I have heard much about the UT Madrigal Dinner and have always been just on the edge of actually going since my freshman year. Finally, from just a stroke of luck and the culmination of coincidences, I have finally gone and I am so happy I did!
Now what is a Madrigal dinner you ask? Perhaps some of you have attended one in high school, but for greenhorns like myself, I had no idea what ‘Madrigal’ meant. Looking it up on Google, some great sites are the Madrigal Dinner website and Wikipedia’s entry. Basically, though, a Madrigal dinner is a sort of dinner theater in the style of late Middle Age to Renaissance times when nobles would get into the holiday spirit over good food and good entertainment. The entertainment consisted not only of singers, but also jesters, magicians, fortune tellers, and the like. Both a mix of more bawdy and earthly songs would mix in with the classic Christmas songs to create a unique blend of holiday cheer.
Reading about the event, I found an article in the Austin Chronicle that did a good job of summing up the experience of UT’s Madrigal Dinner. From first impressions, I figured the event was a decent deal. Sure, the food may not be great, but the whole entertainment factor would be fun and it’s always great to get into a holiday mood. What really struck me in the article is that the writer, who seems to be a slight cynic, was actually touched enough to start feeling ready for Christmas and I just knew I had to go.
Before the actual show begins, the cash bar opens and you can make your time a little more jolly with some libations before the event. However, refillable pitchers of tea and water sit on every table and you definitely don’t want to miss out on the wassail. The event starts with the chorus on the fourth floor of the Union, looking down into the Atrium. They sing a number of songs to get you in the mood for dinner and then into the ballroom you go with those very singers as your escorts.
Every year, the Madrigal Dinner Committee picks a new script for the play so you’ll never get the same thing twice. This year’s story was rather funny with a knight trying to take over the kingdom. However, complications obviously arise and pop references ensued. The cast was totally in character and it was awesome that, between acts and during courses, they came out and interacted around the tables. Extra parts of the story and background of the characters would come out during this time and it was funny to see more about the characters we couldn’t see on stage. They would also interact with the audience and I applaud their improv abilities. Crazily, if you were a little too quick to accuse people of murder or other similar things, you would actually be taken to the stocks! It was crazy, but quite funny too.
So the verdict? Mmm, yummy food and so much fun just because I love musicals. Also, I really like the Texas Renaissance Festival and it was kind of like a rehash in play form. The play was quite silly and sometimes random, but it was fun and my roommate and I really enjoyed it.
The decorations were awesome and the Texas Union Ballroom seemed perfectly set up for a Madrigal dinner evening with metal chandeliers and banners about the wooden appliquéd room. The cast, though, must be given their due as they were the heart of the whole entertainment. Without their enthusiasm for the whole event, the evening would not have been half as fun as it was.
It was nice that the play occurred in between courses of food because it allowed some time for the stomach to digest as well as allowed one to concentrate on eating instead of fiddling around in the dark with a fork and knife. Smartly, the knife was not really needed except for buttering bread in the beginning.
The waiters and waitresses who also made up the chorus actually went around and sang at the tables too. You had the choice between clean, slightly dirty, and dirty ditties. Our table ended up having the more dirty songs being sung to us and they were not actually too bad. It was mostly the implied stuff like the *clap claps* for other possible words or bawdy analogies. It was quite funny, though I wouldn’t have minded hearing the other songs like Carol of the Bells.
As you can see, entertainment is provided in both a show as well as floor entertainers during courses. Not only were there the choral groups bouncing between tables, performing songs to entertain us as we ate, but there was also a juggler/jester person and a magician. Both were cutely entertaining and a fun way to break up the different entertainments available through the night.
The dinner theater consisted of 4-5 courses, depending on your counting of appetizers. After the opening carols and first scene inviting us to the dining room, we gorged ourselves on the delicious bread. Not only were there blueberry and cranberry breads, but also good French bread that tasted fresh. Now, this may sound totally messed up, but the vinaigrette dressing for the salad later turned out to be quite delicious with the cranberry bread that was provided. Literal butter balls were passed around and also spread on the warm bread and were enjoyed until the next course of salad with the sweet and sour vinaigrette on the table. Full of a variety of leafy greens, the salad was tasty, but nothing special.
Wassail actually came as its own course with its own choral song, a special characteristic of Madrigal dinners. Wassail is basically a cider or punch that is spiced with such things as nutmeg and ginger. The wassail came in a warm metal pitcher and was absolutely delicious! It was slightly sweet and sour and no cinnamon, which was perfect for my roommate who does not like cinnamon. It also kept the cider from being too sweet and drowning out the yummy taste of apples. I really enjoyed it and I only wish there had been more than one pitcher served to us. It stayed warm for a good long while in the glass goblet and I happily sipped it through most of the courses.
The main course was the beef bourguignon or pot roast as I would call it. However, it was delicious, especially with the vegetables that were perfectly cooked. Rosemary baked potatoes and steamed veggies went well with the gravy of the beef bourguignon and the delicious bread helped sop up any leftovers. I was feeling full, but we had yet to see the dessert! The last course was chocolate chip bread pudding and I’ll admit, a slightly demure way to end a fabulous night. However, it was warm and big and tasty and a good way to warm up people’s tummies before the cold night walk home. As we left, the cast gave a last singing send-off and it was time to go.
The only detriments to the experience were the goblets that were not thoroughly cleaned and the show could get quite corny. It was fun corniness though. Also, seating is definitely important. You don’t want a seat where you have to crane your neck every 15 minutes to watch the show. Some people on the wrong side of the spotlight were blinded at times as well (try to get seats facing front or stage left). I thought it was worth the extra $4 to get seats right near the front so we could see and hear everything as well as see the actors more when they came off the stage.
Overall, a super fun night and an experience you should definitely try once before you graduate. I am absolutely amazed that these people are complete volunteers and not at all paid for putting on this production. It was good, it was fun, and truly would not have been the same without such an enthusiastic cast and crew.
Rating: 😛 😛 😛 😛 😛 for enthusiastic cast and crew, yummy food, and just a fun way to transition to the holidays.