By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
If you sing, dance, and serve a nosh, they will come. And so Blatt's Dinner Theatre, a cozy barn in the middle of nowhere (well, Kutztown, Pennsylvania, actually), does just that, and the locals pantingly line up for the show tunes and steamed beans. To add to the mix, a bunch of jaded city slicker friends and I bought tickets recently, hoping the place"where Broadway meets the local cuisine!"might provide a new frontier for offbeat entertainment, and it did, it truly did. The down-homey shrine to cheering with your mouth full was much more aesthetically pleasing than a similar joint I'd been to in Long Island, where people loudly clanked and chewed all the way through a musical version of Look Homeward, Angel. That turned my stomachand so did the show.
At Blatt's, the grub is strictly from prison, but the ambience is super friendlycast members warm up in the parking lot and a rustic Welcome mural greets you as you enterand everyone's finished eating by the time the show starts, so the actors don't have to compete with all the scraping and sucking. For $35, you get the world's most well-meaning mass-produced feast, which consists of roast turkey squares, bizarre sausage stew, a "signature salad" no one would sign his name to, buttered corn right out of a road company of Oklahoma!, some glutinous cherry pie from outer space, and all sorts of freaky fixin's like pepper cabbage and "chow-chow" (a demonically sweet vegetable concoction particular to the heartlandtruth be told, I sucked in a mountain of it). When Annie's orphans complained about having to eat mush, I wanted to yell, "Shut up and throw me some!" But we knew this wasn't going to be Alain Ducasse, and the mild indigestion was worth it for the nuttily lowbrow wonder of it all.
There are so many perks. Before the show even started, we were made to clap along to a ragtime pianist, then were alerted to birthdays and special groupslike folks from the nearby J.C. Penney outletin the audience of all-white, all-fat ladies in appliquéd blouses. Next, the MC begged us to adopt Buford, a precious little dog from the showI held out for Annie herselfafter which cast members from the upcoming Forever Plaidproduction previewed some perky numbers and the co-owner pranced through the crowd to give away a specialty drink to a lucky alcoholic!
And thenbelchAnnieitself began, and you know what? It wasn't terrible! I was suffering a little during parts of Act Iit naturally wasn't up to Times Square standards, and yet it was by no means so bad it was hilariousbut Act II went by breezily, and I have to commend the overall professionalism and determination on display, from the first doggy wiggle to the very last googly-eyed "Leapin' lizards!" On its own darling little scale, the production was perfectly cutedo I sound patronizing?and I defy you to find anotherplace where you can get this level of simultaneous song medleys and vegetable medleys.
The bad news? Blatt's has canceled its upcoming staging of A Chorus Linebecause they couldn't get the rights. The good news? You can buy jars of chow-chow at the gift counter!
Even farther from civilization, in the twin citiesno, not the famous ones in Minnesota, but Shreveport-Bossier, Louisianathe Miss Teen USA pageant provided a so-awful-it's-awfully-good campfest, and the best thing of all was that you could sit at home, spread out the chow-chow, and watch it unfold on TV, where it couldn't hurt you that much. The pageant was one long travelogue for that torpidly hot locale, whichall the puffery asidelooked like the saddest place on earth. (They actually have a glass factory outlet, an airplane, and probably even some dinner theaters!) The judges included Julio Iglesias's other son, the guy who played Mini-Me, and someone who was thrown off Survivor. Even more dubiously, the host was an MTV himbo"I suck," he admitted after trying to do a Latin danceabetted by two syndicated bimbettes, a second-tier boy band, and a 15-year-old Jennifer Lopezwannabe who had to keep repeating her one song until the last mutant evening gown had darkened the stage's runway.
But oh, the girls! They strutted, sashayed, and swished, all while being made to confront important current-events issues, like what they'd like to be wearing if Freddie Prinze Jr. happened to rescue them from a desert island. (Nothing, of course!) In between the parade of Kotex commercials, the highlight was the Q&A segment, during which all the finalists who'd said they wanted to be transplant surgeons when they grow up unwittingly made it clear that their first professional assignment should be to get themselves a brain donor. Asked to describe men in three words, one genius came up with eight! The same sheltered gal was asked if her personality's more suited to Grease! or My Fair Ladyand responded, "I've never seen My Fair Lady." (I bet she's seen Annie, thoughshe's from Pennsylvania.)
When another bikinied Einstein was asked something about her speculative cosurvivorssee, these dingleberries were supposed to pretend they were in a beauty version of Survivorshe winced and said, "My cosurvivors? Who are they?" Golly gee, she didn't have any, actuallyshe was promptly thrown off the fake island and the girl who was clueless about My Fair Ladymiraculously snuck into the winner's tiara. I guess they figured she could always catch that show over a heaping bowl of sausage stew.