Early Bird Dinner Theatre presents “Over the River and Through the Woods” in its new location at 13355 49th St. N. in Clearwater.
CLEARWATER – Following a strong seven-year run at the Italian-American Club, the Early Bird Dinner Theatre has found a new home.
A virtual institution in the Tampa Bay area, the theater just recently relocated to 13355 49th St. N., Clearwater.
“Early Bird simply out grew the shared space at the Italian American Club, and we were looking for the flexibility of our own venue,” said Susan Fletcher Lyons. Lyons is the daughter of the late Ed Fletcher who founded Early Bird Dinner Theatre. “When we visited the building at the corner of Ulmerton Road and 49th Street in Clearwater, we knew we found an unbeatable location, convenient to all of the Tampa Bay area.”
The theater officially opened Oct. 19, presenting its production of “Over the River and Through the Woods.” The theater is hosting a limited run of Joe DiPietro comedy, finishing the production on Oct. 27. Directed by Toby Manion and Tracy Borgatti, “Over the River and Through the Woods” cast members include Ian MacCallum, Barbara Anthony, Bill Henricks, Deb Bircher, Holly Marie Weber and Manion.
Next up on Early Bird’s calendar will be a production of “Boeing Boeing,” by Marc Camoletti, presented in the new theater. “Boeing Boeing” will run through Dec. 22.
“It is a brand new construction and we are thrilled to be there,” Lyons said. “Banquet Masters will continue to cater, and our entire staff of wonderful actors, as well as courteous and friendly wait staff are making the move with us.”
The balance of Early Bird Dinner Theatre’s 2013-14 season features plenty of comedies, such as “Lend Me a Tenor,” by Ken Ludwig, running Jan. 10 through March 9; “A Bad Year for Tomatoes,” by John Patrick, running March 13 through May 4; and “Cookin’ with Gus,” by Jim Brochu, running May 8 through July 13.
Early Bird Dinner Theatre has built its reputation by presenting a dining and entertainment experience at a highly competitive price. Guests enjoy a satisfying dinner buffet and a live, professional theater production.
“My father, Ed Fletcher, believed that live theater should be affordable and available to everyone,” Lyons explained. “He believed in the power of laughter, which is why we only do comedies … some heartfelt and touching like ‘Over the River and Through the Woods,’ some zany like ‘Boeing Boeing.’”
According to Early Bird Dinner Theatre’s website, Fletcher retired at the ripe old age of 40.
An entrepreneur, retirement didn’t suit him – and, looking to broaden his horizons, he opened an art gallery in the Tampa Bay area. He ran that successful business until the 1980s when he sold it in order to spend time working on a screenplay.
It was during this period that Fletcher came into contact with the area’s aspiring thespian population. He was surprised to find out how many talented actors resided in the community and felt that they lacked ample venues to practice their craft.
And so, Fletcher decided to go into the theater business.
According to Lyons, her father “believed laughter was transformative and allowed people to forget their troubles for a few hours and have some fun.”
Partnering with a restaurant owner, Fletcher opened not one but three dinner theaters in the 1980s – one each in Seminole, Dunedin and New Port Richey. In 1990, when the restaurant owner retired, Fletcher focused on one venue: He renovated a banquet hall on Fort Harrison Avenue in Clearwater, building a stage opening the first Early Bird Dinner Theatre. The theater’s first production was “Social Security,” by Andrew Bergman.
The Fort Harrison location flourished for 16 years, until the owner of the banquet hall retired. That’s when the group relocated to the Italian-American Club on McMullen Booth Road. Fletcher met the challenges of creating a theater space once again, expanding the existing stage and introducing improvements that helped enhance the overall experience for his patrons.
Fletcher passed away in 2012. His daughter, along with a dedicated company of actors and other supporters, maintain his legacy by continuing to make theater affordable and accessible to Tampa Bay area residents. Fletcher firmly believed that there were many potential theatergoers in the community who enjoyed dining out and seeing a show but who wanted to get home at an early hour. Highlighting this early dinner and performance schedule, the theater tidily accommodates this market.
“He loved this theater,” Lyons said. “He adored the patrons and created a community of people who appreciate live theater as much as he did. Although he died July of 2012, his vision and memory live on in every single performance.”
The price for buffet and show is $29.95 plus tax. Performances are Thursday through Sunday, with seating at 4 p.m. Matinees are Thursday and Saturday, with seating at 11 a.m. Admission is $29.90 plus tax and includes dinner and the show.