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Tampa Bay area stars shine on Broadway and beyond

If you went to see South Pacific at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts (formerly the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center) last week and thought that cute little baton twirler dressed up in red, white and blue and dancing en pointe looked familiar, then you must be a patron at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre.

The dancer was Kristie Kerwin, who played the title role in the Show Palace's version of Gypsy in 2003.

From where I was sitting, Kristie also looks a lot like her sister, Katie, who was resident choreographer and a frequent director and performer at the Show Palace before she moved to California with her growing family last year.

Regulars will remember Katie as Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun, Cassie in A Chorus Line, Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes and Molly Brown in The Unsinkable Molly Brown, among others, but my favorite was her portrayal of Velma in Chicago, a role she played with gusto (including cartwheels and high kicks) until impending motherhood forced her to stop. What a trouper.

Before Kristie landed the role of Ensign Yaeger and understudy for Nellie Forbush in the Lincoln Center Theatre production of South Pacific that came to Tampa, she appeared on Broadway in Monty Python's Spamalot and was in the world premiere of Irving Berlin's White Christmas stage production in San Francisco.

Another Show Palace alum in the big time is Quentin Earl Darrington, who starred as Coalhouse Walker Jr. in Broadway's revival of Ragtime at the Neil Simon Theatre, which opened last year and was named No. 5 in Time.com's "Top Ten Plays and Musicals" for 2009. It closed Jan. 10.

Darrington also starred in the Ragtime road show that came to Ruth Eckerd Hall in 2002, to rave reviews. But locals may know him best for his singing in the Show Palace's 1999 God Bless Irving and 2000 Red Hot Ragtime. He also starred at the Jaeb Theatre at the TBPAC in Hollywood Knights and Swing, Swing, Swing, among others.

For the cerebrum

Sometimes we get to thinking that rough and tumble politics are something new. Not so.

When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt pushed through his agenda in the 1930s and '40s, he got as much push-back as President Barack Obama is getting today — and things were just as contentious.

A pool of cool in the middle of all this was FDR's wife, Eleanor, whose cultured demeanor and warbling voice soothed many a fevered brow and feverish situation.

Historian/storyteller Susan Marie Frontczak (whose mom, Lenore, lives in New Port Richey, by the way) travels the United States, Canada and Europe recalling Mrs. Roosevelt and several other influential women through impersonation and dialogue, both in character and as a teacher.

She has developed a three-part series about Mrs. Roosevelt and will present the second part at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center.

I saw the first part in April, and it was mesmerizing. Frontczak was dressed as Mrs. Roosevelt, and she has mastered that first lady's unique vocal mannerisms so well that you'd think you were seeing the real thing. The first part of the presentation (it's much more than a "show") is as Mrs. Roosevelt, the next as Mrs. Roosevelt answering questions from the audience, and the last as historian Susan Frontczak answering questions about the character she has just portrayed.

"Susan Marie finds Eleanor Roosevelt's life almost too big to hold, and yet is convinced this first lady's story has a great deal to offer the world today," her press release says.

The first segment showed Mrs. Roosevelt's transition from private person to world figure in the 1930s. This one is set in 1942, just as she has returned from England, where she visited with soldiers, generals, working people and royalty.

I enthusiastically recommend this event to anyone with a genuine interest in history or politics, whether you're a Democrat, a Republican, an Independent, a Libertarian or a tea party member.

Trust me, it is worth the drive from wherever you are.

Tickets are $16 for nonmembers, $14 for members and $12 for students. Call (727) 942-5605.

Tampa Bay area stars shine on Broadway and beyond 01/22/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 22, 2010 8:45pm]
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