When I was invited to meet up with some new friends a week ago to watch a live production of Les Misérables at the Rogers Little Theater, I was excited… about seeing Les Miserables. (Confession time: I'm a huge fan girl who has seen six other versions of this beloved musical performed over the years, including a Broadway touring production).
Because I truly love this show, I was also fine with checking out Rogers' local venue for dinner theater. But as soon as I walked in, the cast, the servers, the live orchestra, and the theater itself promptly blew me away and kept me smiling all night.
Many towns have community spots for showcasing local talent in plays and musicals. And most are a lot of fun. But the Rogers Little Theater is at a whole different level that truly needs to be experienced. In fact, here are 5 big reasons why locals and tourists alike should check out an upcoming production in their beautiful, historic theater situated in downtown Rogers:
1. Impressive Talent
Seriously. More than 35 cast members were involved in this production, including several with
voices not usually found in a small town production. In fact, I felt lucky to watch them now before they move on to other places.
According to the Theater, it relies on 700 volunteers to keep things running smoothly throughout the season, including 150 volunteer actors and a team of directors.
Choreographer and director of the Les Miserables production was Ed McClure, who has been with the theater company since its inception and is chair of its Productions Committee. Talking with me right before the curtain went up, he admitted that this was a pretty big show for a small theater.
"It presented its challenges but we've had a lot of fun and there's been a great actor pool," said McClure, reporting that all of the show's performances were sold out almost as soon as tickets went on sale. He added that several of the actors who were in productions at the Rogers Little Theater in years past have gone on to perform in national touring companies, at Disney World, and on Broadway.
2. More Exciting Productions to Come
The musical I saw just ended its run. But upcoming plays for the season include The Man Who Came to Dinner (beginning at the end of this month), Crimes of the Heart, and Wait Until Dark. The season ends with the roller-skating musical Xanadu, which is based on the Olivia Newton-John movie.
Next season's shows, which were recently announced, will include Fiddler on the Roof, Shrek the Musical, Legally Blonde, and the 2013 Tony Award winning play, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.
3. The Historic Victory Theater Itself
The beautifully restored theater was built in 1927 as a movie and vaudeville place before closing in the 1970s. The City of Rogers bought this forgotten jewel in 2008 to serve as the permanent home of the Rogers Little Theater, and it is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
"It has a unique charm that is hard to describe. It is stunningly beautiful on the inside and has a lot of history. But it is set up modernly to accommodate theater," said McClure. "A lot of folks say they enjoy the intimacy of it."
With tall ceilings and decorations that harken back to an earlier era, the theater also provides regular seating on the main floor and in the balcony, plus 2 tiers of tables for dinner viewing.
4. The Food!
All dinner theaters offer some type of food, but the dinner menu at Rogers Little Theater was a little fancier and tastier than expected. They served chicken florentine, pork tenderloin stuffed with a Thanksgiving type of dressing, roasted vegetables, and freshly baked rolls. And dessert was a welcome blast of Southern decadence -- slices of what I like to call "chocolate goodness pie."
There was also a nice selection of wines for an additional cost, as well as a variety of sodas. Truly, nobody went home hungry. Although I did spy a few men (and maybe me) trying to sneak extra slices of that pie!
5. All This, Plus Small Town Hospitality
Friendly service and big smiles were displayed from everyone, including the food servers, the ticket takers, and even the cast themselves! Yep, that's one of the things that makes a small town production so much fun. The audience often contains family, so several cast members usually come out to greet these people right after the show ends, giving a chance for others to come by and ask a quick question or just offer a sincere compliment.
I knew I'd be leaving at the end of the night with the songs still humming in my head, but I also left knowing I'd be back to check out another production very soon. And so should you! Don't miss out on seeing big city talent in a gorgeous setting that feels anything but small time.
NOTE: The Theater is located at 116 S. Second Street, just off W. Walnut in Rogers' Downtown Historic District.