by Dick Kerekes
The Alhambra Dinner Theatre has a long and interesting history covering forty-two years. With a new name, Alhambra Theatre & Dining, and new owners, everyone one hopes November 7, 2009 will be the start of a new list of historical dates that will extend another 42 years or more into the future.
The outdoor dinner show was organized by Craig Smith the managing partner for the new owner/investors and was held in the front of the Alhambra on Beach Blvd. At least 1 l/2 hours before the 2:30 advertised starting time, the Deb Rider & Company band were performing on a stage set up just for this event. The parking lot and all the grassy area around it were filled to capacity and probably between 800 and 1,000 fans came out to enjoy the festivities and buy tickets for the first show and next season.
After an introduction by the Master of Ceremonies, Arthur Crofton, Craig Smith opened up the afternoon with a brief speech on how he got involved with this project;
how he came to the Alhambra when he was 12 years old and was dazzled by what he saw. He brought his daughter to see The Wizard of Oz and she too was enthralled by the experience. Smith turned over the microphone and stage to Alison Davis, choreographer and creative director for the theatre performance and former Miss America, Leanza Cornett, who flew in from California for the event. Ms. Cornett did her first show at the Alhambra, at age 15.
As an audience, we treated to some fabulous entertainment. Tony Triano, long an Alhambra favorite performer, started the show off with “Welcome” from Cabaret. This was followed by hit after hit songs that are part of musical history and the Alhambra history. “Hello Young Lovers” from The King and I with Kelly Adkins, “The Impossible Dream” sung by W. C. Green, Michelle Barry singing songs from Little Shop of Horrors, and Matt Johnson recreating briefly his role of Gaston from Beauty and the Beast.
We enjoyed a peek at what is coming next season at the Alhambra with Jessica Booth singing a number from The Wedding Singer and an ensemble doing a song from High School Musical scheduled to arrive for New Years Eve. Lee Hamby treated the audience to a sample of Hair Spray that is sure to be available in the next couple of years. There were many more performers involved in dance numbers and all had formerly appeared on the Alhambra stage. To close out the entertainment, Smith and all his investor partners came on stage. As a finale, all the Alhambra alumni who had appeared at the Alhambra in years gone by were invited up on stage.
A flyer about this event mentioned something about refreshments, and I expected soft drinks and maybe some chips so I was indeed very surprised when I saw the lavish layout of food on the front porch of the theatre. Chef Matthew Medure went all out to give us a generous sample of what was to come when the Alhambra doors reopen in December. I did not taste all the food as I was running around taking photos, but I did try the barbeque braised beef, the melt in your mouth macaroni and cheese, and ground sirloin burgers. Yum Yum, I thought, this is the start of something big!!! Chef Medure was busy all afternoon personally cooking all the delicious burgers that were among the best I have ever eaten.
What really impressed me was the organization of the entire event. There were plenty of water and soda beverages, plenty of food that was still being served until the last person left. If the care and planning that went into this afternoon celebration is a sample of the effort and concern the new owners will apply to the entire operation of the new Alhambra, we are in for some exciting theatre and upscale dining. Tod Booth will be back as artistic director, and many of the other staff members who long -time patrons have known for years will be returning.
I have many memories of the Alhambra, since I went there from its very beginning. Yours truly even had the opportunity to appear on stage with Tod Booth in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas back in the l980s, when Tod decided to buy the theatre.
I remember when Jacksonville had a lot fewer restaurants, and the Alhambra was THE PLACE you went for a wedding anniversary, a birthday, a special occasion, to reward your kids or grandkids for good grades, or just to impress out-of-town guests and friends and just to have fun.
The inside of the theatre was off limits on this special preview day, since construction workers were inside doing the massive makeover for the December opening. On December 2, the Alhambra classic Christmas Carole will once again grace the stage and I bet even Ebenezer will have wide eyes as he sees the changes that this grand theatre has under gone. There will be a special Dec 1st performance just for children and tickets are now on sale for this special showing. Call 642-1212 for information.
To quote Arthur Crofton, as he closed this delightful and entertaining day, “There is no business like show business and in Jacksonville show business is the Alhambra Theatre.”
Bringing Back The Magic
by Dick Kerekes