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Performers grow at Richey Suncoast, Stage West Community theaters

If you've ever driven into Yellowstone National Park through the southern entrance (the one going north out of Grand Teton), you know it winds along the edge of a precipice that looks down into a chasm to a river far below.

It's scary enough for the driver, but for a outside-lane passenger (me) who is terrified of heights (me, too), it's a chilling experience.

So when my son called me Thursday evening and said he was driving along that very road on his way from Jackson, Wyo., to Bozeman, Mont., my head swam in fear.

"Be careful, son, that's a dangerous road," I told him before pleading with him to let me know when he made it safely to Bozeman.

"What are you talking about?" he asked. "You're going to be driving on U.S. 19 tonight, and that's a thousand times more dangerous than where I am."

Indeed, I was on my way to Richey Suncoast Theatre to see the musical Hello, Dolly! which took me on U.S. 19 going and coming.

It's a familiar route, one I've taken since April 1991, the first time I saw a show at that theater: I Never Sang for My Father.

I've been heading north on U.S. 19 for Stage West Community Playhouse productions since mid 1993's The Most Happy Fella, which was done in Central High School's auditorium, some time before the theater built its current home on Forest Oaks Boulevard.

I've seen shows good and not-so-good at both venues, but one thing I've always enjoyed was watching young performers grow up right before my eyes.

Many at Richey started out in the Christmas show, when everyone who shows up for auditions gets a part, and end up as leads, like Caitlin Ramirez, who toiled in the chorus for years before she landed the lead female role of Serena in 2008's Fame - A Musical.

Several at Stage West started out in the children's theater and did the same. Take Jeffrey Germann, who was only 8 years old in 1995 when he played a small role in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, then went on to big roles on the Main Stage as the punk Leslie in It Runs in the Family in 2006 and nearly stole the show as the cross-dressing Babberly in 2007's Charley's Aunt.

It's been seven years since I saw Keith Surplus play Angie the Ox in Mitchell High School's Guys and Dolls, but even then, he seemed to have something special: a look, a way of handling himself on stage, something intangible.

He made an inauspicious debut at Richey Suncoast in the role of Lun Tha in Richey Suncoast's The King and I in 2003, but he was terrific as the goose Graylag in 2005's Honk! and was wonderful as the jittery Butler in that same year's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

He was perfect as Motel the tailor in the Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center's Fiddler on the Roof in 2006 and was a standout as the lovestruck Oscar in Sweet Charity last season and Sam the barfly in Crazy for You in February.

But his best role yet is the one he's doing now at Richey Suncoast, store clerk Cornelius Hackl in Hello, Dolly.

It's a meaty role, with comedy, drama and dancing, plus two good solos, including the touching It Only Takes a Moment.

Surplus has toyed with the idea of pursuing a career in the theater. Perhaps he'll follow in the footsteps of another RST/Stage West alum, Justin Sargent. He's singing in It Was a Very Good Year at the Orlando Cabaret Festival through Sunday and has followed an acting career since he did his last show at Stage West in 2002 and while he was studying theater at the University of Central Florida.

Sweat and tears, but no blood … not yet

I can really say that I have put my very own sweat and tears into my lawn — but no blood as of yet.

The tears come when my allergies kick in while I'm pulling weeds, planting flowers or transplanting bushes (I think of it as cheap, legal water).

The sweat comes when I dump my bathwater on the driest spots.

For a couple of weeks, I've been placing a big green plastic bucket in the bottom of my shower, where I catch the warmup and runoff water to pour over my thirsty plants.

My irises are blooming so profusely that I'm beginning to wonder if they're cousins to the infamous Audrey II of Little Shop of Horrors fame.

Audrey II is the monstrous plant that can grow only by drinking the blood of flower shop owner Seymour Krelbourn and his unwilling victims.

The first time one of those innocent looking flowers whispers, "Feeeeeed me," as the increasingly ravenous Audrey II does, I'll know I'm done for.

Performers grow at Richey Suncoast, Stage West Community theaters 05/15/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 15, 2009 6:34pm]
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