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Column: A great stand-in Matthew McGee performance won't happen

Drat.

All because Show Palace Dinner Theatre actor Susan Haldeman is going to be a nuptials no-show, we aren't going to get to see a once-in-a-lifetime performance.

It almost happened because the Show Palace's owners and staff realize that performers actually have lives outside of theater and can't always devote 10 or 12 solid weeks to being on the stage during rehearsal and performances of a show.

Go figure.

So when artistic director Matthew McGee signs someone to a role, there are sometimes caveats. For example, two actors playing major parts in the upcoming Thoroughly Modern Millie were perfect for their roles, but they both had previous obligations.

Joey Panek, who plays Millie's friend Jimmy, had promised to be at a wedding on April 11. McGee quickly scheduled understudy Jefferson Behan, a Show Palace veteran, for that night.

Even more difficult was working around the prior obligations of jazz artist Paulette Dozier, who is in great demand throughout Florida as a performer, recording artist, acting teacher and commercial model. McGee wanted her to play the key role of Muzzy, a rich and sophisticated chanteuse.

"She's glamorous, like Lena Horne or Pearl Bailey, and that's hard to find," McGee said. That meant understudy Sara DelBeato would have to step in for at least eight shows, and Rachel Brinker would have to step into Ms. DelBeato's really fun role as the cranky secretary Miss Flannery.

"Sara gave a good audition (for the Muzzy role), but Paulette was so darned good, I said I would love to have her 80 percent of the time than not at all," McGee said.

As it turns out, Ms. Dozier and her agent have rearranged her schedule, so she won't be out as much as she first thought.

"She's really loving it here," McGee said, which gives her an incentive to try to work it all out.

But what about that once-in-a-lifetime thing we're going to miss?

It seems that Ms. Haldeman was also scheduled to go to a wedding, which meant her role as the fake Chinese landlady, Mrs. Meers, would be wide open for one night. It's one of those over-the-top, too-much-fun-to-be-work roles that Ms. Haldeman can play to the skies — remember her side-splitting rendition of the harridan Domina in Funny/Forum?

"I was going to step in for her that night," McGee said. And those of us who saw him do the hilarious, cross-dressing reporter Mary Sunshine in Chicago and/or Bertha Bumiller, Aunt Pearl Burras, Inita Goodwin and Phoebe Burkhalter in Greater Tuna and A Tuna Christmas — to say nothing of the flamboyantly gay director Roger DeBris in The Producers — can only imagine what he would do in a one-night stand as a fake Chinese landlady in the white slave trade

Sorry, but that's what we'll have to do — imagine it.

Ms. Haldeman isn't going to a wedding after all.

Hey — maybe someone important in her life will decide to tie the knot soon, and we may get to see McGee as Mrs. Meers after all.

Volunteer, anyone?

Get into gear

Award-winning community theater play director Saul Leibner was all smiles when I talked with him last week about his cast for the upcoming Driving Miss Daisy at the Forum at Stage West (April 17-26).

The three-person show is a difficult one, both for actors and director. The subject is touchy — racism in the post-World War II South — and it must be handled with care lest it become condescending or offensive.

Leibner feels the Pulitzer Prize-winning play is in good hands with his three players.

Lorus Hawbecker will play Miss Daisy; Glenn Claytor will be her driver Hoke; and Leslie Richards will be Miss Daisy's protective son Boolie.

Theater-goers will remember Ms. Hawbecker as the stern, unforgiving grandmother in Richey Suncoast Theatre's excellent production of Lost in Yonkers last fall, which Leibner also directed. Her timing, body language and delivery were, well, simply awesome.

The tall, elegant Claytor, an attorney by profession, was impressive in his 2007 stage debut as an aspiring playwright in the comedy-drama 45 Seconds from Broadway at Stage West Community Playhouse. Even though his character, Solomon, was having to wait tables to survive, Claytor made Solomon's basic dignity shine through.

Richards was a natural for Boolie, Leibner said, not only because of his long list of acting credits — Young Man in Veronica's Room, Bill Sikes in Oliver, Miles Gloriosis in Funny/Forum, a knight in Camelot — but because he's from Georgia and already has a fine Georgia accent that he won't have to fake.

Column: A great stand-in Matthew McGee performance won't happen 02/20/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 20, 2009 8:19pm]
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