Having a Merrie Olde Time : 1520 A.D. Is Lively, Noisy, Rowdy--but Not Too Bawdy
1520 A.D. is an environmental dinner theater in Anaheim set in a Hollywood version of the court of Henry VIII: This is Merrie Olde England with a vengeance--and lots of final E’s. If very little of the show has anything to do with what Tudor England was really like, that doesn’t prevent it from being a great deal of fun. (With its singing waitresses and continual toasts (“Drink Ale!” “Wassail!”), the atmosphere is oddly reminiscent of the old Great American Food & Beverage Company in Santa Monica.)
Instead of applauding or calling their waitress/wench, diners are instructed to strike the wooden table tops with their metal spoons, or “bangers.” The practice makes for a rollicking good time (expect lots of Wham! Wham! Wham!), even if the net result is like eating dinner next to a busy riveter.
King Henry VIII (Mack Dugger) presides over the revels, belting out “Danny Boy” and “I’m Henry VIII, I Am” in his strong baritone. Court Jester William Sommers (Larry McKee) and Innkeeper Bates (Dave Gotcher) supply most of the humor between the songs performed by the waitresses, solo and en masse . Merlin (Alex Scianna) performs sleight-of-hand magic at table side, and the hard-working Scott Martin accompanies everyone on the piano. The piano didn’t come into popular use until the 18th Century, but the music includes excerpts from “The Pirates of Penzance,” “Oliver!” and “Cabaret,” so what’s one more anachronism?
The show is about on the level of a PTA hijinks or a college stunt night, where a group of talented amateurs gets into costumes and dusts off old vaudeville routines. Some of this material may well date back to Henry VIII, but it still gets laughs. Half the fun comes from knowing the punch lines before they’re given: The older the joke, the louder the diners groan and bang their spoons.
There are some vaguely risque innuendoes, like calling the innkeeper “Master Bates” (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), but the show is definitely PG-rated although the performers like to pretend it’s an R. (“I’m Wench Judy,” one waitress announced with a wink as she dropped onto a nearby bench. “And I’m not used to this--I’m on my feet!”)
The elicited participation of members of the audience adds to the informal silliness. When a man becomes “Lord of the Salt,” the women must kiss his cheek, kneel and beg to get any salt to put on the food. After a man and a woman are named “Privy Counselors,” everyone has to ask their permission to use the bathrooms.
A woman is pilloried for not joining in a sing-along, and all the men have to kiss her. (A friend said he would rather kiss the Lord of the Salt, but it’s much too conventional a place for anything that unusual, despite all those winks.)
At 2 1/2 hours, the show would benefit from some judicious editing. It’s not a question of cutting out particular bits, but of tightening the material--singing one chorus of “I’m Henry VIII” rather than two or three, restricting the number of hoary limericks and sharpening the pace.
A logical place to begin trimming would be some of the many jokes about wenches. Today, they quickly cloy. While the jokes are meant to suggest the inferior position women occupied in the 16th Century, their roles varied greatly, according to geography and social status. Before the century was over, a woman would rule England and Calvinist theologian John Knox would fulminate against the “monstrous regiment of women” who wielded so much power in Europe.
1520 A.D. is hardly the place for an intimate supper, but it would make a good setting for an office celebration or a novelty dinner for out-of-town relatives--a merrie, informal meal where the conversation isn’t too important. (Wham! Wham! Wham!)
1520 A.D., at 821 S. Beach Blvd., Anaheim, offers shows Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. Dinner and show: $19.95. Information and reservations: (714) 995-5464.