Dinner Theater the Ticket in DuPage

Article excerpt

Byline: Christie Hart Daily Herald Staff Writer

If you started practicing your favorite hobby, would anyone (including your spouse) want to watch? Could you turn your interest into an attraction that draws busloads of tourists?

Probably not if you collect stamps, stitch needlepoint or stuff model boats into bottles.

But that's just how a Wood Dale couple launched Stage Right Productions, DuPage County's only dinner theater.

When Stage Right started four years ago, it was a community theater troupe bouncing from stage to stage and an outlet for founder Peter Verdico's creativity. Today, it has a permanent home in Wood Dale, a growing list of season ticket subscribers, and the support and gratitude of area tourism and hotel officials.

"It's wonderful food and theater," said Pat Lutz, director of public relations for the Greater Woodfield Convention and Visitors Bureau. There are dinner theaters in Schiller Park, Lincolnshire and St. Charles, she said, but "I think Stage Right's the only game in town."

Stage Right started like many other community troupes, with a small group of theater lovers itching to perform.

Verdico has been on stage throughout his life, acting, doing impersonations and playing guitar in bands, he said.

"I even pursued music as my career, but I got married and realized I had to work for a living," Verdico said.

Verdico got back into acting several years ago in a play to raise money for a local church. He was hooked on acting again and started performing with community theater groups in the area.

By 1992, Verdico had had enough of the politics of other people's theaters and was tired of working within someone else's "vision." The owner of a contracting company in Wood Dale, Verdico found himself in the position to be able to start up his own troupe.

For the first two seasons, Stage Right performed three shows, moving each time from Fenton High School in Bensenville to Giorgio's Banquets in Wood Dale to the Itasca Country Club.

"We were lugging around temporary stages like we were Barnum and Bailey," Verdico said.

That's when Stage Right made a couple of changes Verdico and the theater directors hope will catapult them to the ranks of Chicago theater: They struck a deal with Giorgio's to sell their meals in a permanent dinner theater in the banquet hall's lower level, and they decided to pay their actors.

About 45 people showed up to audition for Stage Right's first show, the British farce "Run for Your Wife," which had a cast of 24, Verdico said. He expects more than twice as many hopefuls - most with experience at Chicago theaters - to audition when they stage the farce again next season.

"We used to send personal audition invitations to hundreds of people," Verdico said. "Now, we advertise in the trade papers and, by word-of-mouth, actors are learning it's a good place to perform. We're getting more people who have professional experience."

While actors have become eager to add Stage Right to their lists of credits, the theater has become a hit with area residents. …