Fireside Dinner Theater - "Those Fabulous 50's"

Very recently, a small hole opened in my schedule and presented itself like a freshly drilled orifice in the ice of my favorite lake: an opportunity to get away for an "overnighter" and we were off like a flash to Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. Destination? The Fireside. A good friend had been urging me to go for almost a year and this time everything fell into place.

The Fireside Dinner Theater in Fort Atkinson, WI

It has been a long time since I have attempted a dinner/theater evening, and this for several reasons. First, the dinners have generally been in the range of mediocre to poor... at best. Second, it was always too easy to nod off before the theater portion was twenty minutes into the not-well-produced and boring show. And third, the shows were generally too long and never all that exciting to begin with.

Allow me at this juncture to jump to the end of the story and strongly urge you to pick up the phone and call the Fireside - immediately - and make a reservation for one of those experiences that will have you talking about it for a long time to come. I hope the reason for the urgency will become clear momentarily.

Jailhouse Rockers

Ft. Atkinson, Wisconsin is located at the junction of routes 26 and 12, an easy two hours from Chicago and surrounding suburbs, an hour from Milwaukee and a mere 45 minutes from Madison, where I had chosen to stay for the weekend (more on Madison).

The town itself is big on amenities and long on activities; when I revisit the Fireside - which I promised myself would be very soon - I am going to sample as much as possible of what Money Magazine calls one of the "Hottest Little Boomtowns".

Importantly, the Fireside brings to Ft. Atkinson, as well as the entire Midwest, a truly Broadway-caliber theater that will appeal to all age groups - a fact that was exemplified by the large number of children that I observed attending the performance that evening. And those youngsters were having just as much fun as anyone in the large audience (the Fireside theater-in-the-round can accommodate up to 650 at a time).

Dancing to the music of the 50's

The theater talent is scouted by Artistic Director Ed Flesch, producer of all the Fireside's roughly five shows per year since coming on board in 1978. When looking for a cast for his show, Flesch heads to New York where he'll see more than 600 actors auditioning for perhaps 20 parts.

The rigorous schedule to which they will commit includes over 80 performances in a 9-10 week period. This, and all his shows to be sure, are well-written and masterfully performed. Add to that the professional costume designers, set and lighting designers and the musical directors and choreographers and you have a high class production available in but a few areas of the country.

Hula-hooping to the music of the 50's

The show that Heidi and I attended - Those Fabulous Fifties - was about as fast-paced as any I have ever witnessed and the energy released was roughly equivalent to that required by all the air-conditioners of Los Angeles during a summer heat wave!

The Rat Pack

The Fifties were my years and every song performed that evening, from television commercials to theme songs to chart-toppers, were ones to which I knew the lyrics. Ok, so there were a few to which I couldn't sing along... but at least I knew the tune! In any case, I would find it extremely hard to believe that there was even a single droopy eyelid in the crowd that evening. The music was nothing short of spectacular, the choreography splendid and finely tuned, and the evening passed very quickly.

Even if you don't remember hula hoops, Ipana toothpaste, Sputnik and TV Dinners, the music from the Platters, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, Pat Boone, Ricky Nelson and a host of others will surely bring your hands together, tapping to your feet and smiles to your faces. A six-piece band sounded more like a full orchestra and 11 actors filled the theater with music, laughter, applause and delight, the likes of which I have not experienced in quite a while... absolutely top-notch!!

And in case you thought I forgot about the dinner, I have not. Owners Dick and Betty Klopcic built a small restaurant in 1964 offering fine food, great service and an intimate atmosphere. People frequented from miles around on a regular basis. Over the years, the size of the venue has increased, now able to accommodate up to 1000 diners. In 1978 a 435 seat theater was added; later additions increased capacity to 652 seats.

Beef Wellington Dinner

The theater now boasts state-of-the-art sound and lighting, a hydraulic lift system in the stage and complete handicap accessibility. There are also five themed gift shops to browse. Two interesting things of note. The first is that, for such a huge capacity restaurant, the size of the place is not immediately obvious. There are numerous, intimate areas and several levels on which to dine, and one does not have a sense of the immensity of the structure. Secondly - and perhaps even more importantly - the food and service are both exceptional and the prices are very reasonable.

The kitchen staff develops a new menu with each new theater production. This particular menu featured such items as Fresh Atlantic Sole Florentine ($28.50 - Heidi's choice), Wisconsin Duck Montmorency ($28.50 - I had this and it was outstanding), Beef Wellington ($33.50), Chicken Vienna ($27.50) and New York Strip Sirloin Steak ($36.50). There was also a New York Style Lemon Cheesecake for dessert that was, as stated, a Grand Finale.

It is important to note that entree prices include a complete diner: soup, salad, entree, dessert and coffee, tea or milk. There was also a tasty Reuben Pate served as an appetizer and freshly baked breads from the Fireside's own bakery. My compliments to Executive Chef David Wolfram and his entire staff. The dining tables were all dressed up in white cloths; fine silver, water and wine glasses and candles added the touches of class, and the excellent service put the exclamation point on the dinner experience.

R. Karl

Special Thanks to

  • Fireside President Rick Klopcic and his entire staff for a marvelous evening,
  • Ed Flesch for a tremendous production and
  • All the wonderful actors and the incredible band from Those Fabulous Fifties!
  • And as always, a huge thanks to a special friend, Gary Knowles, for showing me a great place to go for an unforgettable evening.