Broadway Palm's
Centennial Celebration

by Ann Marie O'Phelan

Dinner theatres are making a comeback. Instead of the same old shows and tired musicals, you can now find everything from cutting-edge shows to Broadway-style productions on their stages. Paving the way for this remarkable change is the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre in Fort Myers, owned by the Prather Family of Theatres. With dinner theatres in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Florida, they are the largest operator of dinner theatres in the country. “We’ve managed to continue to grow, in part, because we offer something for everyone. Along with the classics, we produce revolutionary shows like Jekyll and Hyde and Miss Saigon—shows that weren’t typically something you’d find in a dinner theatre,” says Will Prather, Executive Producer/Owner of the Prather Family of Theatres. “Plus our Children’s Theatre productions are great for families.”

This fall marks Broadway Palm’s 100th production, The Full Monty, which runs through November 18. This smash hit musical is about six unemployed steel workers who find a bold and daring way to make some quick cash. Entertaining and exhilarating, it’s little wonder that Will Prather fell in love with the show when he first saw it on Broadway. “I put in a request for the rights as soon as I could. It just so happened to work out that we got the rights in time for the show to become our 100th production.“

Susan Johnson, General Manager of the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre in Fort Myers, says, “The Full Monty is a real “feel-good, show—perfect for our 100th production.”

Will, like the rest of the Prather Family, has always had a good eye for what would make a great show—after all, they’ve been in the dinner theatre business for decades. “My father, Tom, began as a director working in Hollywood, while my mother, Deborah, was involved in the business and marketing end at a television station. When they merged their talents they opened their first dinner theatre in 1987, The Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre in Lancaster, Pennsylvania,” says Will who holds a B.S. degree from the School of Hotel Administration from Cornell University. “While I started off in the corporate world, I soon found my way back to our family’s business, where I helped launch our Fort Myers dinner theatre in 1993.”

Centrally located on Colonial Blvd., between US 41 and McGregor Blvd., in what used to be a Publix supermarket, the Prather’s knew right away that the site had plenty of potential. “We had been vacationing here for as long as I can remember, so we were familiar with the area, ” explains Will. “We just knew it was the right spot.”

So what’s next for the Prather Family of Theatres? “We plan to take ‘the show on the road’ with our national touring company, The Prather Entertainment Group,” Will adds. “Other theatres throughout the country will soon be offering many of our same great shows.” No doubt, it won’t be long before The Full Monty joins the tour.

‘The Full Monty’

Seth Reines has been with the Prather Family of Theatres since 1993, working both as an Artistic Producer at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre in Arizona, as well as directing many shows in Fort Myers. His director’s credits include Man of La Mancha, Miss Saigon, Carousel, Camelot and Showboat. Seth is also the Artistic Director for Little Theatre on the Square, Illinois’ oldest stock company, a position he has held for 20 years. He is directing The Full Monty here in Fort Myers.

He spoke with us recently about his background, his experience on The Full Monty and where he sees theatre heading.

Ann: What is your educational background?

Seth: I have a Master’s degree in TV/Stage/Film Direction from the University of GA, as well as work towards a PhD at Northwestern and Ohio University.

What roles have you yourself acted in?
I’ve had lead roles in many national tours, such as How to Succeed, Celebration, and A Song for all Saints.”

As an Artistic Producer at the Broadway Palm in Arizona, what do you look for when you cast a role?

First of all, there are technical requirements for each role, such as singing or dancing. There’s also an honesty and vulnerability that I look for in the actors and actresses who are auditioning for the role. I also get a ‘gut’ feeling that helps me make my final decision. The final decision is made in conjunction with the musical director, the choreographer and sometimes the writer, if it’s a new piece.

Where do you find the actors/actresses?

We attend regional combined auditions held in Charlotte, Chicago, Memphis, St. Louis, and Orlando. We also hold three to four calls in New York each year and we have local calls. I actually see over 6,000 actors a year.
You are directing The Full Monty, what does that job entail?

I work at conceptualizing the show, casting, working with the design team, and the choreographer and musical director. But my most important job is to tell the story honestly and clearly, so I can reach and affect the audience.

What do you expect to bring to The Full Monty?

You can expect a great production in terms of costumes and music. I just closed a production of the show at Little Theatre on the Square in Illinois. It was a huge hit, the best-attended show of the summer. I hope to bring the same humor and poignancy of the story to the Ft. Myers audience. The story itself transports an audience from hearty laughter to tears in mere moments. In fact, I have never seen an audience laugh and cry so hard.

You also directed Miss Saigon, another key production, why was the show so popular?

This tragic story of a doomed romance that takes place in Saigon is told with all the passion that only a live theatrical production can truly provide an audience.

What do you love about directing?

Theatre is a social art form. I love the collaboration I get to do with other theatre artists. I also love to see an audience moved by theatre or any art form for that matter.

Where do you see theatre heading next?

Right now, theatre is providing a much-needed escape from what is happening politically in our country and all over the world. Where theatre is heading depends on where ‘we’ are heading. •

Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre
Important Milestones

October 29 – December 31, 1993
‘Me and My Girl’
The first Broadway Palm production. Over 19,000 people attended.

October 11 – November 17, 200
‘The Civil War’
The first attempt at non-traditional dinner theatre fare— a Frank Wildhorn show and historical piece.

October 17 - November 23, 2002
‘Jekyll & Hyde’
Broadway Palm’s second Frank Wildhorn show received great critical acclaim.

April 28 – June 18, 2005
‘Miss Saigon’
One of the best Broadway Palm productions. A Prather Family of Theatres tour that was a hit in all three Prather Family Theatres, in Fort Myers, Pennsylvania and Arizona.

December 29, 2005 – March 2006
Highest attended show ever. The size of the orchestra was doubled in order to produce this Andrew Lloyd Webber piece.

October 5 - November 18, 2006
‘The Full Monty’
Broadway Palm Dinner Theater’s 100th production.

from the November-December 2006 issue

"We've managed to grow, in part, because we offer something for everyone."

Will Prather

"My most important job is to tell the story honestly and clearly."

Director Seth Reines

'Miss Saigon' was one of Broadway Palm's best productions.

'Civil War' was Broadway Palm's first attempt at non-traditional dinner theater fare.

'The Full Monty' is Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre's 100th production.