Richey Suncoast Theatre will hit another high mark when the theater's annual holiday show, Pasco Christmas Memories, opens on Nov. 28.
"We have 86 people in the cast, a new record," said Marie Skelton, the director, set and lighting designer, and costume maker for the show. The show has grown over the past eight years, from a small revue in 2000 to 65 players in 2007.
After Skelton and her husband, Charlie (Charlie writes, Marie directs), created the show, they decided that anyone who comes to audition would get a part. They especially like to have all members of a family in the show, believing it adds to the family-oriented feeling of the homespun production.
In fact, Charlie has been known to adjust the script to showcase an unexpected talent that walks through the door.
A bonus is that many of the newcomers have gone on to become community theater lead players — Caitlin Ramirez, Tate Quinones and Jeff Oles, for example.
This year's show introduces an altogether new plot and new characters (though there may be references to past characters tucked into some of the lines).
"It's based around Pasco County schools," Mrs. Skelton said. "The principal, Mark Sloop (Marc Yacht), has been injured and is out on sick leave. The assistant principal, Gloria Radcliff (Kristy Smithwick), takes over and decides to cut back" on expenses, hoping to impress the higher-ups in the system.
"The first cut she makes is the drama department," Mrs. Skelton explains. "She's a nasty person."
So nasty that she won't even let the kids on school property to rehearse the holiday show they put together themselves.
Her biggest supporters are four rough "mountain men," Hank Longshore (Chip Wichmanowski), John Jon (John Masterson), Jimmy Boy Allen (Micah Laird) and Jim Spech (Jim Laird).
With the help of a parent in real estate, the kids find a house in foreclosure (in Pasco? No way!) that they can use as a rehearsal spot. Their next challenge is to find a place to put on the show — and the surprise is where that spot is.
Writer Skelton enjoys putting local and/or topical references into his shows — home foreclosures, political jokes, homeowner association harridans, and developers who want to tear down recreation centers to build condos, for example.
Director Skelton likes to develop new talent as the show is done.
The audiences seem to enjoy the hometown flavor of the sometimes hokey show, as well as the big dance numbers, inventive costumes, holiday spirit and often imaginative choice of songs (Neil Diamond's Coming to America has been a favorite finale in previous productions).
The music director is Richey Suncoast veteran Stella Gaukhshteyn, backed up by percussionist/keyboardist Marvin Lovett.
A spotlight performer will be 4-year-old Kolya Kostopoulos, who will sing I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.
"The kids that age usually don't sing, but he is so focused and really knows what he is doing, he'll knock your socks off," Mrs. Skelton said.