Monday, December 19, 2011

Yosemite: Bracebridge Dinner, a spectacular feast and pageant

Bringing in the Peacock pie (actually a delicious pheasant dish).
All photographs courtesy of LaniSpicer/Andrea Fulton Productions.

Last Tuesday night, I attended opening night of the Bracebridge Dinner at the Ahwahnee.  This year marks the 85th annual presentation of Bracebridge.

Bracebridge cast with Squire Bracebridge (Michael McCarty) center

The beautiful and historic Ahwahnee hotel opened in 1927, and the Bracebridge dinner was created to attract visitors to Yosemite in Winter.

The hotel's restaurant is transformed into a 17th Century manor in which Squire Bracebridge invites guests to celebrate a seven-course holiday feast with his family.  From 1929 to 1973, famed photographer Ansel Adams directed the Bracebridge Dinner (most often appearing as the Major Domo or a mute jester).  Eugene and Anna-Marie Fulton directed the show from 1973 to 1978, after which time their daughter, Andrea Fulton, inherited the mantle of director and producer.  At age 5, she made her theatrical debut in Bracebridge, and it has been a part of her life ever since.  2011 marks her 29th year as Bracebridge's producer and director.  Fulton also plays the leading role of the Housekeeper, the best dressed, most commanding housekeeper that I've ever seen.  She kept the hilarious Jester (or Lord of Misrule) in check, which is challenging to do.

Andrea Fulton as the Housekeeper singing with Chef Pierre (Pedro Rodelas)

The show is cast in May; rehearsals begin in the fall in the San Francisco Bay area and they assemble in December just prior to their first performance.  Fulton said many of the cast members are professional opera singers.

Removing the Jester (Johannes Mager) is not an easy task.

Several guests told me that they had attended Bracebridge more than once.  Now that there are eight performances, there is no longer a ticket lottery.  Prior to 2001, people often waited years for their number to come up.  Everyone dresses up in their finest duds to attend the seven course feast and pageant.

Remaining 2011 performances: December 20, 22, 24 and 25.  Dinner seating begins at 6:00 p.m. and the performance begins at 6:30 p.m.  Dinner only tickets (which include tax and tip) cost $425.  Most people I met opt for a package that includes a one or two-night stay at the Ahwahnee, Yosemite Lodge at the Falls or the Wawona Hotel.  The package also includes a group photo to commemorate the Bracebridge experience.  (Photo sittings take place between 3-6 p.m. on the night you attend the dinner.)

Info: Bracebridge dinner, (801) 559-4884.

And if you can't make it to Yosemite before Christmas, the Ahwahnee offers Chef's Holidays sessions in January.

The Ahwahnee in Winter (photo: Terry Gardner)

[Disclosure:  I attended the Bracebridge dinner and stayed at the Ahwahnee as a journalist on a press trip].

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