When Michael and Beverly Mercer invited me to watch them prepare for their upcoming stage show, the rehearsal location immediately told me they weren't putting together an elaborate box office smash.
There's Broadway, off Broadway and then there's off Bell Shoals.
The Mercers gathered their cast of young talents to rehearse in their living room. The set was being built in the garage.
This, of course, is what community theater is all about. The Mercers are co-founders of the Frenzie, an upstart theater company in Valrico that debuts Edges, its inaugural production, on Wednesday at the Barn Theater at Winthrop.
I quickly realized I shouldn't let the unconventional setting deceive me. What they lacked in big-time Broadway production elements, they more than made up for with strong singing voices, quality compositions and unyielding attention to detail.
Michael, a former Bloomingdale High drama teacher, proved meticulous in assessing each singer's note.
"That needs to be full, not thin," he explained. "Make that high instead of low."
Michael even paused to correct drummer A.J. Hall's rhythmic beats on a specific measure.
The scene took me back to my brief high school thespian career (brief being the operative word). I easily recalled that during such tedious rehearsals, the goal could quickly go from perfection to completion.
Can we get this over with?
Yet the smiles never left the faces of the musicians (Hall and bass player Clara Amaral) or the cast members: Pedro Amaral (Clara's brother), Doug Buffaloe, Sarah Mitchel and Ashley Squires. They invited feedback, accepted Michael's challenges and never bristled at the critiques.
Dare I say, they were having fun. And although they work day jobs, the Mercers were more than able to match their energy level.
"I think we don't want to let each other down," Mitchel said. "We've built such a family here and no one wants to be the one to bring us down. We all have to work extra hard."
The affection cast members share for each other and the Mercers quickly became evident. Michael and Beverly have been connected to the theater since meeting in the speech and drama department at Samford University 30 years ago. Having their own theater company ranks just below winning the lottery, but it's as much about sharing their passion as it is about fulfilling a dream.
"I was looking at them the other night and I just kind of got teary because these kids have come to our house every night to rehearse the show," Beverly explained. "We've bonded and they've bonded and they've each grown separately. You can just see how different they were two months ago. Soon, they're not going to be here every single night."
The mix of talent and content is intriguing. Mitchel, a Durant High senior, and Squires, a Bloomingdale High senior, juggle this production with plays at their respective schools. Buffaloe and Pedro Amaral are just a couple years removed from local high schools.
Yet Edges is no teeny-bopper, traditional musical. It's a "song revue" posing classic coming-of-age questions that young adults tackle today. At times, the lyrics are frank, direct and, yes, edgy.
This is just what the Mercers sought, however, in creating the Frenzie Life Theatre. They want to do shows that push the envelope, and they believe the Brandon area is ready.
"I think if we can create some excitement, the interest is here," Michael said, noting that many of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center's Broadway patrons come from this area. "Brandon is getting bigger, and I really think the talent is here.
The kids possess enough talent and maturity to not only handle the content, but to embrace and celebrate it. They describe Edges as the most challenging production of their young careers. But because it reflects their own outlooks, they're enthused.
"They describe the show as being the voice of our generation," Buffaloe said. "I think it is. It's our generation, our struggle. It's what people our age think about.
"There's at least one song that everyone can identify with."
More than anything, the Mercers are breeding confidence in these aspiring actors. No matter where they end up, they will walk off the stage with far more self-esteem. They'll be blessed with a gift only the theater can give, and the community will be blessed with a production that has as much heart as anything Broadway offers.
The show's closing number, Coasting, deals with people living a pretentious life and just going through the motions. The Mercers and their spirited cast are doing anything but coasting.
That's all I'm saying.