They Say The Neon Lights Are Bright... On Church Street?

Michelle Van Jura



Dinner and a show. Swipe right if you miss this concept.  In our fast-paced, I want it my way, turnstile days of dating and the next best thing, it seems we’ve forgotten some of the best things.


Dinner and a show used to be a normal date night—along with a concert in the park, picnics and the like—but, alas, they’ve gone by the wayside, replaced with situations built for speed.  As a former NYCer, and now Charlestonian, I was pleased to find that Charleston is bringing back an old favorite in a true Southern manner.  If you haven’t yet experienced a performance at the Dock Street Theatre, I would highly recommend it. 


The oldest theater in the United States, Dock Street like her mother city is small and charming, years of past performances echoing through the halls and the pews, which feel more like they were setup for a Sunday sermon.  Little history sidebar: (cause I’m a nerd for this stuff) the first performance at Dock Street (then known as Queen Street) took place in February of 1736 and the country’s first opera performance happened on this very stage. Okay, now back to our regularly scheduled program…dinner and a show.


The dinner was provided by High Cotton, a Charleston staple that’s been serving tourists for many years, still proudly standing and drawing crowds despite the ‘hot’ new trendy restaurants opening as competition on a daily basis.  I am a fan of High Cotton and have been since first starting to visit Charleston in the 90s, while my younger brother attended The Citadel. 


The food is delicious and I would say if you like shrimp and grits, High Cotton has one of the best versions in Charleston.  The staff is attentive, charming and knowledgeable.  My only critique of High Cotton would be that the old girl needs a bit of work done.  She’s starting to look a little worn out, with the décor that would appeal to the early-bird special crowd. Not exactly a romantic date-night setting.


High Cotton's shrimp and grits — photo by Michelle Van Jura


The performance at Dock Street Theater was Hairspray, one of my personal favorites and if you don’t know, it’s the story of a young overweight girl in the 1960s, who’s dream is to dance on a big band type television show, but finds herself at the forefront of the integrating television debate.  Having lived in both Los Angeles and New York, I have enjoyed my fair share of live performances, but I have to say although Dock Street is small, and at first blush feels like a community theater, the performance was full of big personalities and talent. 


The Charleston Stage became the residential theater company at Dock Street in 1978 and produces over 100 performances each season, but what I found even more interesting was the fact that the resident actors teach more than 200 students in after school Theater School Programs. In a time when it seems every young person wants to be the next Mark Zuckerberg, it’s nice to see that some haven’t forgotten they could aspire to be the next Elizabeth Taylor or Zac Effron.


As I spoke to a friend and her daughter attending the show, I couldn’t help but be moved and transported to my youth as her 12-year-old daughter excitedly told me how her teachers were in the performance and the acting tips and tricks they ply her with. She wants to be “either a CEO or a famous actress,” lofty and doable aspirations.




Hair Spray opening at the Dock Street Theatre — photo by Michelle Van Jura


The performance of Hairspray was professionally executed, with fun staging that belies the budget the theater is probably constrained to.  I think all the major roles were perfectly cast, but special shout out to Pen Chance, who played Edna Turnblad.  Depicting an overbearing Baltimore mom in the 60’s represents specific challenges, but Pen doing it in a house coat, rollers and terrible make-up provided a task of massive effort and he pulled it off with great hilarity. 


I also found the role of Mr. Pinky, which I think was played by Ryan Pixler (in the program it just says Male Authority Figure) was hysterical and spot on and he transitioned into several other cameos, which all had their own personality and ridiculousness. I admire an actor who can change characters in one performance so effortlessly.  Jesse Siak, who played the role of Corny Collins, has an impressive voice and delivered a performance that was worthy of Dick Clark the master MC himself.


In a city that’s growing by leaps and bounds, but still maintaining its Southern grace, charm and style, I loved being exposed to one more fantastic form of culture and art provided by Charleston. It is the perfect date night whether it be romantic, friends or family; dinner and a show is definitely a must do treat.  To the cast, teams and organizers of Hairspray, Dock Street and High Cotton, Charleston Stage, thank you for a great traditional date night of dinner and a show…


‘You’ll always be timeless to me.’


Dinner And A Show Package ($175):

·         Pre-show dinner for two at High Cotton beginning at 5:30 p.m.

o   One App, Two Entrees, Two Glasses of Wine, Dessert for Two

·         Two tickets to a MainStage Production for any Thursday, Friday or Saturday night performance


Tickets can be purchased by calling the Charleston Stage Box Office at 843.577.7183