Carey Dinner Theatre
Mississippi's Unique Dinner Theatre
Following a 37 year tradition of excellence in entertainment, Carey Dinner Theatre has earned its title as Mississippi’s unique dinner theatre.
From the aroma of the catered buffet, through the candlelit meal, to the thrill of the first chords of the overture, CDT offers patrons an all-around entertainment experience.
In 1974, the William Carey University Theatre decided to try something different. Under the management of O. L. Quave, CDT managing director and chair of the department of theatre at Carey, the faculty wanted to give young performers a professional, yet educationally sound opportunity to express their talents in a unique format. There was a desire to offer the public entertainment that the whole family could enjoy. Out of this concept, CDT was born.
The original idea was presented to several Carey employees who gave their enthusiastic support. This group became the first advisory board and with their assistance, as well as that of other faculty and staff and several Hattiesburg residents, the first season was launched.
Students also caught the excitement. Two of these, Keith Thompson and Jay Rogers, were interested in writing and composing for musical theatre. This desire resulted in “It’s Make Believe,” a musical which was produced in the first season of what was then called Carey Summer Showcase (the name was changed to Carey Dinner Theatre in 1978). Thus in 1975, four performers, along with technicians, office personnel, and staff inaugurated one of the state’s most valuable summer traditions.
From the beginning, it was agreed that the members of the CDT company would be given a stipend in the form of a working scholarship, with no tuition. This was a radical idea, for at the time, many educational summer theatres charged tuition for students to participate. The stipends have been possible because of the people who have loyally supported CDT with contributions through the years.
Another distinctive from the beginning has been that student members serve during dinner. Thus, by the time a performance begins, each person in the audience has had some personal contact with at least one member of the company.
Selected from auditions held every spring, college students from a wide area try out and/or interview for performing, technical, and office positions. Over 50 schools, including Julliard, Wake Forrest, Duke, and Eastman School of Music, as well as a large number of schools from the deep south, have been represented by members of the CDT company.
CDT alumni, such as Phillip Fortenberry and Keith Thompson, can be found in professional theatre. Fortenberry was a keyboardist for the national tour of “Cats” and more recently was the musical director for the revival of “Hair” and “Seussical, The Musical.” Thompson was a musical director in New York, where his credits include “Les Miserables,” but is now based in Las Vegas. Both have numerous credits in professional theatre. Shannon Robert completed a master of fine arts at Florida State University and studied at the Moscow Art Theatre in Russia before returning to the Carey theatre faculty and the position of designer with CDT.
From the first group of students in 1975 came a teacher, a social worker, a dentist, a nurse, a professional actor, a professional musician, and a corporate executive.
Many students who have worked for CDT over several seasons comment that the audiences who attend the shows keep the actors’ performances fresh. The uniqueness of the shows keep the CDT experience evolving as well. Managing director O. L. Quave, director/designer Sam Sparks, and director Tim Matheny work for months before the dinner theatre season to choose musicals the public will enjoy. Whether it is a contemporary musical revue or an established musical comedy, CDT has offered the public a myriad of wonderful shows. Recent productions include “Peace in the Valley,” “Da Barbecue”, “Ring of Fire, The Johnny Cash Musical;” “Beguiled Again, The Songs of Rodgers and Hart;” “Smoke On The Mountain;” “The Taffetas;” “Beehive;” “The Spitfire Grill;” “Schoolhouse Rock Live!;” “Pump Boys and Dinettes;” “Some Enchanted Evening;” “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown;” and several original revues.