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| 2 min read | by Doug Marrin, dmarrin@thesuntimesnews.com |

Co-owner, Steve DeBruyne in front of the set being constructed for “Home for the Holidays.”

One of Pinckney’s best-kept secrets, the Dio Dinner Theater, is finishing up its 6th season and although the troupe is well-known in the city itself, I had never heard of this professional theater. I was immediately intrigued and paid them a visit to hear more.

Dio Dinner Theater is the shared brainchild of Steve DeBruyne and Matt Tomich, two accomplished actors who grew up in Michigan. After a stint of traveling around the country including the Broadway National Tour of The Full Monty for Steve, playing roles and living a life for the love of the art, the two settled into working with The Encore Music Theater in Dexter for six years.

“We started thinking that we wanted to do something a little different,” Steve explains. “I had worked in dinner theaters coming out of school in New York. There were no dinner theaters or professional theater companies in Livingston County at the time. The original plan wasn’t for a dinner theater. We looked around Brighton, but in the end, we decided on this building. There was a kitchen so we thought, ‘Let’s serve food and do a show.’”

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Similar to The Encore in Dexter, Steve says the Dio draws much of their audience from out-of-town, mostly Ann Arbor and Brighton.  I myself have never been to a dinner theater.

“How does it work?” I asked.

The audience enjoying drinks and dessert during intermission

“We do not perform while the audience eats,” Steve told me. “Some places do. We don’t. Dinner starts at 6:30 pm and is served buffet style. Every menu is a little different based on the show. We always make sure our signature fried chicken is included because people love it.”

The performers do double-duty as wait staff during the meal, refilling drinks, restocking the buffet, and clearing tables. During the intermission, there is no rest for them either. They serve dessert to the audience. People enjoy getting a chance to meet the entertainers. Tickets range $41 for Seniors to $45 for adults. I’m not a regular theater-goer but it seemed like a fantastic deal to me.

Steve takes care of everything in front of the scenes – directing, producing, staffing, and other things directing engaging the audience. Matt works behind the scenes building sets, procuring and building props, lights, sound, and other things that keep the actors and actresses acting.

A scene from Dio’s recent production of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”

“I also pay the bills,” he laughs.

And that’s a good thing. Where many theaters struggle, the Dio succeeds. That, however, doesn’t mean it’s easy or that everything goes smoothly. Steve told of one hairy moment while doing the Pulitzer Prizing winning drama Proof.

“One of the actors, unbeknownst to us, went out to an audition in Chicago,” recounts Steve. “For his return trip, he took a Greyhound bus from Chicago … on a Friday … thinking he would get here on time for our performance that night. An hour before he was supposed to be in the building. He texted me and told me he was in Kalamazoo.”

There was no way their lead actor was going to make it back in time to perform his role. The show must go on, but how? The audience arrives. Dinner is served and cleared. They are waiting for the show to start, but the main role is not in the building. (Now this is drama!)

Members of the cast rehearsing for “Home for the Holidays”

“I went out on stage and I told the audience what was going on,” continues Steve. “I said ‘Tonight you’re gonna get a real theatrical experience because we’re going to roll with this. I’m going to go on for this role with the script in my hands and I will play the character until he’s in the building.’”

Thirty-minutes into the show the actor showed up, got into costume and make-up, and the two switched places. Complete breakdown averted.

The Dio is currently in the thick of preparing for their next show, Home for the Holidays, which will run from November 22nd to December 29th with 18 performances. Performances are already beginning to sell out.

A scene from Dio’s production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” this past spring

The hard-working folks of Dio have been embraced by their community and for good reason. The theater has won multiple awards such as Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Musical. And for a city that is well off the beaten path of freeway exits, the Dio draws people in who would not otherwise visit Pinckney. They are good for business as well as entertainment.

“We’ve got a great seventh season planned,” says Steve. “We will be putting on two plays and three musicals in 2020. We’ve got a pretty big selection in what we’ll be bringing to our stage and we’re excited about that.”

It all sounds like a great time with a lot of fun. Get your tickets before they’re gone.

You can learn more about the Dio and make your reservations at diotheatre.com.

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