First Night Feasts Leave Theater Audiences Humming the Free Cake

What actor doesn't love a free meal? But it never hurts to give theatergoers a nibble on opening nights, too. In theaters around here, there are some really toothsome reasons to buy tickets (for as little as $10 or $15, depending on the theater) for a production's first performance. Some playhouses ply patrons with huge buffets and glasses of Champagne included in the price of admission. Here's a round-up of upcoming openings and the how the theaters perform the fine art of free eats.

Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, The Blue Moon Dancing, opening August 20. CTD, with its little café tables and straight-back chairs, feels clubby, so it's only natural that owner and leading lady Sue Loncar would throw a good bash on opening night. The typical spread here can include deli trays, hot crab cakes with remoulade sauce, hot bread pudding, layer cakes, cookies, cheeses and chips. Wine and Champagne are poured freely, and when the cast emerges from backstage to join the fun, it suddenly feels like opening night at Sardi's.

Stage West, The 39 Steps, August 26. There's already a café in the lobby of the Fort Worth theater, so it's a great place to let patrons and performers grab and gab on opening night. They're likely to theme the free post-show buffet to the play, so who knows what they'll come up with for The 39 Steps, a comedy based loosely on the old Hitchcock movie? In the past Stage West has laid out salads, finger sandwiches, cookies, cake, cheeses and crackers, chips and dips, plus beer, wine, soft drinks and coffee. All included in the price of the ticket.

Kitchen Dog Theater, Betrayal, September 10. This theater also has a big café and gallery space as its lobby, so the after-show party on opening night can really spread out. Artistic director Tina Parker gets a kick out of theming the party foods to the show, but in an ironic way, so for this Harold Pinter play that moves backward in time, perhaps she'll serve the cake first and work back to the pizza (brought in from nearby Fratelli's) and burgers and hot dogs, which they grill outside in the parking lot. There's always plenty of free hooch at the lobby bar on opening nights, too.

Theatre Arlington, The Full Monty, September 17. Big hunks of cake would be appropriate on opening night of this musical about male steelworkers-turned-strippers. But then, Theatre Arlington always hands out cake slices, plus sandwiches, chips, raw veggies and dips and other goodies. This community theater has a great rep for first-night feasts (good shows, too).

WaterTower Theatre, Our Town, September 24. They're not kidding around at this Addison theater. They now hire Andrea Redmon Catering to load the buffet tables on opening nights, something they started this summer (a change from the first-night soirees they used to have in nearby restaurants). There are usually big chunks of cheeses, fruit, fancy crackers, little meatballs, chicken on skewers. It's always good food and there's always plenty of it (we've been known to smuggle some home in our handbag). WaterTower also serves layer cake iced with a buttercream image from the show, in this case Thornton Wilder's classic drama about small-town Yankee life.

Theatre Three, 33 Variations, September 30. There are modest but tasty little party foods at opening night at this theater in the Quadrangle, a bit like Sunday School grub. Tiny sandwiches, slices of cheese, bits of fresh fruit and store-bought cookies or maybe some brownies. The lobby's too small for standing around, but if the weather's nice, there's a big patio with wrought iron tables and chairs outside.

Uptown Players, Closer to Heaven, October 1. Uptown Players, now performing in Kalita Humphreys Theater, has long set the gold standard for opening night parties. The gay-themed theater company always has used Doug Boster Catering and Delicious Cakes to tempt their first-nighters. For this national premiere of the musical by the Pet Shop Boys, expect Champagne punch and a non-alcoholic version ladled out of big crystal bowls, with everyone juggling plastic plates of turkey and roast beef sandwiches on tiny rolls, along with hot pastas, veggies and dip, cheeses and then that cake, always coordinated by color and flavor to the production. Best they ever had was a pink lemonade cake for a show about trailer park housewives (the cake was more memorable than the play). Come hungry and stay late to mingle with the cast and the party-loving crowd this friendly theater attracts.

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