For a dozen years, Richey Suncoast Theatre's annual holiday show has been the sweet and quirky creation of the late Charlie Skelton, guided to fruition by the love of his life, wife Marie Skelton.
The one constant: Anyone who tried out for the show got a part.
This often meant more than 100 men, women and children crowding the stage and spilling into motor homes parked by the back door as auxiliary dressing rooms. It also launched the stage lives of scores of people and at least one successful political career, that of County Commissioner Jack Mariano, who accompanied his daughter, Amber, to tryouts, was persuaded to join the cast and discovered center stage wasn't such a bad place after all.
Charlie Skelton usually wrote the show during the Skeltons' annual summer sojourn in Las Vegas, but he died unexpectedly on July 4 before he had a chance to get the 2012 show down on paper, which he usually did in August before returning home.
But the show will go on.
Only it will be different from the ones that showcased Skelton's most memorable characters, including the irascible Mrs. Artiluke (Jeanne Botz), the hilarious head of the Citizens Against Virtually Everything (CAVE-dwellers) homeowners association; the evil Mrs. Zornnikki (Diana Forgione), who tried to get custody of the five Foley sisters when she thought they might win the Talent America contest; Mad Marc Scientist (Marc Yacht), who made toys that kids hated; or Al Feeney, the guitar-playing Willie Nelson lookalike played by Chip Wichmanowski, who was until his recent retirement the head of the Pasco Education Foundation.
"We're not having a story this year," said Mrs. Skelton. "We're doing it as a variety/talent show. We have some great voices and a lot of really talented people."
As always, Mrs. Skelton will direct the 55 people in this year's cast, aided by choreographers Mallory Rieger (Iris in Fame) and Allison Iskowitz (Fiona in The Sensuous Senator). Musical director is Steven Schildbach, who has done the same for several productions at Stage West Community Playhouse in Spring Hill (Oliver! Thoroughly Modern Millie Jr., and played in orchestras at Stage West and Richey Suncoast and for Hernando Symphony Orchestra, among other things.
"Steven is just unbelievable," Mrs. Skelton said. "He can do anything musically — anything."
The show will feature song and dance numbers by five 5- and 6-year-olds; eight 7- to 10-year-olds; eleven 11-year-olds; 20 teens; and a baker's dozen adult singer-dancers that include Richey Suncoast stalwarts Jesslyn Kostopoulos (title role in Sweet Charity), Molly Laird (title role in Unsinkable Molly Brown), Jeffrey Oles (Ren in Footloose), Gloria Searle (Follies, Rain) and many others.
"We'll go back to the story, song and dance format next Christmas, but this is going to be a really wonderful show, too," Mrs. Skelton said.