All venues are at Shops of Foxchase, Duke and Jordan streets,
West End Dinner Theatre, (703) 370-2500
La Casa Pizzeria Restaurant, (703) 370-3600
Pines of Florence II, (703) 370-6383
Fu Jian Chen Szechwan Restaurant, (703) 370-5166
Baskin-Robbins, (703) 823-2578
Dollar Buys, (703) 370-7112
Foxchase 3, (703) 370-5565
By Theodore Fischer, Washington Sidewalk
Saturday the West End Dinner Theatre moonlights, er, daylights as a
lunchtime theater for children. Located amid the Shops of Foxchase strip
mall in Alexandria's West End, the musical shows work as entertaining
introductions for children who haven't experienced the joy of live theater
and for kids-theater habituιs who can appreciate top-notch performances.
Production values are high. The shows are performed in a real theater
as opposed to a school auditorium or a makeshift space by adult
professional actors who are also professional singers. Costumes are
imaginative and stages sets elaborate, albeit not necessarily appropriate.
The current production of Winnie the Pooh (through March 7), for
example, is performed on the English manor house set used for the current
grown-up production of Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians with
of a picture of a honey pot over the mantle to suggest Pooh Corner.
Creature-comfort levels are also high at least by the standards of
local children's theaters, in which chairs with backs are often scarce.
Patrons sit on tiered levels of chairs and banquettes beside the
nightclub-style tables where adults usually sup. Ticket prices are the
same for everyone ($7), but proximity to the stage is not. The rows range
from A (up against the stage) through J, but those higher than F lose a
lot of the intimacy of live theater: Reserve early to get close. Special
deals are available for birthday parties, a conspicuous presence in the
West End shows work for children from age 3 up to the age at which plays
such as Sleeping Beauty and Jack in the Bean Stalk cease to
amuse. Audiences are enthusiastic and attentive to a point. A rising
murmur signals when the absence of enough stage action starts to lose
them. After performances, cast members line up in the lobby to bid patrons
adieu but not to sign autographs. Don't worry: All their autographs
are reproduced in the program.
In fact, the only thing missing from this excellent lunchtime theater
adventure is lunch. Before and during shows, a concession stand sells soft
drinks, juice, candy and chips, but nothing more nutritious than peanut
butter crackers; each item costs $1.
Fortunately, the Shops at Foxchase offers several acceptable pre- and
post-theater options. The hands-down favorite of youngsters (and of West
End players who gather before showtime) is La Casa Pizzeria, a
no-frills self-service joint with New York-style pizza (whole pies or
slices), 19 breeds of sub, Italian dinners, several decent salads and an
under-12 menu of spaghetti or a burger.
A bit more formal and costly, Pines of Florence II is a
sit-down, red-and-white-checked tablecloth Italian restaurant with more
than 100 items on its menu, including calamari, fettuccine Alfredo and, of
course, pizza. The Fu Jian Chen Szechwan Restaurant has no pizza at
all, but it does lay out all-you-can-eat buffets for lunch ($6.75) and
dinner ($7.95) half-price for kids.
After the final curtain, move quickly to beat the stampede to Baskin-Robbins.
Except for Dollar Buys, which has some cool stuff (everything costs
a dollar), there's not much for kids to see in the Shops of Foxchase, a
strip mall adorned with the apparently de rigueur Monticello-style white
columns. There is one thing for them not to see, however.
The Foxchase 3 cinema has one screen showing independent and
foreign films and two screens showing adults-only fare, which makes the
theater, for now at least, the Washington area's last X-rated picture