After years of pining for a venue of their own, a community theater group renovates a building space only to get shut down on opening night by the fire marshal.
No, it's not a Mel Brooks comedy — it was the not-so-funny reality of the West Coast Players, after city inspectors nixed their plans to open a new theater in August due to code violations.
But tonight they get a fresh start in their new, code-compliant digs with the presentation of Abie's Irish Rose.
It will be the first full-length show in the group's new theater.
Abie's Irish Rose, a romantic comedy by Anne Nichols, hit Broadway in 1922. It revolves around the tribulations of newlyweds — the Jewish Abie Levy and his bride, Rosemary Murphy, an Irish Catholic girl he met in France during the war. They both have controlling fathers who want them to marry someone from their own faith, which makes for some very funny family feuds.
"The audience will be splitting their sides with laughter," said Kimen Mitchell, secretary for the nonprofit theater troupe. "It's a great pick-me-up."
The same cast and crew presented the play to full houses over the past two weekends at the Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center.
Now they're eager to settle down in their new theater: a former office space at 21905 U.S. 19 N, inside an industrial park behind Clearwater Toyota.
"We're very happy to be back," said Jason Freeman, the nonprofit's treasurer. "We've hired a new contractor and got the necessary permits."
He said the 90-seat theater has a new fire exit hallway, and the electrical, plumbing and air conditioning systems have been updated.
It turns out the original contractor, operating without a license, failed to pull the proper permits. When city inspectors read a story about the new theater in the Times, they showed up hours before curtain time and closed the place down. Theatergoers were rerouted to the Francis Wilson Playhouse in Clearwater.
The financial burdens that followed — rent, construction costs, coupled with loss of revenue — nearly meant curtains for the 15-year-old community theater group.
But with the help of a new contractor, they received a certificate of occupancy Dec. 30, presenting a one-man comedy, The Santaland Diaries, at the first of the year.
They believe theater audiences will love their newly remodeled 90-seat venue, the result of a decade-long dream to find a home of their own.
"It's unlike any other in Pinellas County ," said the group's president, Alan Mohney. "It's a very intimate theatrical experience."
Got a Diversions idea for North Pinellas? Contact Terri Bryce Reeves at email@example.com.