Can the Show Go On?
When the Three Little Bakers Dinner Theatre closed, it was the end of an era. Was it the end of a legacy, too?
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A mountain of concrete rises on the 60,000-square-foot plot of land in Pike Creek Valley where Three Little Bakers Dinner Theatre once stood.
This is hallowed ground to the family who built and operated the icon. Founders Hugo, Italo (Al) and Nino (Nick) Immediato, the former Vaudeville stars known as The Acromaniacs, entertained there every day for decades.
The space may be nothing more than a construction site to those who never experienced TLB. But many of us remember the Broadway shows, kickin’ chorus lines, intermission spectacles—and those desserts. As one family member put it, TLB was “like Vegas in Wilmington.”
The business dissolved in August. The theater was demolished a month later. All that’s left of the 25-year-old complex is the pool, the pro shop and the golf course, now Pike Creek Golf Club.
Vicki Immediato Winton, Hugo’s daughter, still picks up TLB mail there. She gathers letters from out-of-state patrons and writes back to break the news. The strong Italian-American woman was more than TLB’s theater president. She was the glue that held the family together. She’s making another mail run today, navigating the same path she’s driven for years. She stares blankly at the road, showing no sign of any real emotion. “I learned to box up my feelings,” she says. “Tears are private.”
Her demeanor changes as she nears Three Little Bakers Boulevard. She parks in the empty lot, draws a heavy sigh, then climbs out of her Chevy. She walks slowly to the chain link fence that separates the public from the site. “We’re outsiders now,” she says as she grips the fence and gazes up at the crane. Her lips are pursed. The lines in her forehead deepen. “It just wasn’t possible to continue. And it needed to.”
The Immediatos, with Weber-Prianti Productions, produced about 8,000 shows. Bus tours were booked months—sometimes years—in advance. The recipe for success was simple. The founders taught, through example, the basic tenet of TLB service: Treat every customer, performer and employee with dignity.
Al died in 1989, leaving Nick and Hugo to lead the business. They had always planned to turn the complex over to the second generation, but they never expected it to close. When it did, they were devastated.
Rather than celebrating a successful enterprise, Nick and Hugo equate its ending with the shattering of its legacy. Closing the business isn’t about crumbled brick and mortar. It’s about broken dreams.
Whether there will be another production bearing the TLB logo, no one knows. But one family member has a shot at carrying on the show biz legacy. He has the talent. He has the experience. He has the charm.
The question is, does he have the stomach?
Page 2: Can the Show Go On?, continues...