When Rocco Morabito heard Christina Capehart's rendition of Everything's Coming Up Roses, he shivered.
He knew he had found his Momma Rose.
"If someone gives me chills and makes my hair stand up on the back of my neck, I go with them,'' he said.
This weekend marks the opening of Eight O'Clock Theatre's production of Gypsy, which is based on the 1957 memoirs of famed striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee. The musical focuses on her mother, an overbearing stage mom.
Morabito, the director of the show, selected Capehart to play Momma Rose. He concedes that at 24, Capehart is young for the part, which was originally performed on Broadway by Ethel Merman.
"But we all just had our mouths open at the end of Christina's audition,'' he said. "When she gets on the stage, age doesn't matter at all."
Twenty-eight performers are included in the production. Along with Capehart, the other leads include Lauren Clark as Louise, Leah Radel as June and Gary Smith as Herbie.
The show includes the much-loved standards Small World, You'll Never Get Away from Me, Let Me Entertain You and Everything's Coming Up Roses.
For Eight O'Clock Theatre, Gypsy is the fifth musical that brings together the team of Morabito, as director, and Ronnie DeMarco, as choreographer.
DeMarco, whose experience includes working with the Broadway Theatre Project, received the Best Choreographer award at the 2009 Lary Awards for community theaters for his work in Eight O'Clock's Guys and Dolls.
Morabito gained his stage experience working in his native Manhattan with such performers as Chita Rivera and Liza Minnelli. He now resides in Safety Harbor, where he owns the Rocco Paul Morabito Hair Salon.
And who is charged with making up Capehart into a middle-aged mother?
"Who do you think? I am,'' said Morabito. "It won't be easy because that face of hers is so incredibly youthful. But you know, anything you love is not easy, and doing this, we love to do.''