My mom is going to be 95 years old on Sunday (happy birthday, mom), but come July 5 she hopes to be the first one to buy tickets for the Show Palace Dinner Theatre's 2011-12 season, even if it's more than a year away.
And, trust me, she'll be front and center for every show — and the ones following those.
I'll be right there with her. Seven of the eight shows in the series are making their Show Palace debuts, and of those seven, three are new to this area's theater scene while the other four are familiar favorites.
The one returning show is Paul Kelly's tribute to the era of jazz, Swing! The all-music, all-dance show played on Broadway from 1999-2001 and was hugely popular when it played the Show Palace in April and May of 2004. By the time it opens on April 27, 2012, eight years will have passed since its first time around, so it should appeal to longtime audiences as well as new patrons, especially those who love the music of Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Benny Goodman and dances like the jitterbug and Lindy Hop.
Two of the three new shows are Show Palace originals: Jackpot, an All-New Las Vegas Review and the perennial favorite, A Show Palace Christmas, which keeps the same name, but always has a new season-appropriate story and songs.
The lead writer on both of these will be the Show Palace's Matthew McGee, who is co-starring in the current show, Red, White & Tuna.
Incidentally, the last time the Show Palace did a show with a Vegas theme was Viva Vegas! in 2006, and it was a huge hit.
The third new-to-us show is Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, a romantic musical comedy featuring the songs of Neil Sedaka. It played to raving audiences in Branson, Mo., a couple of years back and is reportedly filling up regional theaters across the United States.
In the "I wonder why they haven't done these before" category are the adorable musical Little Shop of Horrors and the comedy-drama Steel Magnolias. Both shows are audience favorites, and though they've been done by nearly every theater around here, they're both likely to draw sizable crowds because they're both so darned appealing.
I was recently chatting with Richey Suncoast Theatre's Charlie Skelton, who mentioned how popular Magnolias was when it played at RST in early 2008.
The theater's sizable number of season-ticket holders provided a good base audience, but Skelton was surprised to see how many first-timers and walk-ins came to the show. "It has a cult following," he said, a mainly female crowd that "came in droves."
Some of them said they had seen the show 20 times, and will continue to go see it every time it opens at a new venue with a new cast, he said.
Indeed, Magnolias is a show that is different every time you see it, with each director and actor putting a unique spin on the characters. It's playing during the Show Palace's most difficult time slot — Aug. 26-Sept. 25, 2011, when school is resuming and the snowbirds haven't come to town yet — but since it's playing for only five weeks, it will likely feature pretty full houses.
The most exciting offering of that year is the super-fantastic Hairspray, the musical that sounds innocuous but actually carries a strong and beautiful message. I've watched the 2007 remake of the 1988 John Waters movie at least a dozen times (I adore John Travolta in big fat drag playing Edna Turnblad and Christopher Walken as "her" adoring hubby, Wilbur) and will watch it again any time it's playing.
Writer McGee confirmed that Pasco County's own Sara Del Beato is coming back to play the central character, Tracy Turnblad, the pleasantly plump teenager whose life goal is to dance on the 1960s Corny Collins (television) Show and racially integrate the show.
Sara was a finalist in auditions for a Tracy replacement in the Broadway production and the Broadway touring company. Local audiences will remember her from many Show Palace performances, as well as her HAMI-winning role as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl at Stage West Community Playhouse.
Rounding out the season is the movie-to-musical Meet Me in St. Louis, a show with a rather thin plot best remembered for Judy Garland's Trolley Song. The show won the most votes in an audience preference poll. Go figure.
Tickets for current season-ticket holders will be on sale from 9 a.m. July 5 to 5 p.m. July 19. Starting at 9 a.m. July 20, tickets will be available for people who want to buy new season tickets and tickets for individual shows.
You can get three shows for $126; four shows for $168; or all eight shows for $336, all plus tax and handling fee. Individual shows are $48, plus tax and handling. Call (727) 863-7949 or toll-free 1-888-655-7469, or at the box office.