Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Features and More

Big changes in store at Show Palace Dinner Theatre

Those of us in the (unofficial) Matthew McGee Fan Club weren't at all surprised to learn that the longtime Show Palace Dinner Theatre artistic director has left the building, as the saying goes.

Earlier this week, Show Palace co-owner Nick Sessa told me that Matt has resigned, and in the wake of his and stage manager Susan Haldeman's decisions to leave, the 15-year-old venue is going to do a total revamping of its offerings (more on that below) once the current season ends May 16.

For the past few years, we've watched McGee wow the crowds at American Stage, St. Pete Opera Company and freeFall Theatre in St. Petersburg, spend summers in Georgia at the Peach State Summer Theatre, jet off to other venues to share his considerable talents, and pop up in numerous television commercials.

In between, he's written and directed several shows at the Show Palace, sat through endless auditions to find just the right person to play a part in a show and worked with the rest of the Show Palace staff to choose shows they thought their audiences wanted to see.

But through it all, we knew his heart and soul were up on a stage, doing what he does best: singing, acting, clowning, ad-libbing, vamping and gathering even more people for his (unofficial) Matthew McGee Fan Club.

And now that's what he'll be doing, only all the time.

Sessa, of course, was sad over the two departures. But, in the best theater tradition, he is using the big changes to make big changes at the theater so the shows can — and will — go on.

The biggest change is that he and co-owner Tommy Mara are getting out of the production end of the business and doing what other major venues in the Tampa Bay area do, which is to provide the venue and building staff, then contract with professional production companies to bring in shows.

Vicki Mara, who has managed her husband Tommy's career for decades, is forming Show Palace Entertainment, a production company that will put together the shows and sell them as a package deal to the Show Palace. This means that once the Show Palace Dinner Theatre decides what shows it wants, Mrs. Mara will choose the show director, who will, in turn, choose the performers and oversee the costumes. She's working with Actors Equity so she can get Equity performers for her shows and is already talking with potential directors, including McGee.

For their part, the theater will provide the stage, stage crew (led by Tom Hansen), the sets, the food prep and serving staff, the sound system (overseen by Gerald Michaels), and the ticket sales and marketing, similar to what the Straz Center in Tampa, Mahaffey Theatre in St. Petersburg and Eckerd Hall in Clearwater do.

The shows already on the schedule will be done by Mrs. Mara's company, right through DooWop Dreams that winds up June 16, 2013.

That's when the really big changes start.

Instead of doing back-to-back shows that run for up to eight weeks, the musicals and/or plays will run for four to six weeks each, with at least two-week breaks in between and a longer break during the summer.

During those breaks, the Show Palace will work with other production companies and performers to bring in a variety of shows — stand-up comics, children's shows, nostalgia acts, tribute shows, "ladies night out" acts, magic shows, big bands, comedies — anything that audiences say they want to see. Some will be "one night only"; others will play a weekend or week, perhaps more.

The pricing structure will be fluid, Sessa said. The big shows and big names will, of course, demand bigger prices. Smaller and less-known shows will go for less. Some shows will be a dinner and show package; others will be show only with a full bar and light menu at additional cost.

"We've done a few of those shows already and have been doing them at the Palace Grand for a long time," Sessa said. They've gone over well — most of them sold out, with audiences begging for more.

What the Show Palace is doing only makes sense. A constant program of musical after musical after musical appeals only to a certain audience. The new format will have something for every age and every taste. Some of the shows will work just fine at the Palace Grand, but many of the more complicated shows need the full theatrical system that only the Show Palace can provide.

"Once they get in here and see what we have, they'll want to come back for other things," Sessa said.

That's what they call growing your audience.

Comments
Hide the cauliflower in this Mushroom and Cauliflower Frittata recipe

Hide the cauliflower in this Mushroom and Cauliflower Frittata recipe

Do I like cauliflower as much as the next guy? Well, no. It’s one of the cruciferous vegetables whose cooked aroma sends me running for the exit. But the oh-so-trendy riced variety, stirred into this frittata mix, works for me.Here’s why: Used raw, i...
Published: 02/20/18
Drink of the week: the Holy Snail Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Loire Valley

Drink of the week: the Holy Snail Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Loire Valley

With the weather turning toward spring, so do our appetites — from hearty comfort food to lighter, fresher flavors.That goes for wine as well, and one lively choice is the Holy Snail Sauvignon Blanc 2016 from the Joel Delaunay winery in the Loire Val...
Published: 02/20/18
Taste test: canned peeled tomatoes

Taste test: canned peeled tomatoes

On a recent cold night, my son asked for a bowl of tomato soup. I was preparing to run to the grocery store for a can or carton of soup to heat up when I realized I had 17 cans of whole tomatoes on the counter, ready for my tasting panel to sample. I...
Published: 02/20/18
Review: A seemingly inexhaustible shelf life continues in ‘The Phantom of the Opera’

Review: A seemingly inexhaustible shelf life continues in ‘The Phantom of the Opera’

TAMPA Apparently, the Phantom lives forever.Thirty-two years after its premiere, one of the top-grossing musicals of all time is still packing ’em in. Sunday’s matinee at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts showed why Andrew Lloyd ...
Published: 02/19/18
Updated: 02/20/18
Review: Platt Street Borough is casual Tampa dining with high standards

Review: Platt Street Borough is casual Tampa dining with high standards

TAMPAIt wasn’t that long ago that Platt Street was a bit of a conundrum for restaurateurs: Not exactly downtown, without the dense auto traffic of Kennedy, and far enough off the South Howard main drag that it didn’t entirely qualify as part of SoHo....
Published: 02/19/18
Trumpeter is the highlight of a concert featuring ‘West Side Story’ themes

Trumpeter is the highlight of a concert featuring ‘West Side Story’ themes

TAMPA — Leonard Bernstein would have turned 100 this year. The Florida Orchestra performed two of his works Friday, the second of which paired the dances from West Side Story with the overture to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet.The orches...
Published: 02/17/18
Five things that make Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Volta’ different and fun

Five things that make Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Volta’ different and fun

TAMPA — Cirque du Soleil is back in town with a new show.The Montreal-based company always puts on an extravaganza, splashing around color with the abandon of a toddler playing with paint buckets and a storyline several layers deep, the artistic skel...
Published: 02/16/18
Updated: 02/18/18
The Reading Room’s Lauren Macellaro and Columbia’s Richard Gonzmart are James Beard semifinalists

The Reading Room’s Lauren Macellaro and Columbia’s Richard Gonzmart are James Beard semifinalists

It’s almost a sick joke. On the morning after Valentine’s Day, the second-busiest restaurant day of the year, chefs all over the country are hauling themselves out of bed early to find out: Did I make it onto this year’s James Beard Foundation list o...
Published: 02/15/18
Put Alaskan king crab leg shells to work in a creamy, dreamy bisque

Put Alaskan king crab leg shells to work in a creamy, dreamy bisque

Nothing says indulgence like noshing on some seriously giant Alaskan king crab legs. They’re not just tasty, they’re a low-fat source of protein: One leg has about 25 grams of protein and a host of vitamins and minerals (including sodium, incidentall...
Published: 02/15/18
Avocado toast gets a persimmon twist

Avocado toast gets a persimmon twist

You’ve likely seen persimmon in the grocery store and then shied away from it, not quite sure what to do with it. The most common variety in the United States is the fuyu persimmon, also called Japanese persimmon, and it looks similar to a slightly f...
Published: 02/15/18