Watch a show, enjoy a meal—the combination is simple, effective, and indulgent. Here, we’re highlighting Midwest dinner theaters with performance seasons that span genres, from Broadway to kids’ plays.
Chanhassen Dinner Theatres in Minnesota rose out of cornfields more than 50 years ago and is the country’s largest professional dinner-theater complex, according to its website. Famously, it gave Oscar-nominated actor Amy Adams her start. Boasting an on-site restaurant in Excelsior, Minnesota, Old Log Theatre puts on musicals and kids’ shows as the state’s oldest professional theater, open since 1940. Along with regular programming, the Seasons Dinner Theatre, north of the Twin Cities, presents a new Christmas show each year, penned by the theater company’s husband-wife owners.
Minnesota’s neighbor, Wisconsin, has several unique dinner theater experiences that offer a special, local touch. In Fort Atkinson, The Fireside Dinner Theatre has an acclaimed Friday fish fry in addition to seven-show seasons of classic musicals. Farther south in Iowa, Browns Century Theater came to be after the Brown family bought a former bank in Le Mars. (The dinner theater also chronicles goings-on in a YouTube show, “Hometown With the Browns.”)
Heading to Chicago on your next group tour? There are plenty of opportunities for dinner and a show along the way. At Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse in Rock Island, Illinois, the servers perform, too, in a historic 1921 venue, only three and a half hours west of Chicago. Also three hours west of Chicago is Amelia’s Under the Lamplight Dinner Theater, which pairs a spooky supper-club vibe with comedic musical performances in Galena. In Chicago itself, a building once owned by mobster Frank Nitti is now home to Nitti’s Supper Club, which hosts musical gangster shows with dancing and audience participation.
Indiana boasts several historic dinner theater companies. At Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre, “beef” refers to roast beef carved before shows. After opening in the ’70s, this Indianapolis theater is the only remaining outpost of a chain, covering Broadway shows, children’s plays, and more. Derby Dinner Playhouse draws audiences from Indiana and Kentucky, putting on musicals and light comedies. Open since 1974, it’s one of the oldest and biggest continually operating professional dinner theaters in the nation, according to the website. Arena Dinner Theatre puts on seven shows per year in an old, renovated theater with an on-site kitchen in Fort Wayne, Indiana. For a decade before that, it built its reputation as a traveling theater company.
In Ohio, La Comedia Dinner Theatre has paired dinner—including a “famous” sweet potato soufflé—with Broadway offerings, between Dayton and Cincinnati, since 1975. Groups can expect innovative multicourse meals at Noble Art Entertainment, which shows original work in three performances a year, ranging from literary to slapstick. Wacky themed musical numbers debut at the Ohio Theatre Lima, in Lima, Ohio, with open-mic nights and Wednesday dinners.
Story by Katherine Lawless & Erik Tormoen
Main Image: ‘Sister Act’ at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, Chanhassen, Minnesota. Credit: Chanhassen Dinner Theatres