Dinner Is No Longer Served: Theater That Built Careers Is Gone

Dinner Is No Longer Served: Theater That Built Careers Is Gone

Dinner Is No Longer Served: Theater That Built Careers Is Gone

Dinner Is No Longer Served: Theater That Built Careers Is Gone

Together with his friend Robert J. Funking, a chef, he built An Evening Dinner Theater — later renamed the Westchester Broadway Theater — an institution that would not just survive, but thrive, employing thousands of actors, waiters, stagehands and producers across more than 200 musicals and plays, generating as much as $8 million in annual revenue.

It became the longest-running year-round theater in New York to employ members of Actors’ Equity Association, the labor union that represents 51,000 theater actors and stage managers. Rob Marshall, who went on to direct the Oscar-winning film adaptation of “Chicago,” worked there. So did Estelle Harris (“Seinfeld”) and Will Swenson (“Hair”). Nights without shows featured comedians like Wanda Sykes and Lewis Black early in their careers.

But then came a pandemic — and a state-mandated closure in March. In a note to customers announcing the initial shutdown, Funking and Stutler promised ticketholders a credit for a future performance and a free drink, anticipating a time when “together we’ll all toast a return to normalcy.”

But it became clear that normalcy would not return any time soon.

“We cannot be a profitable business while being closed and it looks dim for any live theater to be open for the foreseeable future,” the three owners, Stutler, Funking and Stutler’s wife, Von Ann, wrote in a Nov. 3 email to patrons announcing the permanent closing.

Dinner theaters would be among the last venues to reopen, they reasoned. With their landlord, Robert Martin Company, unwilling to postpone payments on their lease and employees who had not been paid since March, they said they had no choice but to hang it up.

All three owners declined to be interviewed; Funking retired in January. A spokesman for Robert Martin Company, which took over the theater’s lease about a year ago, said the venue’s financial struggles predated the pandemic.

According to Pia Haas, the theater’s former director of press and public relations, Stutler had already been searching for a successor, and had an offer from Todd Gershwin, the Broadway producer and great-nephew of George and Ira Gershwin. (Haas provided information about the theater’s history, but said she was not speaking on the owners’ behalf.)


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