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The Show Must Go On!

How a Local Dinner Theatre Is Keeping Live Theatre Alive

Article by Kelsey Huber

Photography by Wagers Photography/Innovative Media Creators

Originally published in Topeka City Lifestyle

Right here in the heart of our Golden City, we have a one-of-a-kind Topeka treasure that has withstood the test of time. The Topeka Civic Theatre, located at 3028 SW 8th Avenue, is the oldest continuously running dinner theatre in the nation! Since 1936, residents have been volunteering to keep this theatre running come hell or high water. And high water did come! In July of 1999, the Topeka Civic Theatre moved from its old warehouse location which had flooded several times, to its current location, the former Gage Elementary School. We spoke with Vickie Brokke, president and CEO of Topeka Civic Theatre, about its proud history and the exciting changes for the upcoming season.

Because they have such a long history in the theatre world, TCT gets first dibs when it comes to choosing shows. “We may be old, but we’re not dusty!” Brokke joked. She explained that there are three main royalty houses that control the rights to Broadway productions. “We have been around a long time and we sell a lot of tickets for them, so we have a very close relationship,” she explained. “We are often the first in the nation to do shows right off of Broadway. For instance, Tootsie just closed on Broadway a couple of months ago. The royalty house called and asked us if we were interested. We jumped at the chance.” TCT will have 20 performances of Tootsie in July and August of 2024. 

Brokke said the heart and soul of TCT is the many volunteers. “I think that’s how we’ve flourished for so long,” she said. TCT consists of 22 staff members and an army of 567 active volunteers. For almost 90 years, Topekans have been giving of their time and talents to keep the doors open and the curtain continuously rising. “From the warm smiles at the box office to the set designers and builders to the actors themselves, these people really have a heart for live theatre,” Brokke said. “Topeka is truly blessed to have so much talent.”

But let’s not forget about the other half of dinner theatre’s appeal…the dinner! To quote the musical Oliver, “Food, glorious food” is what makes dinner theatre such an appealing night out. TCT is excited to announce that they are reuniting with Engroff Catering to create an impressive culinary experience. “Engroff is not only back, but they have done a complete kitchen upgrade, replacing older equipment and improving our facilities along with our food,” Brokke said.

Showgoers can expect to enjoy a delightful menu including soup, the famous TCT signature salad, freshly carved meat at almost every meal, and delicious sides. Crowd favorites include chicken marsala, prime rib, beef brisket, honey pecan chicken and blackened tilapia. The menu varies with each show and includes vegetarian and gluten-free options for those with dietary restrictions. We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the delectable desserts served at intermission. 

“Our full bar and expert bartenders will be sure to keep your whistle wet,” Brokke added. Brokke shared the recipe for one of the fan favorite drinks - the Skirt Lifter.

TCT Signature Skirt Lifter Cocktail Recipe

INGREDIENTS:

Tuaca - 1 shot 

Kahlua - 1/2 shot

Irish Creme - 1/2 shot

DIRECTIONS:

Mix liquor, pour over ice, add a splash of club soda to taste, enjoy.

Be sure to try the adult milkshakes including the Butter Shots and the Cherry Freeze - cherry liqueur blended with ice cream. The 2023-2024 season has something for everyone! The new season began in September with 9 to 5 the Musical based on the movie starring Dolly Parton and featuring her songs. “Dolly was in Kansas promoting her Imagination Library and gave us a shout out,” Brokke shared. “Musicals are our most popular shows.”

“One of my beliefs is that there are certain institutions within a community which stand for the spirit and heart of that community, there's the church, the local football team, the local pub and the theatre.” -  David Soul

If you haven’t experienced live theatre, you are in for a treat. Enjoy a fun night out with your spouse, siblings, or friends, eat like kings, and support this rare and unique art form. “This legendary theatre would not be possible without the support of the community,” Brokke said. “Topeka is such a special place. They truly have a heart for the arts.” For more details, including ticket prices and availability, visit Topekacivictheatre.com.

Visit CityLifestyle.com/Topeka to view additional photos from this article.

Here’s what to look forward to this season:

The Sheffel Theatre “Mainstage”

Agatha Christie’s The Hollow Oct. 20 - Nov. 4

It’s a Wonderful Life Nov. 24- Dec. 22

Drinking Habits Jan. 19 - Feb. 10

School of Rock Mar. 1 - Mar. 30

The Book of Will Apr. 19 - May 4

Clue: on Stage May 31 - Jun. 15

Tootsie Jul. 5 - Aug. 10

Showtimes are Thursdays 7 PM, Fridays & Saturdays 7:30 PM, and Sundays 2 PM

Brokke said the heart and soul of TCT is the many volunteers. “I think that’s how we’ve flourished for so long.”

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