With a dinner theater empire that's expanding from one location to two next month — and possibly three later this spring — Randy Magner isn't ready quite yet to quit his day job. However, he IS fulfilling a dream he had back in 1995 when he founded StarBrite Productions. "I just wanted to do theater," the affable and always-smiling producing artistic director told Curtain Calls during his lunch break one day last week.
Now, 11 years later, his waking hours are pretty much consumed by the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd. "I haven't slept in a month," he laughed. "My wife loves it; I haven't been home in a while.
"What"s keeping Magner busy is a production schedule that includes opening two productions over a nine day period, one of which is in a brand new location. First to open is the comedy "Parrot Heads of the Caribbean" directed by Magner, at the Uptown Eatery in Southfield on January 26. Then on February 3 the spacey spoof "Murder: The Next Generation" blasts off at the Premier Entertainment Center in Chesterfield Township.
"Everything's been happening so fast," he said.
In fact, that's been the case this entire season.
Originally set to return this past fall to Miles World Restaurant in Fraser, the owner's decision to sell the business last summer forced Magner to abruptly shift gears. "That's when we made our great move over to Southfield. It's working out very, very well."
And for good reason. The theater space inside the Uptown Eatery is three times the size of the room the troupe utilized at Miles World. But more importantly, the quality of the food, and the service, is considerably better, Magner believes. "That's one of the things my wife and I look at before [StarBrite] goes in to some place. We strive for the best of both."
The entertainment, however, is just as light and frothy, which is just the way most dinner theater patrons seem to like it. "Parrot Heads of the Caribbean," Magner promises, will be the perfect antidote to a dreary winter.
Written by Center Line playwright Ed Thomas, the musical-comedy who-done-it is what you'd get if you mixed a measure of margaritas with a barrel of Jimmy Buffet references, then added a dollop of Depp-like piracy and, for good measure, tossed in a jigger of improvisation. "The audience will enjoy the fact that they're part of the show, even though they'll have to improvise their lines," Thomas, the author of 30 plays, said.
What else they might enjoy is muscular actor Michael Lane, in tights, in the role of swashbuckling Captain Jack Swallow.
StarBrite 'treks NE
A second location to stage dinner theater productions has always been on Magner's drawing board. One particular goal was to offer shows in different parts of town. "It's tough to get the east side people to the west side, and the west side people to the east side."
So when discussions began two summers ago with Frank and Joe Sgroi about opening a venue in Chesterfield Township, Magner was interested. Then, this past October, their talks intensified. "They wanted us to start something the following week," Magner laughed. "But we settled on the first week of February."
One reason for the delay were the renovations made to the Premier Entertainment Center. Once housing three movie theaters, two were gutted to expand the Diamond, Spurs nightclub, while the third was fitted with a stage for the shows and an improved sprinkler system.
The result is an unusual kind of dinner theater experience than what people are accustomed to. Patrons will eat at Guiliano's Italian Ristorante, and then walk down the indoor concourse to the 280-seat theater. "It's going to be different playing in a theater with actual theater seats, compared to working in a dining room or banquet center," Magner said. "It's exciting going in to this type of venue."
It will also be a challenge, since the owners plan to continue showing movies in the theater until StarBrite builds up its customer base. Until then, sets will be primarily original backdrops and easily moved pieces of furniture. Plus, Magner wanted "to find something that would be a big blockbuster of an opening."
After reading a few dozen scripts, Magner decided David Landau's "Murder: The Next Generation" was just what he was looking for.
Sci-fi and "Star Trek" fans should particularly love it. A musical murder mystery set in a seedy nightclub on Deep Space Noir, a house detective must recover stolen crystals while solving the murder of an alien. And, of course, the audience must help the harried detective put all the pieces together.
"I'm looking to pack the place," Manger concluded. "And I think we've picked a good show to start out with."
"PARROT HEADS OF THE CARIBBEAN" will be presented Friday and Saturday evenings Jan. 26 through March 24 at the Uptown Eatery, located at 19701 W. 12 Mile Road in Southfield. Cocktails and dinner are at 6 p.m.; curtain time is 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $39.95 per person, which includes a three-course dinner, the show and tax. Patrons can chose among entrees that include pan-seared tilapia, steak, pasta and the house specialty, chicken and waffles. Reservations are strongly recommended. Call (248) 423-1452 for reservations.
"MURDER: THE NEXT GENERATION" will be presented Friday and Saturday evenings Feb. 3 through March 31 at the Premier Entertainment Center, located at 33151 23 Mile Road in Chesterfield Township. Cocktails and dinner are at 6:30 p.m.; curtain time is 7:30 p.m. Three-course dinner and show, including tax, cost $39.95 per person. Reservations strongly recommended. Call (586) 725-2228 for reservations.