actor most synonymous with the Music Hall (and the Annapolis Dinner Theater, which preceded it) has been David Reynolds, whose prodigious talent was seen in his role as a roller-skating Jacob Marley in the annual A Christmas Carol and as Tevye, the Jewish dairyman doing his best to stay true to his heritage in Fiddler on the Roof. From the nonsense-spouting Charlie in The Foreigner to the hilarious Pseudolus the Slave in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Reynolds stole scene after scene on the Music Hall stage with regularity.

Alan Hoffman brought some things to the table as well. He was hilarious as the sadistic dentist in Little Shop of Horrors and a caddish Nick Arnstein in the production of Funny Girl that starred Anita O'Connor, the Music Hall's talented music director.

The owner's flair for choreography meant that movement animated many Music Hall productions, such as its irresistible take on the popular dance review Swing.

Over the years, one of the biggest music hall surprises was the 1999 production of Big River, the Broadway send-up of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. With John Rose as Huck, Archie Harris Jr. as Jim, Ronnie Schronce as Tom and the funny Tere Fullmer as Aunt Polly, it was a marvelous time.

As for the funniest Music Hall show, there was Sugar Babies in June 1995. Not only did the vaudeville schtick fly fast and furious that night, the show's crazy bits and sketches provided the perfect exit lines for Dan Higgs, a stalwart of the Annapolis stage for decades, starring in his last show before leaving the area to retire in Florida.

Thanks to the Music Hall, he got to act like Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Red Skelton and Danny Kaye all in the same evening.

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