The Horse and Barrel doesn't have Spam kebabs on the menu every night. Then again, there are only six nights a year that the bourbon bar next to deSha's restaurant has national musical theater talent in the house.
At one of those nights last month, in honor of Spamalot! at the nearby Lexington Opera House, deSha's and Horse and Barrel special-event chef Tom Yates and special-event director Tony Atwood pulled out all the stops. In addition to special foods, such as those Spam kebabs, there were displays that included Excalibur, the legendary sword, the iconic Monty Python pointing finger and a few killer rabbits at the corner of the restaurant's small stage.
It was all part of the Arts Appetizer, a program that is making its debut during the 2010-11 season of Broadway Live at the Opera House.
On Sunday evenings between the matinee and evening performances, the Horse and Barrel is open for anyone with a ticket to one of the weekend performances for a question-and-answer session with cast members from the production.
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"It has been a wonderful collaboration," says Yates, who will be working up a Jewish menu for this weekend's Arts Appetizer for Fiddler on the Roof. "If you're going to the show, we want this to be a fun addition to the experience."
Theatergoer M. Jansen Miller was having a good time at the Spamalot! appetizer, clacking coconut shells in his table with friends, King Arthur-style, as members of the cast and crew took the stage.
"It's such an interesting place to come and meet the cast," Miller said. "I think they enjoy it as much as the audience."
When they came onstage, the three members of the Spamalot! crew had less than two hours before the curtain went up on their next performance. After a round of introductions by Opera House director Luanne Franklin, the floor was open to questions.
Standing just a few rows back in the long room was Jarod Frank, 13. The seventh-grader at the School for the Creative and Performing Arts asked several questions, including: How long does it takes the cast and crew to get the production ready for the road? Answer: a few weeks, and you are expected to show up at the first rehearsal with your lines memorized.
"They expect professionalism from us, and we're happy to oblige," said Jacob Smith, who played Sir Dennis and other characters.
Frank, who has been on the Opera House stage as part of Paragon Music Theatre's production of The King and I, said, "It felt really good to have a chance to ask them about how they do their jobs and what life is like for them."
Spread through the performers' nearly 30-minute talk were fun little nuggets of information, including how one of the actors got into theater when his girlfriend persuaded him to audition for a show in high school, and she got a bigger part than he did. A question about hair-raising moments on stage included a keyboard once dying in the middle of the Lady of the Lake's big number and the rigging system in one theater failing in the middle of a key scene.
The Horse and Barrel was packed for the event, with more than 100 people piling in for the free food and inside information on a night when the bar normally would be closed.
"It gets a little bigger every time," Opera House spokeswoman Sheila Kenny said after the Spamalot! presentation. "People really seem to like getting to hear from the people in the show, and the Horse and Barrel has pulled out all the stops."