Singer helms Williamsburg Dinner Theater
By Rick Coates 8/10/09
Dominic Fortuna has been the host of The Williamsburg Dinner Theater since its inception, but last fall Northern Michigans Showman landed the role of Vince Fontaine for the Broadway version of Grease. The show did so well on Broadway that the producers decided to take the road, so Fortuna remains busy touring the country, leaving some to wonder about the future of the dinner theater.
As they say, the show must go on.
It is the same format, with a great dinner from Chef Dan Kelly and his staff, said Judy Harrison. It is a song and dance review type show with songs from the 40s to the 90s. It is called Encore and we perform two sets with dessert served during the break.
Harrison, who auditioned the cast, choreographed and is directing the show in addition to performing in it, is no stranger to the entertainment scene in Northern Michigan. She has two bands, Judy Harrison and High Impact, a country/rock band that performs all over the state; and Judy Harrison and Swing Shift, a 10-piece big band.
Last year, Harrison launched SwingShift and The Stars, a dance competition featuring six local celebrities partnered with six area dance experts. The competition took place throughout the fall and raised nearly $40,000 for area charities. Harrison is currently putting together the 2009 version that will kick off October 2.
But for now, her focus is on the Dinner Theater, and shes concerned that with Dominic gone and all that is going on throughout Northern Michigan this summer, many have overlooked what has been happening at the Williamsburg.
We have assembled an incredible cast of entertainers from the area, said Harrison. Ive really been enjoying working with all these young energetic performers. Im as old or older than most of their parents. In fact, the keyboard player (Trent Hibbard) has been best friends with my twin sons since first grade. The three of them started a band in fourth grade that is still going. Its crazy to think I am now working with him as a young adult. The cast works hard performing the show as well as being the waiters for the evenings guests.
Dan Kelly, owner of The Williamsburg Dinner Theater, is pleased with what Harrison has put together for the summer.
I get asked: is it as good as what Dominic does? The answer is yes, said Kelly. They both have their own styles and audiences have left raving. We all love Dominic and he will be back, but Judy has been a refreshing change and the young talent she has on stage with her is the best I have ever seen.
So does Harrison feel any sort of pressure trying to fill Dominics shoes?
Dominic Fortuna asked me to fill in for him while he is on the road with Grease, said Harrison. Dominic and I first worked together about 16 years ago when I hired him for a show I was doing for the American Heart Association in Grand Rapids. We sang together a few times after that and have always remained in touch throughout the years.
SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
As for the theme, Harrison says they are all over the board, musically.
We have eight-year-olds and 84-year-olds in the audience that love it, said Harrison. We perform several standards and one of the highlights of the show is the trivia we play with the audience trying to guess the TV theme songs.
Harrison, in between it all, remains busy on the Interlochen Arts Academy faculty where she has worked since 1998 teaching dance for musical theater. She also choreographs the student theatrical presentations and if that isnt enough to keep her busy she makes several TV and radio commercials around the state and her voice appears on several corporate training videos.
The Williamsburg Dinner Theater presentation of Encore starring Judy Harrison runs weekends through the end of August with a possible extension into the fall. It is $45 for the full evening of dinner and the show. Dessert-only tickets are $20. Doors open at 6 p.m., with dinner beginning at 7. Reservations are necessary and may be made by calling 231-938-2181.