This wiggle of wenches a wiz at winging it onstage
One of Chicago’s most popular dinner theaters from the late 1970s through mid-1990s was the medieval-themed King’s Manor: a bold, bawdy musical-comedy review. It was unique entertainment — a six-course banquet-style meal (no silverware allowed) with freeflowing beer and wine, served by beautiful singing Wenches.
The food was feastly, the songs were salacious, and the humor was slapstick, and often improvised — all performed by a gifted group of singers, dancers, musicians, and comedians in the guise of Wenches, Kings, Minstrels, and Jesters.
The King’s Manor closed in the mid-1990s, but its unique work environment bred a particularly tight-knit group of friends who attended annual Wench Retreats and frequent family gatherings. Over the years, the cast’s spouses heard countless tales of the King’s Manor, and their children grew up with the impression that calling a woman a “Wench” was high praise. Older children wistfully wished that they could have seen the show. Over time, a wiggle of Wenches (really, look it up — http://botanicallinguist.com/collective-nouns/) wondered whether it was possible to cobble the old show back together again, one more time, just for the performers’ spouses and children. The idea was met with enthusiastic support.
Anxiously revisiting the original theater space at 2122 W. Lawrence for the first time in decades, the Wenches were shocked and delighted to discover that, although it had since been occupied by several restaurants in the intervening years, most of the interior was in the same medieval-castle condition as when they performed their last 1990s show. Further encouraged, they booked the venue, tracked down the old music, gathered the gang together, rehearsed and updated the old jokes and comedic bits, and prepared to cater the same hands-only dinner fare of chicken, ribs and corn on the cob.
The invitation-only event immediately sold out, and Wenches whooshed across the country from as far as LA and NY to perform — realizing how often the lyrics of their songs could take on an interesting new spin sung by 50-year-old executives and 60-year-old grandmothers, rather than 25-year-old ingénues. In a flashmob-like moment, the Wenches took to the stage to start the 2.5 hour show for more than 150 guests. Jean Schneider Dziedzic of Hoffman Estates, Jenny Rudnick of Vernon Hills, Jen Chada of Glen Ellyn, Nandia Black of Kildeer (who just so happens to be Kildeer’s Mayor), Kitty Fishman of Highland Park, Denise Roehrborn of Palatine, and Kim Mallery of Fox Lake all performed songs from the original show, accompanied by Minstrel David Kunzweiler of Palatine, Jester David Boylan of Bloomingdale, along with 3 of the Kings: Ray Frewen of Downers Grove, Neil Bremer of Kalamazoo Michigan, and Doug Smith of Chicago. Former owner Steve Ukropen of Evanston was in attendance under the guise of it being a mere anniversary gathering, and was surprised and delighted as the performance began.
Packed with expectant family and old friends, the standing-room-only, 2.5-hour performance on September 10 was a huge hit. Many performers’ children (16 and older) were stunned to discover that their Moms were actually talented (and pretty darn cool besides), while others suffered side-cramps from laughter watching their fathers mug for the crowd, as the performers of “King’s Manor” enthusiastically delivered a memorable rousing reprise finale of legendary local dinner theater.