Alhambra Dinner Theatre
|Founded||Jacksonville, Florida (1967)|
|Key people||Tod Booth Sr., Entertainment Producer
Matthew Medure, Food Service Director
Craig Smith, Theatre Partners Managing Member
The Alhambra Dinner Theatre in Jacksonville, Florida is the oldest continually operating Dinner theater in the United States, and the only professional resident theatre in the area south of Atlanta, east of New Orleans and north of Orlando.
The Alhambra was built by Jacksonville businessman Leon Simon in 1967 and purchased by Tod Booth, Sr. in 1984. Booth moved to Jacksonville from Chicago, where he worked as artistic director for the Drury Lane Theaters. His family has frequently been involved, with daughter Jessica Booth and wife Lisa Valdini appearing in a number of shows and son Tod Jr. contributing in various aspects, including acting, directing and stage managing of the dinner theatre before becoming general manager and director of the Alhambra's Children's Theatre.
As with other dinner theaters of the 1970s, Alhambra initially relied on the appeal of former stars of film, television and music to attract customers. Alhambra's first such headliner was in Barefoot in the Park in 1969, which featured former Gilligan's Island costar Dawn Wells. Stars earned weekly pay between $1,500 and $5,000 for six to eight weeks as well as being able to enjoy the weather and amenities in Florida. According to Booth, "When their careers cooled, a star could learn a show and take it on the dinner theater circuit. That one show could be a meal ticket for a year or two." Other celebrities, including soap opera cast members, hosts from TV game shows, and Playboy Centerfold gals appeared in productions. In the early 1980s, however, it became difficult to hire former big names to act in dinner theatre. Booth explained: "They could make more in a day doing a commercial than they could make during the entire run of dinner theater show, and they didn't have to travel. Plus, a lot of the stars just started dying off." As a result, few of the performers had familiar names, but all were professionals, most with extensive experience on stage, in movies and TV. The show itself was promoted, rather than the headliner.
Since the 1970s, over 100 stars have graced the Alhambra stage:
The Alhambra's performers are members of the Actors' Equity Association (AEA), the union that represents professional stage and film actors. The theatre features buffet dinners and a full bar service. The bar itself seats 75 for patrons who arrive early for happy hour. The facility uses a Thrust stage to give all 408 seats an excellent view. Several staff members have been at the venue for over 25 years.
During 1997, plans were drawn up to reconfigure the Alhambra into separate theatre and dining sections. A 24,800 sq ft (2,300 m2) new building would be constructed for a restaurant seating 600 and a banquet facility for another 100. The present structure would be converted into auditorium seating for 600 and triple the size of the stage. Construction was projected to start in the fall of 1998, pending financing approval, which never materialized.
In 2000, plans for a $10 million, 50,000 sq ft (4,600 m2) project were submitted to the city for approval. Three buildings would be constructed surrounding the existing structure, which would eventually be razed. However, Jacksonville's Concurrency Management Office determined that there was insufficient traffic capacity, and denied the permit.
On August 31, 2009 the Alhambra Dinner Theatre suspended operations, citing the effect of the Late-2000s recession on attendance and expenses. The sale of the theatre to Theatre Partners, a group of local investors, was announced on October 28, 2009.
The group stated that operations would resume December 1, 2009 with A Christmas Carol, which has been a fixture in Jacksonville for more than 20 years. Former owner Tod Booth has agreed to direct the shows, which were the primary attraction. The food will now be under the direction of DeJuan Roy, a popular local restaurteur. Chef Roy has improved food quality and variety, changing the menu with each show and eliminating the buffet style of serving. The building's decor is being spruced up with new flooring, fixtures, paint and table place settings, and the investors plan a multi-million dollar renovation if ticket and subscription sales are strong.
The new ownership group hosted a free outdoor dinner show on November 7, 2009 to celebrate the revival of the local theatre landmark. Chef Medure cooked on a grill and performers entertained with classic show tunes. It was announced that the first show for the 2010 Season would be High School Musical beginning December 30, 2009
- Capitano, Laura: Florida Times-Union, May 2, 2008, "For dinner and a show, why not head to the Alhambra?"
- Brune-Mathis, Karen:  Florida Times-Union, July 16, 1997, "Alhambra plans major expansion"
- Noles, Randy (2003-08-17). "Guess who came to dinner". Florida Times-Union. Retrieved 2009-03-10.
- Brandenburg, Susan D.:  Florida Times-Union, December 7, 2004, "Alhambra director gets kids started early on love for stage"
- "Slideshow: A look back at the life of Jacksonville Mayor Hans Tanzler #23". Florida Times-Union. October 1, 1968. Retrieved 26 July 2013.
- Yahoo! Travel: Alhambra Dinner Theatre
- Brune-Mathis, Karen:  Florida times-Union, May 26, 2000, "Alhambra expansion awaits concurrency approval, financing"
- Coleman, Matt: "A revived Alhambra Dinner Theatre ends short-lived hiatus" Florida Times-Union, November 8, 2009
- Bull, Roger:  Florida Times-Union, October 28, 2009, "Alhambra Dinner Theatre set to reopen Dec. 1"