Founded in the late 1960s, Chanhassen Dinner Theatres (CDT) is the United States' largest professional dinner theatre company. It is also the main tourist attraction for Carver County and a gem for musical theater enthusiasts. Home to many national and world premiere performances, CDT focuses on musical theatre and comedy shows as its mainstays.
Chanhassen Dinner Theatres was the dream of Minnesota natives Herbert and Carolyn Bloomberg. The Bloombergs became fans of Broadway shows on their yearly trips to New York. Herbert, who was in the architecture and construction trade as designer, lumber supplier and builder, had built the Old Log Theater in Excelsior in 1965.
Inspired by this, the couple began dreaming of bringing a bit of Broadway to Carver County. Using Herbert's building and design experience, and Carolyn's interior design skills, they started construction in the middle of a cornfield. Originally named "The Frontier", the complex opened on October 11, 1968. The first production was How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying.
Chanhassen Dinner Theatres has grown since then into a sprawling 90,000 square-foot entertainment complex with four stages. The Main Dinner Theatre, the only one for CDT's first two years, seats 560 guests. The 130-seat Playhouse Theatre opened in 1970 and features comedies.
In 1973, The Clerestory started as a restaurant and banquet space. It evolved into the third theater space known as The Courtyard or The Club. It seats 180 people. The fourth space, opened in the 1970s, was a bar named The Bronco. It featured local and national musicians, including Jimmy Buffet. In 1978, it became the Bronco Opera House. Later, its name was changed to the Fireside Theatre. It has 230 seats.
From opening night in 1968 to 2012, the Main Dinner Theatre presented more than 235 shows, mostly musicals. CDT can seat up to 1600 guests overall. With nearly 300 staff, it produces all shows completely in-house, including set-design, props, and costuming.
Rather than hire big-name actors, the Bloombergs put money toward creating better-overall-quality productions. Most actors were local professionals and members of Actors Equity. Many well-known names got their start at CDT. Among them were Ron Perlman, Loni Anderson, Linda Kelsey, Don Amendolia, Grant Norman, and Amy Adams.
Chanhassen Dinner Theatres is known for having the longest-running musical production featuring the original cast. Originally scheduled for only six weeks, I Do! I Do! opened in 1971. It closed twenty-two and a half years later on June 20, 1993, after 7,645 performances. Lead actors David Anders and Susan Goeppinger married in real life after the five-hundredth performance. Their lives mimicked the show, including having one son and one daughter as their characters did. The show and its actors were featured in a May 1989 People magazine article.
Locally, Chanhassen Dinner Theatres often has first rights to produce international shows, such as Les Miserables. CDT has also presented world premieres. Dan Goggin's Nunsense series had many premieres at CDT, among them Sister Amnesia's Country Western Nunsense Jamboree (1995), Nuncrackers (1998), Meshuggah-Nuns (2002) and Nunset Boulevard (2009). Longtime CDT actor and artistic director Michael Brindisi has a strong working relationship with the Rogers & Hammerstein Organization in New York. That resulted in another world premiere in February, 2007: Irving Berlin's Easter Parade, based on the classic film.
In 1989, the Bloombergs sold CDT to local entrepreneur Thomas Scallen, manager of groups like the Harlem Globetrotters and the Ice Capades. In 2010, Scallen sold the complex to a group of local investors, including Michael Brindisi and his artistic partner, Tamara Kangas Erickson.
Adams, Forrest. "Sold! Chanhassen Dinner Theatres." Chanhassen Villager, March 18, 2010.
Burns, Christopher. "Going Steady, Couple Enters 20th Season of I Do! I Do!" Chanhassen Sailor, February 21, 1990.
Chanhassen Dinner Theatres Marketing Department, Institutional History of Chanhassen Dinner Theatres. E-mail message to author, May 20, 2013.
Our History...A Journey in the Making. Chanhassen Dinner Theatres website.
"Chanhassen Complex Opening New Dinner Theatre." News release, April 12, 1978.
Mueller, John. "Couple marks 20 Years of 'Marriage' on Chan Dinner Theatre Stage." Chanhassen Villager, February 14, 1991.
Olson, Linda. "I Do! I Do! To Close! To Close!" Chanhassen Villager, September 17, 1992.
Chanhassen Dinner Theatres News Release. 1976.
In 1971, the long-running I Do! I Do! opens, making business at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres boom.