Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, doors open at 6 p.m., dinner is served from 6:30 to 8 p.m., show begins at 8:30. Wednesday matinee, doors open at 11 a.m., buffet is served from 11:30 to 12:30, show begins at 1 p.m. Sunday matinee, doors open at 11:30 a.m., buffet is served from noon to 1 p.m., show begins at 1:30. Closed Monday.

Atmosphere: Friendly, relaxed, professional.

Prices: Tuesday through Thursday, including Wednesday matinee, $18.95 plus tax for buffet and show. Friday to Sunday, including Sunday matinee, $21.95 plus tax. Children 12 and under, half-price for Wednesday and Sunday matinees. Reduced subscription plan. Drinks and tip are extra.

Reservations: Essential. Seating is determined by date of reservation.

Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa and Choice.

Special features: Accessible entrance. No booster or high chairs. Group rates. Large parking lot. Nonsmoker performances.

Schedule: "Gypsy" until April 25. "Bye Bye Birdie" starts April 29.

From the minute you walk into the Harlequin Dinner Theater, you know you've made the right decision about this family-out adventure. Excitement is everywhere, from the show photographs that line the corridors to the friendly greeting from staff members.

Our children are at the magic ages of 7 and 10. The combination of a buffet-style meal where they could make the selections that interested them with a musical whose score they already knew was perfect.

This was our first such odyssey into theatrical dining and the Harlequin easily demonstrated its professionalism both on and off stage. For the children, much of the magic was enhanced by the waiter's transformation into a singing character on the stage before them.

The children were full of questions about what it's like to work on and off stage and how one tries out to be in a production. Our waiter, who served only drinks and desserts, was friendly and had time to answer questions.

The Harlequin seems set on proving that buffets can work and that food need not have the steam-table blues. To avoid hysterics and mass confusion, parties are "invited to the buffet tables."

Besides being careful about presentation--bowls and trays on the buffet table were replaced and refilled constantly--there was a general air of professionalism to the dishes. Nothing was just plainly served; each dish was decorated or colored with a sprig of parsley or a dash of paprika.

The buffect, avoiding the starchy elements that so often comprise buffets, has three tables devoted to salads and fruits. There was a plain tossed salad and a bowl of Caesar salad, as well as a myriad of vegetable salads, including cucumber and potato.

Sliced and quartered melons and seasonal fruits also were available and a platter of cheese slices was centered on the fruit table.

Maybe the biggest food surprise of the day came from the green beans that still had zing and never became soggy. Equally successful were broccoli au gratin and baby whole white potatoes.

Entree selections included veal with potatoes, fish, fried chicken and individually cut steamship roast. The veal, tasteless and tough, was the least exciting entree. The other main courses were still tender, but the biggest surprise was the properly executed roast. A perfect garlic seasoning made the slices mouth-watering; second slices were served willingly.

Buffets often are all show and no substance. The Harlequin avoids that by limiting the number of items and skillfully preparing each one.

As dessert choices, the Harlequin offers one selection daily. We had soft-serve vanilla ice cream topped with sprinkles.

No matter when you go through the buffet room, there is ample time to finish dinner and still relax before the show begins.

Intermission can be used to celebrate birthdays or anniversaries with one of the special cakes that can be ordered in advance($6).

Before the performance and during intermission, the staff cleared plates and refilled water glasses and coffee cups.

For children, the dining experience is part of the show. Having made reservations several weeks in advance, we had good seats right in front of the stage.

The magic of professionalism is alive at the Harlequin. No wonder the room is filled with families eager to share the joy of theater and the excitement of a day's adventure.