The Alhambra Theatre & Dining New Year’s Gala

TRADITON! The Alhambra is celebrating fifty years of being the place for North Florida residents and visitors to celebrate life’s special occasions or alternately, to just spend a few hours enjoying excellent professional theatre.

The Alhambra recently launched another tradition: a New Year’s Eve Gala featuring fine food, music, and dancing in the big band style we would find in cities like Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia. Previously, the Alhambra’s New Year’s Eve show featured the stage play or musical scheduled for after the holidays. When Craig Smith and his partners bought the theatre several years ago, they experimented with the up-scale gala approach, which has proven wildly successful, with sold-out crowds filled with repeat customers.

While seating for this year’s gala began at 6:30 pm, many patrons — dressed to the nines — arrived earlier and enjoyed complimentary champagne and mingling while waiting to enter the theatre.

Chef DeJuan Roy and his staff prepared an outstanding meal. Appetizers included a choice of Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail or Filet Mignon Eggroll; the delicious shrimp was the choice of most diners. For the main course, the most popular dish was perfectly cooked Beef Filet with Lobster Tail. Alternate choices were Winter Spiced Ahi Tuna (also excellent) and a vegetarian option of Stuffed Eggplant with cheese and roasted vegetables. Dessert choices included a colorful Champagne Cake or Chocolate Tart, with fruit cups and ice cream also available.

By 8:30 pm the festive crowd was enjoying the evening so much, it seemed like the midnight hour was fast approaching. We were amused by a group of ladies at a nearby table, who were festooned with traditional New Year’s Eve hats and were engaging in a horn-blowing competition of sorts.

unnamedThe band, Crescendo Amelia Big Band, started off with a piano at center stage and added other instruments to achieve a true big band sound as the evening progressed. The dance floor was filled throughout the evening. The group, from Fernandina Beach, was formed by Bandleader Frank Basile in 2013; they have previously performed in locations ranging from Hilton Head to Tampa.

Of course, the excitement kept building throughout the evening, leading to a crescendo countdown to 2017, followed by the exuberant sound of welcoming horns and hundreds of balloons falling from the ceiling. And just to make sure merrymakers didn’t go home hungry, Chef DeJuan’s crew put out a large breakfast buffet.

The upcoming January show is part of their fiftieth anniversary celebration; the show will be Neil Simon’s “Come Blow Your Horn,” which was previously staged at the Alhambra in 1967 and was the venue’s first production. Three of the actors are well known to Alhambra patrons. Tod Booth, Producer and Director of the theatre’s productions, will star in one of the leading roles. Alhambra old timers will recall that Tod has made several appearances in the past in leading roles in musicals. Lisa Valdini Booth, his wife, is a wonderful comedic actress, who has also appeared on-stage in a number of roles over the years; her first being that of the teenage daughter of actor Claude Akins in “You Ought To Be In Pictures.” Daughter Jessica Booth grew up on the Alhambra stage and is now an actress based in New York; she appears at the Alhambra from time to time when her schedule permits.

While you are at the Alhambra, check out “Alhambra Theatre & Dining: 50 Years of Memories,” their just-published coffee table book. The book is filled with photos and interesting commentary about past shows, performers, and events. The Alhambra is one of the few remaining dinner theatres in the county. And we are indeed blessed to have such a treasured cultural asset in our midst.

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About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.

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