You’ve been in business here for 39 years. What’s the secret to the theater’s longevity? Obviously we pay close attention to the quality of our shows and our food. [As a privately owned, for-profit theater] we have no board of directors, so we keep pretty close control and do
what we have to do; if that means taking out a loan to keep going, we do it.
How has the dinner theater scene changed? There were 74 Equity dinner theaters when we started out; now there are 14. There’s much more competition, more theaters doing musicals, which was our standard for so long. As far as our audiences, we try to put Chevy and Ford owners in the seats, not just high-end people. We probably skew a little younger than say, the Players or Venice Theatre, and we get a lot of guests from Longboat Key, Bradenton, downtown and those marvelous things called snowbirds.
What’s the latest with your building downtown and plans for the Lakewood Ranch theater? We have a sign up downtown that says “For Sale, Real Estate Only.” We’d like some investor to buy at a good price now, lease it to us, then maybe sell in a few years. That way we could upgrade and remodel. As far as the Lakewood Ranch building, we can’t get a construction loan right now, but we keep hoping. I get calls every day from people asking about that.
If money were no object, what shows would you stage? For one, the play The Golden Apple, which we named the theater after. Also a wonderful show called Take Me Along that won Jackie Gleason a Tony…Montserrat, which Lillian Hellman adapted for the stage and which is personal to me because I played in it when I was 14 years old…and Pipe Dream, a wonderful Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.
Your favorite onstage role? Vandergelder in Hello, Dolly!, because Roberta [wife Roberta McDonald] and I did it together and we had a ball. And Dolly is her favorite role.
People you most admire? Actor Bill Hayes, who’s 83 years old, has had a fantastic career with his head in the clouds and his feet on the ground, and been a great mentor to me. Also Joe Papp and Shelley Winters, who was a first cousin of Roberta’s, by the way.
Best part of being a grandparent? Right now as I’m sitting at my desk, two of my grandchildren are taking their afternoon nap in the playpen, and in a while they’ll wake up and start popping their heads up through my legs. What’s that worth?—Kay Kipling