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Playgoers keep coming back to old favorite reruns

Patrons at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre may think they're in a time warp this spring and summer, or, as Yogi Berra would say, "It's like deja vu all over again."

Starting April 18, the Show Palace will launch a series of three shows that they've done in previous years, two of them twice: Sugar Babies (1998, 2005), Forever Plaid (1999, 2001) and Smokey Joe's Cafe (2002).

Repeats are not unusual in theater; Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center has brought back many: Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables and the upcoming Lion King, for example. People flock back to see those beloved shows, along with first-timers who have heard repeaters praise them and want to see for themselves.

You can bet when Jersey Boys comes back, I'll be camped out early to get my tickets. What a wonderful show.

The Show Palace repeats look like smart moves. Sugar Babies more than doubled its 1998 attendance at the 2005 show. Forever Plaid showed a more modest increase, but its midsummer time slot probably had more to do with that than customer interest.

With one exception, other repeats have shown impressive increases: Fiddler on the Roof, La Cage aux Folles and Fabulous '50s and '60s Revue, for example.

Hurricane Wilma and ongoing recovery from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita dampened attendance for the second Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, but not even three hurricanes — Frances, Ivan and Jeanne — could keep the crowds away from Fabulous in 2004, which is a big reason a new and expanded version was launched just two years later and the crowds shot up 70 percent.

The upcoming three — Sugar Babies, Plaid and Smokey Joe — are all musical revues that are light, fun and easy to enjoy over and over. Already, ticket sales are brisk, and excitement is running high, both in the cast and among patrons.

Theater world loses
a veteran showman

I'm sad to report, though, that the repeat of Sugar Babies was not altogether intentional. The original idea was to do Big, Bawdy Burlesque, a tribute to vaudeville and burly-que to be created especially for the Show Palace by the multitalented Joe Camper and Matthew McGee.

Camper created and directed the increasingly popular Fabulous '50s and '60s Revue, was director and choreographer of Red Hot & Cole, director of Show Boat, and composer of three songs for the Show Palace Christmas Show in 2006.

All that and a good actor-singer, too. Remember the side-stepping Governor in Whorehouse? The funny curtain speeches before many shows? That was Camper. It was also Camper who waited on tables between acts and became friends with many Show Palace regulars.

Everyone was looking forward to seeing what Camper would do with the Big, Bawdy Burlesque music.

Then, a few months ago, the Show Palace bunch began to notice Camper's energy flagging. Before long, he stopped toting trays and coming to work. To take off the pressure and to protect Camper's privacy, artistic director McGee and Show Palace co-owners Nick and Sal Sessa dropped Big, Bawdy and obtained the rights to Sugar Babies.

Early this week, Camper was admitted to a Hospice home, and it became known that he was suffering from pancreatic cancer. On Wednesday, he died, still in his early 50s.

Joe was a prodigious talent, who had directed and choreographed shows for cruise ships and the famed General Jackson Showboat in Nashville. He had been a featured soloist on The Mike Douglas Show, danced with Gene Kelly and Ben Vareen and appeared with Al Lewis, Bert Parks, Crystal Gayle, Barbara Mandrell and Roy Rogers. Before coming to the Show Palace, he wrote and produced more than 40 original musical revues for the Musicana Dinner Theatre in Clearwater.

I know that those who have gotten to know Joe over the years join me in sending condolences to his family and to his dearest friend, Gary Wyatt.

Playgoers keep coming back to old favorite reruns 03/28/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 2, 2008 12:47pm]
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