Theatre scene alive and well

By: Don Chaddock, The Telegraph
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The stage is set, houselights dim and a story unfolds on not one, but two, full-time theatres in the Folsom area – and to rave reviews. On Folsom Boulevard in Rancho Cordova, Garbeau’s Dinner Theater offers live performances and meals, not to mention a full bar. “We have eight shows per season, all musical comedies or musical revues,” said Mark Ferreira, co-owner of the theater. “That differentiated us from our predecessors. We have a full bar and restaurant and we try to think through each show.” Like a fine wine connoisseur pairing red wine with steak, Ferreira tries to pair the theatre’s culinary fare with what will be performed on stage. “We love dramas, but you’ll never see them on our stage,” he said. “We try to complement our shows with what goes with dinner and a cocktail.” Ferreira took over the theater in 2007 but it has been in operation since 1982. While Ferreira won’t call the actors who perform at Garbeau’s “professionals,” they are paid for their work. “In 2007, we had about 50 actors come through in our opening season,” he said. “This year, we’ll probably have about 30 come through our stage. All our actors are paid and covered for their expenses. They are semi-professional actors. With us, everyone generally has a full-time job elsewhere.” Garbeau’s current performance is “My Way,” a musical tribute to Ol’ Blue Eyes. “It’s a tribute to Frank Sinatra, not impersonations,” he said. “No one imitates the Chairman of the Board.” Ferreira said the show features a live jazz trio of musicians and four actors who sing the tunes and one of those actors has caught the eye of more than one female patron in the audience. “In the show, there is a younger couple and an older couple,” he said. “(Zack) is an anomaly. He’s only 19 years old but he has a crooner’s voice from the 1930s or ‘40s. It doesn’t make sense that someone born after 1960 would have this voice. Practically every show, one of the mothers in the audience tries to set him up with her daughter. His girlfriend is ok with the attention he’s getting but I don’t know if she’ll be able to maintain through the end of the run.” Garbeau’s seats 220 when set up for dinner with tables and chairs. Ferreira said a frequently asked question is how the theater handles seating arrangements. “One of the biggest misconceptions, unlike other dinner theaters, is that we do not seat different parties with each other,” he said. “So, anyone coming, if there is an empty chair at their table, they do not need to worry about a stranger filling it for the night.” Reservations are recommended for Garbeau’s. “Walking in, people are often confused,” he said. “They simply come in with their reservation and come to their reserved seats. They forget it’s a theatre so they come in for two hours with it being a restaurant. Then we get up and introduce the show.” Ferreira said that live theatre is important for communities like Folsom and Rancho Cordova. “Ultimately, TV rots the brain. Giving the world of musicals and plays a stage gives the imagination room to grow,” he said. “It brings to life fantasy and takes us back to our desire to have imagination. … Theatre just goes hand in hand with culture and society.” Matt Sundermier, of Folsom, has attended a few shows at Garbeau’s and enjoyed each one. “I’ve been there three times now to Garbeau’s,” he said. “Once for a traditional dinner and theatre event for a production called ‘Go.’ I loved the show. It was great and a good dinner. It was a unique night out.” Sundermier believes it’s important to add variety to the area’s night life. “It gives more diversity to our evening activity options, instead of just going to dinner and a movie,” he said. “There are very few places you can do something like that.” Sundermier said the theatre offers a lot of big city amenities that many local residents may not know about. “I went once before on comedy night and went again on Halloween when Garbeau’s did a production of ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show,’” he said. “They do a lot of things that unless you want to go San Francisco or Sacramento, it’s tough to get your hands on.” In the heart of Folsom, Stage Nine Theatre offers children’s shows in the afternoons and shows at night for the older crowd. “One of the primary things the theatre offers is family entertainment on Sutter Street, so it gives approximately 200 to 300 people a reason to come to Sutter Street,” said owner and actor Mike Jimena. “It gives families and seniors things to do, other than see movies. It also helps with the revitalization of Sutter Street and the Historic District.” Stage Nine seats only 60, allowing much more audience interaction than other venues. “For someone who’s never been, they should expect a very intimate, entertaining evening,” Jimena said. “Our whole company is very people oriented. Because of the size, there is a friendly atmosphere for the show. When you’re performing for 2,000 people, you won’t have the owner or director come up and thank them for coming and welcome them. For our regulars, we remember their names. The price also won’t bust your wallet.” Jimena said Stage Nine doesn’t do dramas either, but instead focuses on having fun. “We do shows with high entertainment value that are as minimally offensive as possible,” he said. “The entertainment value of the shows we select is very important .. We range from new shows to classics. … We don’t do socially conscious shows. Let the other theatres change the world, we’re just going to entertain it.” Stage Nine is starting their third season with “Escanaba in da Moonlight,” a comedy show penned by movie-star Jeff Daniels. It opens this Friday at 8 p.m. “We’re really excited about starting our third season,” he said. Dennis and Sandra Stefani hold season tickets to Stage Nine. “We go to all of (their shows),” Sandra said. “For one thing, it’s a small setting. You don’t have to drive to Downtown Sacramento to see a play that’s really good. The more we go, the more we enjoy it.” Dennis enjoys the personal attention. He said that when he comes in, they bring out a special chair because of his back pain. “It’s great programming and good acting,” Dennis said. Philip Darke and his family are also regular patrons of the theatre. “I think it does fantastic theatre and quality as well,” he said. “It’s great family oriented fun on Sutter Street. It really livens up the street, I think. It’s top quality theatre right in the heart of Folsom.” Darke has four children ranging in age from 4 months to 7 years old. “As far as the children’s theater, they are really good about engaging the kids and having the kids meet the cast. My little 3-year-old kept talking about how she got to hug Piglet,” he said. “It’s one thing to have (theatre), but it’s another to have it and it be accessible and affordable right in your back yard. (They) are just great people. Mike (Jimena) has a real personable nature and is really engaging. He’s very friendly. He remembers names. It’s nice because it goes along with a small town feel of the theatre. We’ve essentially become friends just by going to the theatre.” Darke said that Garbeau’s is also a great spot for local shows. “I’ve been to Garbeaus,” he said. “I enjoyed that. I love theatre. I grew up going to theatre with my parents. I’ve seen and I know good theater. (Stage Nine and Garbeau’s) are just as good as any Off Broadway shows I’ve seen.” Garbeau’s Dinner Theatre 12401 Folsom Blvd. Rancho Cordova 985-6361 Stage Nine Theatre 717 Sutter St. Folsom 353-1001