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To fill houses, Stage West Community Playhouse trims schedule

If you're planning to go see Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat or any of the other shows on the main stage at Stage West Community Playhouse, you'd better hurry and get your tickets.

Stage West's board has decided to cut off the third weekend of each show, which means there will be only seven showings, instead of the usual 10, and only two weekends instead of three, as has been the practice for as long as I can remember.

The theater leaders decided they'd rather have seven full or nearly full houses than 10 half full, according to board president Barbara Everest. Besides, eliminating three shows cuts the costly royalty fees by almost one-third.

To be sure, I've been to many an opening night where fewer than half the seats were filled. Some people were waiting to see what others thought of the show before they bought a ticket; others wanted to give the cast and crew a couple of weeks to straighten out production problems before they plunked down their money.

Stage West had already lowered the ticket price from $18 to $15 in response to the sour economy. And the theater is offering eight shows for $80: five in the Main Stage, three in the Forum.

Even so, as with every other theater I asked, season ticket sales haven't come up to the level of the good old days — what has? — even though expenses keep going and going and going.

I suspect that sales were also hurt by a few real stinkers in the last couple of seasons' lineups: the murder mystery Ax of Murder felt flimsy and thrown-together; the 2008 season closer, Epic Proportions, was lame to start with and made worse with some locally added padding. The 2009 season closer, the creepy Everything in the Garden, was intriguing and extremely well-acted, but not exactly the kind of show that sends the audience streaming into the lobby to buy tickets for the next season.

Of course, there were many stellar moments — the musicals 1776 and Anything Goes come to mind — but patrons want their nickel's worth every time, not just once in a while.

The shows in the smaller Forum theater have often stolen the Stage West thunder, packing them in for the spooky Veronica's Room and hilarious The Foreigner, and showing what community theater can do and patrons can respect if challenged, as with the dramas Shadowbox, Death of a Salesman and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

The new season seems to have gotten off to a good start. Opening night for Joseph/Dreamcoat was about 75 percent full, though the number of bouquets in the audience signaled that at least some were there to see friends or relatives in the huge cast and not just casual patrons.

Interestingly, Richey Suncoast Theatre reportedly is having a banner year for season ticket sales, with many coming from the Spring Hill area. A few people I've talked with from there tell me they're driving south for shows because they've already seen the shows in Stage West's lineup and want to see something new.

Stage West is celebrating its 30th anniversary by repeating seven of its favorite shows from years past, with only one newbie in the Forum, and longtime patrons have indeed seen most of them.

Of the six shows in the Richey Suncoast lineup, only one — The Unsinkable Molly Brown — has been produced in this area in recent years, and that was at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre two years ago.

The other five are new to us: the musicals Applause; No, No, Nanette and A Pasco Christmas; and the comedy-farces Caught in the Net and Sin, Sex and the CIA.

Caught in the Net is the continuation/sequel to British playwright Ray Cooney's superpopular Run for Your Wife, which has been done at the Show Palace, Stage West and Richey Suncoast (twice) and is a huge draw for people who liked the first show.

For the record — and your datebooks — Stage West's new dates are Joseph/Dreamcoat tonight, Sunday and Sept. 17-19; the classic comedy Arsenic and Old Lace, Nov. 4-7 and 12-14; the big, powerful musical Man of La Mancha, Jan. 6-9 and 14-16; the comedy-drama One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, March 10-13 and 18-20; and the warm musical comedy Funny Girl, May 5-8 and 13-15.

Shows are at 8 p.m., except Sundays at 2 p.m. Call (352) 683-5113 for tickets.

To fill houses, Stage West Community Playhouse trims schedule 09/10/10 [Last modified: Friday, September 10, 2010 7:24pm]
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