Recent visitors to Rock Island's Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse will have noticed that the official, friendly audience welcome has changed hands.
Longtime former operations manager Amanda Bennett left last month to take over running a dinner theater in Mesa, Ariz., while a former Circa Bootlegger -- Charles Campbell -- is now overseeing the restaurant, wait staff and bussers.
"The transition was very smooth with Charles, since I've worked with Charles before. I knew his sense of humor," Circa owner/producer Denny Hitchcock said. "I was sorry to lose Mandy. She has been here seven years."
He said Mr. Campbell — who's been the chef at The Landmark Cafe in Galesburg and a culinary teacher, since working as a Bootlegger at Circa in the 1980s — is "very friendly. He's not apprehensive about talking to anybody. Mandy was a little more shy."
Ms. Bennett's new job also is in familiar hands. She's working under Robert Shaw, president and CEO of the newly organized Palms Theatre in Arizona. Mr. Shaw has performed frequently at Circa in tribute shows, and runs his own touring company, Lonely Street Productions.
"She's invaluable," he said of Ms. Bennett, who began as general manager of the 430-seat theater (with 140 staff) on Aug. 4. "She knows how the whole operations side needs to be structured. Being in the performing field, I've got a significant amount of restaurant experience myself, but it's been quite a while. I'm focused more on overall running this business, and need someone strong on that side."
The theater opened in 2001 as the Broadway Palm Dinner Theater West, one of three dinner theaters owned by the Prather Entertainment Group. The others are in Lancaster, Penn., and Fort Myers, Fla.
An interim leaseholder had made some major renovations to the theater, including reducing seating capacity. The Prather family took it over last season, running it from October through May, re-branded as the Palms Theatre, Mr. Shaw said.
He and his production company have put on several shows there, and won a management contract to take over theater operations, expanding it to a year-round theater like Circa, Mr. Shaw said. "It's a lot of work, but it's rewarding. We're glad to have Mandy out here."
Lonely Street will send a show that's new to Circa — "Surf Rock Beach Party" — for two performances Oct. 2-3, Mr. Shaw said its beach atmosphere includes music from the Beach Boys and Jimmy Buffett, among others.
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