Three times in recent years, actors Matthew McGee and Candler Budd have drawn thousands of people to American Stage and the Show Palace Dinner Theatre, setting and breaking their own attendance records as they played two dozen of the offbeat denizens of the mythical town of Tuna, Texas.
First, it was A Tuna Christmas at American Stage; then it was the first in the series, Greater Tuna, at the Show Palace.
On June 18, the duo will open the third installment of the multicharacter show Red, White & Tuna at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre for a five-week run.
This one has Tuna's resident Little Theatre director Joe Bob Lipsey (McGee) coming back to town to direct the July Fourth extravaganza Red, White and Fabulous, while the town's leading ladies vie for the title of Reunion Queen.
"We love these characters," said McGee, who plays a baker's dozen of Tuna's most intriguing residents. And McGee is delighted that his co-star, Budd, has flown down from New York to do the other half of the show.
"And I'm just happy to be here," Budd said during a recent day of rehearsal in the theater, where he has wowed audiences in various roles since his Show Palace debut in June 2000, when he played the pompous Mayor Shinn in The Music Man.
This installment of Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard's series about the third smallest town in Texas brings back many characters introduced in the first two — all of them played by McGee and Budd, thanks to 40 rapid costume changes — and answers many of the questions left open in the previous plays.
Did the town matriarch Bertha Bumiller (McGee) ever marry her true love, radio announcer Arles Struvie (Budd)? Did used-ammo shop owner Didi Snavely (Budd) ever retrieve her husband R.R. (McGee) from the outer space aliens that abducted him?
Did Bertha's sinister, delinquent son Stanley (Budd) turn honest, or did he wind up in the pen? What about her daughter, the aspiring cheerleader Charlene (Budd)?
And was the mild-mannered Petey Fisk (Budd) able to rescue all the helpless little animals he loves so much?
What about Reunion Queen?
Will it be one of the two hormonally charged Tastee Kreme waitresses, Inita Goodwin (McGee) or Helen Bedd (Budd)? Perhaps it will be Tuna's richest citizen, Vera Carp (Budd), whose Prayer Posse has been busy rewriting the Baptist hymnal to take out the "suggestive" words like "virgin," which they believe has no business in a religious book.
Will the Smut Snatchers and Prayer Posse close down the festivities, because Joe Bob's play mentions the wicked word "champagne" in a dry county?
“Red, White & Tuna gives audiences a chance to watch two comic actors at their very best," said Nick Sessa, theater co-owner and co-producer of the play.
The director is Susan Haldeman, the Show Palace's resident stage manager and frequent performer (Vera Charles in Mame; Nancy in Oliver; Yente in Fiddler on the Roof).