Six months ago, it looked as though Deborah Louise Ortiz was taking a huge financial risk.
She had left her New York theatrical production company, Dangerous Curves, moved to New Port Richey to be closer to family, and launched a new venture, the Standing Ovation Dinner Theatre production company.
She was starting out with the audience-interactive show, The Godfather's Meshuggener Comedy Wedding, where patrons see the wild and wacky fake wedding of a Jewish boy to a lively Italian girl with a family straight out of The Sopranos, then become part of the show during the fake reception.
"I'm scared, I'm terrified, but all I can do is put on a good show," Ms. Ortiz said at the time.
By all indications, it has worked out better than she could have ever imagined. Since that April 10 launch at Spartan Manor in New Port Richey, Standing Ovation has done the show multiple times, in Tampa, Clearwater, St. Petersburg and its home base on Massachusetts Avenue.
"The show has really taken off," said Susan Nichols, who plays Angela, the Italian Bride, in Godfather. "We have been booked fairly steady for the last few months."
Two more Godfather shows are scheduled at Spartan Manor on Oct. 18 and Nov. 22, as well as at the other venues, and the troupe is launching a new show, Let's Kill the Boss: An Interactive Murder Mystery, at 7 p.m. on Nov. 6, also at Spartan Manor.
Many in the acting company are in both shows, though the cast for Let's Kill the Boss is somewhat smaller than for Godfather.
"Our cast is made of many Richey Suncoast (Theatre) veterans," Ms. Nichols said. At least five of them are Tommy award winners for their work at the theater.
Ms. Nichols and Anne Lakey, who plays Goldie, the Jewish mother of the groom, have both won four Tommys. Jim Poe, who plays the Godfather and other roles, has won three, including one as a cross-dressing husband in My Husband's Wild Desires Almost Drove Me Mad.
Keith Surplus, who plays Bernie, the groom, has won one Tommy and just wound up a successful stint in the title role of Li'l Abner at Richey Suncoast. Jesslyn Kostopoulos, who plays Annette Lunicello, the Italian Maid of Honor, won a Favorite Actress Tommy playing Dorothy in Wizard of Oz.
"The audience has been so receptive to the show and enjoys getting in on the party with all the singing and dancing," Ms. Nichols said of Godfather.
The upcoming new show, Let's Kill the Boss, has been performed in many major cities across the United States.
In it, the audience plays the roles of employees at the annual "Employee Appreciation Night" at Margate Manufacturing, where the much-hated boss, Anthony Margate, is murdered. Each employee has good reason to kill the boss, and it's up to the audience to figure out which one did.
"It's still a dinner show, but has a completely different and interesting dynamic in that it is more scripted but still full of humor and fun," Ms. Nichols said.