Can a New Hollywood Venue Make Dinner Theater Cool for Millennials?
Ashley Argota, left, is Juliet in Prospect Theatre's inaugural production.
Behind a red rope on Hollywood Boulevard, a few steps from Hollywood and Vine and next door to Eva Longoria’s Beso, lies Prospect Theatre, a new dinner theater — ahem, "immersive theater experience" — in the space that used to house a nightclub called the Attic. Borrowing from the business model of places such as Rockwell Table & Stage in Los Feliz and plenty of now-defunct dinner theaters, Prospect Theatre’s artistic producer, Joey Bybee, wants to serve great fare — both in terms of what’s onstage and what’s on diners’ plates.
“I love Rockwell,” Bybee says. “They’re doing a really good job with their unauthorized musical parodies, they have that down. I wanted to go farther. I want not just a goofy night, I want a fun, classy night out. People want Broadway singers, they want foodie-level food, they want a cool atmosphere, but they don’t want to spend a lot of money for it. OK! Fine, let’s do that then. So my hope and goal is, I kind of want to retrain people our age what a night out can be.
"'Netflix and chill' is an awesome hashtag, it’s great," he says. "There’s more to life. There’s a lot more. And you don’t have to wait till you’re 50 to do it.”
The steak frites, featuring grass-fed hanger steak, fries, freeze-dried herbs and house ketchup
To deliver the goods foodwise, Bybee turned to Kyle Schutte, a winner on season six of Cutthroat Kitchen with bougie bona fides from around town, including stints at Vu in Marina del Rey, 54Twenty and Wood & Vine in Hollywood, Roadhouse L.A. in WeHo and the Corner Door in Culver City. (Vu, 54Twenty and Roadhouse L.A. have since closed.) Indeed, the food is good and reasonably priced. The ingredients are local and sustainable, and the quality shines through thanks to Schutte’s preparations, particularly the melt-in-your-mouth pork. The food is good enough that you might not resent the two-item minimum for each ticket to the show.
As for the show part of "dinner and a show," Bybee is opening the venue with a new version of a musical that played Rockwell last year: Romeo and Juliet: Love Is a Battlefield. As the name suggests, Shakespeare’s classic is juxtaposed with ’80s power ballads and pop anthems. “I do not bite my thumb at you sir, but I bite my thumb, sir” becomes Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” Paris tries to woo Juliet to the tune of Human League's “Don’t You Want Me,” and the lovers kill themselves while singing Pat Benatar’s “We Belong.” It’s a little cheesy, but the cast members acquit themselves well. The two standouts are tween TV star Ashley Argota, who fiercely shines both vocally and dramatically as Juliet, and Nicci Claspell, who slays Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It” as Nurse, trying to convince Juliet not to marry Romeo.
For the most part, it’s frothy fun, but the show falters when it takes itself too seriously. The ’80s songs make the show inherently campy, and while there are moments of unexpected poignance (such as the “dearly beloved” monologue at the beginning of “Let’s Go Crazy,” which serves as the soundtrack to the masquerade), it’s hard to connect emotionally when the actors cry out, “We belong to the light, we belong to the thunder,” before shooting themselves six feet away from your bread pudding. Still, the talented cast is putting its all into the show, and it’s enjoyable to watch them frolic onstage, switching between iambic pentameter and Prince.
Currently, Romeo and Juliet: Love Is a Battlefield Vol. 2 (the previous incarnation featured only Benatar songs; this version includes a wider repertoire of ’80s hits) plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., though doors open at 6:30, so you can eat without being self-conscious of your silverware clanking against your plate during the show. Bybee, who used to book bands at Vitello’s in Studio City, hopes to open Prospect’s doors seven nights a week once the venue gets on its feet, with jazz alongside theatrical offerings. He wants to steer clear of the negative connotations that dinner theater can carry. “‘Dinner theater’ tends to be a danger word for millennials,” he says, "[but] making dinner theater cool for millennials, yeah, that’s more accurate. You don’t have to have a buffet and do A Chorus Line in Akron in order for it to be dinner theater.”
Ashley Argota and Alex Nee as the title characters in Romeo and Juliet: Love Is a Battlefield
Prospect Theatre, 1643 Cosmo St., Hollywood; Romeo and Juliet: Love Is a Battlefield Vol. 2 runs through Aug. 20. (323) 469-0040, prospecttheatre.la.
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