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Greek food dishes combined with a night of laughter and intrigue highlighted the grand opening of Williamsburg Dinner Theatre last month.
Owned and operated by married couple George and JoAnn Pantas, opening day for the Williamsburg Dinner Theatre was celebrated July 10 with an afternoon ribbon cutting ceremony, a blessing from a priest and the debut of the theatre’s first show, “My Big Fat Greek Murder, A Killer Comedy.”
With shows every Friday at the Quality Inn and Suites on Richmond Road, Williamsburg Dinner Theatre aims to become a go-to location for those seeking more than just a meal at dinner.
“The excitement was so great and the energy was so high,” JoAnn Pantas said of the opening show. “We had a wonderful buffet and … an amazing audience that was very involved and animated. We had a lot of audience participation.”
Dinner theater was a natural progression for the Pantas family, which has been part of the local theater community for roughly 20 years. George and JoAnn have taught theater classes while their daughter, Aliki, studied theater and communication at Old Dominion University. Aliki has been directing at the community theater level since her graduation.
“It’s just become part of our blood stream and its something we do as a family,” JoAnn Pantas said of theater performances. “It’s a passion we’ve all developed.”
While theater is like second nature to the Pantas family, something they display on stage every Friday night while assuming their various roles in the play, the food service aspect of dinner theater included a bit of a learning curve.
Actors in the play double as servers during intermissions in the performance, meaning they are taking orders and assist audience members while dressed in their respective costumes. As the intermissions come to a close, the actors return to their places on stage to continue entertaining the crowd.
The current show, “My Big Fat Greek Murder, A Killer Comedy,” is based on the 2002 film “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” In the show, a Greek family is preparing for the rehearsal dinner of their daughter who is marrying a non-Greek. The celebration is cut short when a murder occurs, and it is the job of the audience to deduce who the killer is.
To reward engagement, a major facet of Williamsburg Dinner Theatre, the audience member that figures out the murder receives a prize at the end of the show.
In order to immerse the audience into the story, George Pantas opens the play with the phrase, “Tonight, we are all Greek.” He then teaches the audience Greek words to help set the atmosphere while audience members partake in Greek dishes, a specialty dish for this show due to its Greek overtones, which help add to the immersion.
“I think with all of that together, in the course of two hours, everybody feels a part of the family and part of the process,” George Pantas said. “The fact that this is a family-run dinner theater is a part of it, too.”
If all goes according to plan, by the end of the show audience members feel like they are old friends with the cast and were not merely spectators, but were actual attendees of the rehearsal dinner.
The current show will run until Sept. 11, when it will be switched out for a new murder-mystery comedy that will have a fall and Halloween theme. The food offerings will also be changed to reflect the new theme of the play.
George Pantas emphasized the Williamsburg Dinner Theatre will be featuring different styles of shows depending on the time of year.
With just over a month under their belts, the Pantas family is feeling blessed at the support and praise the Williamsburg Dinner Theatre has been receiving.
“One of the best compliments we’ve started to get is people who have seen the show and are telling their friends, and now those people are calling us and booking dates,” he said.
For more information about Williamsburg Dinner Theatre or to reserve your tickets, click here.