Fanny Hill takes its final bow

Long-time dinner theatre closed for good; venue remains open as restaurant


THE FINAL CURTAIN: Located one mile south of Eau Claire, Fanny Hill was recently forced to close its doors on a 35-year dinner theatre tradition. © 2014 Courtney Kueppers

Story by Courtney Kueppers, Copy Editor

After Elvis left the building, the curtain closed on the dinner theatre at Fanny Hill indefinitely.

On March 2, Elvis impersonator George Thomas was the final act to entertain crowds at Fanny Hill’s dinner theatre.

Fanny Hill owner Dennis Heyde said he would suspend dinner theatre at Fanny Hill in 2009. After backlash, he changed his mind. But due to high  losses, this time the decision must stick, he said.

“We have been supporting (it) because we believe the arts are needed in the Chippewa Valley, but in this economy we are just not able to do it any longer,” Heyde said.

Fanny Hill, which is located one mile south of Eau Claire, has been in the entertainment business for almost 40 years. The venue’s live dinner theatre continued for more than 35 years.

Long-time theatre Director, Don Hodgins said if he would have had it his way, Fanny Hill would have closed the dinner theatre with one of their own shows produced in-house. Since the timing did not work out for that, he said he was glad it was Thomas playing The King.

Hodgins has been working at Fanny Hill since 1980 alongside his wife, Lois Hodgins, who handled group sales. He said the future without the dinner theatre won’t be the same, but he said he is happy with the time he has had at the theatre.

“It’s going to be difficult. … This is going to be a major change for Fanny Hill and also for my wife and I,” Hodgins said.

While the dinner theatre is closing, the venue remains open as a bed and breakfast and banquet hall, a shift Hodgins is not so sure about, he said.

“Fanny Hill has been so identified with the dinner theater it is going to be difficult for them to change the concept and to convince people that this place is totally different,” Hodgins said.

Fanny Hill had life before dinner theatre. At its onset it was a beer bar targeting college students and then evolved into a disco space. Fanny Hill will continue to change and progress after theatre, Heyde said.

“Over the years, Fanny Hill hasn’t stood still. It has made several operational changes to stay with what the customers are looking for nowadays,” Heyde said.

Sophomore nursing major Allie Miller went to Fanny Hill for the first time in December to see “A Christmas Carol.” She said she was very pleased with her experience.

“I thought it was a really nice place,” Miller said. “Small and quaint, but nice.”

Miller said the dinner was good and not over-priced and she would have liked to return to a show at some point.

“I think it’s sad, it was a fun part of the community that will be missing now,” Miller said.

Since Fanny Hill produced its own shows with paid actors and actresses, the shows had to run six to eight weeks just to cover the cost of building the set, Heyde said.

“There is just not enough support to sustain an operation like that,” he said.

Hodgins said he was in charge of everything that happened on stage. He said he designed sets, directed 99 percent of the shows, acted in a lot of them and wrote nine of them. He said one of the most gratifying parts of his time at Fanny Hill was the night his first play opened.

Hodgins will begin looking for new work in theatre once he finishes tying up loose ends at the theatre has called home for more than 30 years, he said.

“It’s been a great run,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, but everything ends and this was the time so it’s time to move on.”