It’s opening night of the new menu offering from Feast Dinner Theatre.And the six-member cast has the audience at the Rodd Charlottetown Hotel guessing— and laughing — all the time over what zany sketch is coming next.In one, cast members teach audience volunteers how to tip a bellhop, hail a cab and take a subway ride in New York City.
In another, they are sitting in a New York language class, learning the intricacies of the dialect and making humorous pronunciations.Later, as servers, they sprinkle even more comedy into the mix by acting out characters suggested by audience members as they deliver drinks to the tables. These range from a dopey Humpty Dumpty and an itchy sumo wrestler to a Central Park horse and carriage with digestion problems.
“I laughed so hard tears were rolling down my face. It was great comedic relief,” Catherine Martin of Charlottetown said when it was all over.
It’s part of a new way of dishing out entertainment from the folks at Feast Dinner Theatres. Instead of set characters and storylines, they are serving large portions of improv, music and comedy in a revue-style show.“There’s no script. Every night is different because much of what we do comes from suggestions from the audience.
That’s really fun for us,” says Sherri-Lee Darrach, director of New York After Dark, a dinner theatre that also plays on selected dates this winter and spring at the Brother’s 2 Restaurant in Summerside and Red’s Corner, Montague.
Actor Adam MacGregor likens it to other shows in pop culture.“The way we like to describe the show to other people is, ‘It’s like Whose Line is it Anyway? meets Saturday Night Live.’
“So expect the unexpected and prepare for the element of surprise. Not only does the audience not know what we’re going to say, neither do we,” laughs MacGregor.
But one thing he knows extremely well is the music selections for the show.“We have a wide range of songs. Using a New York theme, we took a lot of chances musically. We have styles ranging from pop to jazz to swing to rock ‘n’ roll and everything in between,” says MacGregor, who is also the musical director.
“As always, we’re vocally driven with amazing harmony,” he adds, noting that he is very proud of the show and its band that includes Alicia Altass, Bobby McIsaac, Brittany Banks and Darrach, who he calls “six incredible musicians.”
Starting out with a lively rendition of New York After Dark, a song MacGregor composed especially for the show, the sextet builds up crowd energy with standards like New York, New York, made popular by Frank Sinatra, Take the “A” Train, covered by John Coltrane, Empire State of Mind by Alicia Keys and Boy from New York City by Manhattan Transfer.
The show hits a high note when cast members pay tribute to Broadway. After Altass, Banks and Darrach perform a medley, consisting of songs from Annie, The Wizard of Oz, Chicago, Phantom of the Opera, The Sound of Music and Grease, the audience applauds wildly.
“It happened right before intermission and it was my favourite part of the evening’s entertainment. The three girls did such a wonderful job on the Broadway tunes,” says Gail Somers of Charlottetown.
While it’s easy to control the songs and the sketches for the show, improv provides challenges, says Darrach.
“We prepare for it the best we can. And we practise. We also had Garry Williams, director of Dapopo Theatre in Halifax, give us an improv workshop,” she says.
In the process, she learned mental preparedness.“You have to get to the point where you’re freely accepting things and really spitting things back without censoring yourself too much.
“For example, we do this game called Catchers from a Hat. We draw names of characters. One night (at a Summerside show), I picked Popeye. He’s not a normal character that I would go to, but that’s what makes it fun. So I said, ‘yes, I’ll take that. Now let me just run with it.’”
JUST THE FACTS
If you are going
- What: New York After Dark.
- When: Selected dates this winter and spring.
- Where: Rodd Charlottetown Hotel, Brothers 2 Restaurant, Summerside and Red's Corner, Montague.
- Content: Sketch writers include Patrick Ledwell, Adam MacGregor, Sherri-Lee Darrach and Alicia Altass.
- Menu: Italian buffet featuring garlic bread, salads, chicken, lasagna and other pasta dishes. At intermission, dessert is served as well as coffee or tea.
- Tickets: For the show in Charlottetown, call 629-2321, Summerside, 436-7674, and Montague, 838-3838.