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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Admission included two performances: a live show and an intermission routine by The Acromaniacs. The buffet offered standard fare, but TLB desserts were legendary. All that cost about $11 in 1977. By the ’90s the package hit $50. Shows were sold out seven days a week. Buses rolled in from all over the East Coast. In a span of 20 years, tour bus business exploded from a few coaches a day to 20. TLB banquets boomed, too. The family catered two to four weddings every weekend.
The reason TLB survived the late ’80s, when dinner theaters crashed across the country, was its partnership strategy. The Immediatos aligned themselves with top Brandywine Valley destinations such as Longwood Gardens and Winterthur Garden & Country Estate. Travelers saw the attractions, then visited Pike Creek for dinner and a show. As Winton says, “We were the end of a beautiful day.”
About 47 percent of TLB’s customers were Delawareans. Governor Jack Markell visited the theater frequently, both as a child and as an adult. “Taking my kids to see shows and watching the amazing Hula Hoop contests before shows was so much fun,” Markell says. “It was always good entertainment, and so important to this community.”
His wife agrees. “For some of my friends, going to Three Little Bakers was their only exposure to live theater and the arts,” says Carla Markell. “It opened doors to learn to appreciate live theater in an intimate setting.”
Dave Revels, a member of the original Drifters, often performed at TLB. “The Immediatos were family,” he says. “Not just to us—to everybody who came. I travel all around the world. TLB was one of a kind.”
The theater earned respect on a national scale, as well. Bekki Jo Schneider, president of the National Dinner Theater Association, says the business helped fuel the community’s economic engine.
“Three Little Bakers was a tradition for several generations,” she says. “It brought in buses and kept dollars at home.”
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