by Dick Kerekes And Leisla Sansom
The Alhambra is BACK!!! Formerly the Alhambra Dinner Theatre, its official new name is Alhambra Theatre & Dining, but that is not the only thing that is new. Read on and I will tell you more!
To reopen this Jacksonville landmark and legend, Managing Partner Craig Smith brought back what has been one of the most popular musicals in this area for almost twenty years. I don’t think I need to do much in the way of plot summary for Christmas Carole since I think anyone over the age of eight probably already knows the story of how Scrooge the miser is reformed when four ghosts visit him on Christmas Eve. There have been many versions of the Dickens’s classic on stage, television and movie screens. The Alhambra’s original musical by Bruce Allen Scudder and Janie Nowell is probably the most comical and lighthearted of any that I have ever seen.
Most people I talk with want to know what changes have been made at this 42-year-old entertainment Mecca in Jacksonville. The new owners promised changes and indeed there have been many.
On the outside, the building shape is the same, but the color is now white rather than pink, with many wrought iron lanterns. Look for other outside changes in the near future with new parking lot lights, a reworking of the popular fountain in front and new landscaping.
As you enter the front door, you will notice it is new, with glass panes and more wrought iron. The lobby now has a reception lectern in the center where you pick up your tickets. The walls are now a bright cream color with glittering sparkles mixed into the paint. You will find the room at the right in the lobby, which was the previous buffet area, completely changed. Changes include polished hardwood floors, a lovely fireplace in the center of the room, a large inviting couch for patrons, and a bar area that looks like an upscale New York lounge.
In the main dining area, you will find that the buffet area has moved back to the stage area once again, and yes, with the fanfare of the chef arriving and departing, a long time Alhambra tradition has been revived. If you have been a regular at the Alhambra, you will notice that this room seems much larger than before. The walls are now covered with panels of gold, rust, and dark chocolate brown in a silky material. The panels alternate all around the room and give the feeling of space.
The new leather chairs are very comfortable. I was impressed with the new table lamps and their colorful red shades that really give it class. Tablecloths were gold linen. I understand new carpet is on order and you will see chandeliers also installed in the next few weeks.
The rest rooms are all new, and in the case of the ladies room, I understand it has been enlarged somewhat. The Alhambra has also added a family rest room.
When Craig Smith and the other investors in the Alhambra contemplated its purchase, they surveyed former customers and found that the food that was being served was a concern. One of Jacksonville’s best-known Chefs, Matthew Medure, is on-board as Executive Chef and his first selections for this opening were impressive. A salad with goat cheese and walnuts was served by our waitress previous to the buffet. In keeping with the season, our choices included sautéed green beans, squash casserole with sharp cheddar cheese, beef burgundy, roast turkey, roasted white and sweet potatoes with sausage, and a carved roast pork loin. Two desserts were available, chocolate mousse and bread pudding. Coffee or tea came with the meal, with adult beverages and wine available for purchase. Wine service has been upscaled, with long-stemmed styles matched to the wine type.
While there was no ham on the buffet, a generous amount was served up by the delightful Tony Traino as Scrooge, who owns this role, lock, stock, and barrel. Traino had the audience in the stitches with his truly wonderful comic interpretation of the old miser. The large cast has several new performers and many long-time Alhambra favorites. They include: Jared Miller, Michelle Myers, Michael Swickard, Emily Davey, Leelynn Osborn, Eric DeCicco, Kenneth Uibel, Henry Brewster, Earlye Rhodes, Lisa Valdini, Heather Bierne, Henry Brewster, Michelle Barry, and as Tiny Tim this year, Abby Davey.
The show was directed and choreographed by Tod Booth who has been Artistic Director at the Alhambra since the l980’s. Christmas Carole, the story of a miser whose money brings him no happiness, and his holiday season redemption, is timeless, and with the creative talents of Mr. Booth is as exciting and entertaining as ever.
Christmas Carole runs through to Christmas. On December 29, Disney’s High School Musical opens. Wondering what to get those teenagers for Christmas? How about a couple tickets to a show that has never been done in North Florida. If you loved Grease and Footloose, then you are going to really like High School Musical.