As a veteran of dinner theater (the now-defunct Sencha literary dinner series), I possess a unique appreciation for the form. I fully understand that low-budget campiness makes the show. I also know that the sillier the dialogue and improvisation, the more laughs you'll earn. Finally, I'm aware that the more your audience sucks down alcohol, the more it'll laugh.
That said, I've always had a "morbid curiosity," as my guest put it, for exactly what takes place at the site of everyone's favorite illegal Barr Trail and Incline parking lot in Manitou Springs, the Iron Springs Chateau.
For years, the Indy has received Chateau press releases stocked with odd and intriguing photos of heavily made-up, sharply dressed melodrama actors and musicians. What time better than a Fall Arts issue to unpack the allure of the 49-year-old company and take in this season's show, North to Laughter — or — Buck of the Yukon, after a family-style fried chicken dinner?
The experience begins by convincing the outdoor parking attendant — who doubles as the performance's pianist and happens to be talented local musician Tim Zahn — that you're actually there to see the show. (It helps to not wear a CamelBak.)
Once inside the rustic bar and dining room, which doubles as a mini taxidermy-and-historic-photo museum, slightly apathetic servers — ours introduced himself twice, as if stoned — take drink orders. With wines by the glass costing only $3.50, beers running between $3 and $3.75, top-shelf cocktails $4.75 and specialty house drinks in plastic souvenir cups $6.50, numbing your brain's social inhibitors for the impending sing-alongs proves both socially and fiscally responsible.
Try the Iron Springs Lemonade Tea (basically a Long Island) if you want your buzz posthaste, or the tasty Villian's Revenge (a whisky sour "with a citrus surprise") if you're feeling more like creepy-browed evildoer Snively Backlash than towering protagonist Dudley Dobetter.
Poison in hand, it's time to tackle what could easily be mistaken for take-out from any supermarket deli in town: small baskets and bowls of tepid, soggy-bottomed chicken; watery, just-uncanned green beans; dry buttermilk biscuits; unremarkable cole slaw; and palatable spiced potato wedges and red velvet cake.
While we ate, waiters occasionally ceased leaning against the bar, and texting in plain sight, to check in. To the staff that does this at the same time, night after night, a note: Tourists (the outfit's target demographic) might be starry-eyed and in vacation mode, but their palates and social sensibilities are still on the clock.
At meal's end, our server explained the dining/show transition: Walk upstairs when you're ready, boo the villain, cheer the hero and dame, howl at the dog. In the theater, the fun begins with ragtime piano numbers prior to the melodrama and Vaudeville-style olio, which is a cartoony mix of quick comedic sketches, solo and chorus songs and general tomfoolery. To their credit, the performers are largely talented and have good voices. They play multiple instruments, fit their respective parts and ham it up in style, earning legitimate laughs beyond the alcohol-induced ones.
For the throwback it's intended to be, the theater aspect of Iron Springs Chateau satisfies. But when it comes to the menu, Dobetter and Co. might want to do just that.