Tuesday, November 21, 2017
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Show Palace Dinner Theatre to expand stage, improve seating

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One thing never changes at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre: the fact that things are constantly changing.

"We like to keep making things better and better," co-owner Nick Sessa said about his 16-year-old theater.

Whether it's putting thicker cushions on the chairs, raising two-thirds of the auditorium floor so that everyone can see the show, or adding a new ladies restroom to shorten the time needed for "resting" between acts, the crew at the Show Palace always has something going. And going. And going.

Come May, the changes will be among the most dramatic and visible since the venue opened.

The relatively shallow stage floor will be enlarged by semi-circular addition 6 feet deep extending into the current seating area. This means that the 5 feet of stage floor now in front of the grand curtain will expand to more than 11 feet deep — enough room for performers to do almost any scene in a show while stage hands change a set behind the grand curtain.

"This opens up a lot of opportunities for rentals, too," said Tom Hansen, production coordinator and designer of the new stage. "We can have a full set behind the grand curtain and still have events in front of it — small children's shows, lecturers, comedians, smaller plays that may come through the area on the circuit. This gives them more space without revealing our (ongoing) show's set.

"We can run two shows at the same time — one out front, one behind the grand curtain."

The new extension will be built in two parts, so that the inner section can be removed to provide a semi-circular runway for special effects during a show. Imagine, say, Gypsy Rose Lee slinking around the outer perimeter, dragging her fur stole and singing Let Me Entertain You during Gypsy. Or La Cage aux Folles' female impersonator Albin strutting around it singing I Am What I Am. Or My Fair Lady's Freddie Eynsford-Hill strolling around the rim crooning On the Street Where You Live.

"This little apron is a multi-purpose solution to a lot of staging challenges," Hansen said. "It feels like a (fashion show) catwalk."

Of course, the addition will require some changes to the seating in the popular front area of the theater — changes the owners and guest services crew have been wanting to make for a long time.

"We get a lot of requests for four-tops and two-tops (four-person or two-person tables)," Sessa said. Currently, there are only five four-tops in the center section, with the rest on the outer sides of the auditorium. The new set-up will add four more, plus two tables-for-two in the popular center part of the auditorium adjacent to the stage.

"This turns the front into a permanent cabaret feel instead of a cafeteria feel," Hansen said.

There still will be two long tables in each of the two front levels to accommodate tour bus crowds and larger parties. The only round tables for eight will be on the second level, while the third level will be rectangular tables for eight.

"Even the back row is going to feel more intimate with the show," Hansen said.

The changes may require some shuffling of seats for longtime season ticket holders, but the good news is that the new premium seats won't carry a premium price, Sessa said.

"We always think about our customers first," Sessa said. "This isn't the time to increase our ticket price."

Indeed, the ticket prices released with the schedule of upcoming shows (see box) will remain the same through June 15, 2014, for those who buy now.

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