To infinity and beyond, on a plate of chicken fingers Children’s matinée series welcomes Buzz, Woody and Andy to Celebrations’ A Birthday Toy’s Story
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Hot dogs, chicken fingers and kid-friendly matinées are on the menu at Celebrations Dinner Theatre.
A Birthday Toy’s Story
Celebrations Dinner Theatre, 1824 Pembina Hwy.
● Saturdays until April 22, 11 a.m.
● Tickets $39.95 for adults and $36.95 for children at celebrations.ca
The Pembina Highway cabaret started offering lunchtime shows tailored to kids in late 2021 and the format has been a hit with audiences and performers alike.
“It’s been a ton of fun for everyone,” general manager Randy Apostle says. “We love people to get up and get (them) involved and kids are totally into that.”
Celebrations Junior is an offshoot of the children’s programming at Jubilations Dinner Theatres, a pair of sister organizations in Alberta. Previously owned by WOW Hospitality Concepts, the dinner theatres changed hands amid the pandemic and are now operated by Act Three Entertainment — a company formed by longtime WOW executive Janet Cunningham.
New management opened the door for a new lineup of events in Winnipeg.
Junior shows take place on Saturdays and, like their evening counterparts, are rejigged renditions of popular movie and television franchises.
So far, the theatre has mounted productions of Despicable Moi, The Frozen Princess Bride, Skooby-Doob and Harry Popper, among others.
Aside from coming up with copyright-adjacent storylines, the Junior program has to contend with another creative obstacle: “All the kids’ shows have to be based on whatever the set for the main show is,” Apostle says.
Last weekend, Celebrations launched A Birthday Toy’s Story, which is running in conjunction with Heartbreak Hotel — an Elvis-themed show with a ’50s inspired stage centred on a hotel lobby.
To make the setting sensical, the plot follows Andy (played by Calantha Jensen) as she celebrates her birthday in the hotel her mom (Yanin Cranwell) manages in their new town. There’s a magical jukebox that brings Toy Story favourites Buzz and Woody to life and a town villain named Vinnie. Thankfully, kids are pretty good at suspending disbelief.
“We’re just going someplace a little bit different with people they already know,” Apostle says. “If we all accept it, they’ll go along with you and it’ll all make sense.”
The fast-paced show is presented in two interactive acts with plenty of musical interludes featuring popular and recognizable songs.
For Jensen, who is also performing in Heartbreak Hotel, playing Andy is a chance to add some levity to her work week while tapping into her inner child.
“I love the kids shows, they’re totally different from the night shows,” she says. “It’s the energy in the room more than anything else, because the kids love everything you’re doing and giving to them.”
Ken Rudderham, who plays Buzz, agrees.
“You can see the parents having fun with the kids too and their guards are down a little bit more,” he says. “The floor, to me, feels a bit more alive than the evening shows.”
Young patrons often arrive dressed in costumes and, because the characters are so recognizable, it’s easy for the cast to drum up excitement while dancing on stage or interacting with tables.
A previous cast member, Rudderham returned to Celebrations last year after a 20-year hiatus. The new children’s programming was one of the reasons he came back.
“I think it’s a great way to introduce younger audiences to what happens in this room, because it’s very unique,” he says. “And you really learn how to, as a performer, interact with all demographics.”
As with most kid’s content, A Birthday Toy’s Story includes some subtle chestnuts for parents alongside fart jokes and general silliness.
“And the bar is open because it all makes us look better,” Apostle jokes.
The two-act show runs for roughly 90 minutes with a three-course meal. The serving staff is also in character throughout the performance and the menu includes a veggie plate appetizer, burgers, hot dogs, chicken fingers and spaghetti. Attendees receive a goody bag for dessert and adults can choose from a pasta or chicken dish.
A Birthday Toy’s Story runs until April 22 and will be followed by The Mighty Shrek and Freakish Friday. While performances currently take place on Saturdays, Apostle says there’s the possibility of an expanded schedule over the summer.
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Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.