NEW PORT RICHEY — Stories of transformation bookend the recently announced 2019-2020 Broadway lineup at the Richey Suncoast Theatre. It's an apropos turn, perhaps, as the historic playhouse undergoes a change in leadership. City leaders say they are eager to learn more about the new direction.
The Theatre’s season kicks off in September with a contemporary production of Carrie: The Musical, an adaptation of Stephen King's novel about a high school outcast with telekinetic powers who enacts horrific revenge on the bullies who torment her. It wraps up in May 2020 with Rogers and Hammerstein's musical, Cinderella, based on the fairy tale of a young girl forced into servitude by her wicked stepmother and stepsisters. Other selections in the Broadway series include Four weddings and an Elvis, Blithe Spirit and Honky Tonk Laundry.
It's a theatrical swan song of sorts for executive director Marie Skelton. As in years past, she selected plays for the Broadway and Black Box shows she introduced to the schedule a few years ago.
She is stepping down as head of the non-profit theater and plans to move to Las Vegas, where she said the climate is better suited to her health.
"It's bittersweet," said Skelton, who has been an integral part of Richey Suncoast for 22 years. She spent 15 of those years working alongside her late husband, Charlie, who died unexpectedly in 2012, leaving his own mark as executive director.
"I've had a lifetime full of wonderful memories with the theater, working with the kids, the adults, knowing my patrons and how they supported me through the roughest time of my life, when I lost Charlie," Skelton said. "Some people hate their jobs, but I loved my work, and that’s thanks to all the wonderful people in the community."
The couple has long been credited with saving the theater, financially and structurally.
The historic theater was built as movie house in 1925 and named for silent film star and part-time New Port Richey resident Thomas Meighan. It had a series of owners, and openings and closings, and had fallen into disrepair when the Skeltons arrived.
The roof was in such bad shape that patrons brought umbrellas to shield themselves during performances in case it rained, Skelton said. "We put in new air conditioning, a new heating system, new electrical, new lights, new curtains, new roof. You name it, we did it."
"If they didn't bail out the theater when they did, it wouldn't be here. It's really come a long way," said new board president, Susan Dillinger, a past director of the New Port Richey Public Library and a former interim city manager, who is learning the ropes as she goes.
Melissa Smith will serve as interim director. For three years, she has worked under the guidance of Skelton as box office manager, house manager and house choreographer.
"She has been almost like a mother to us," Smith said. "She's always been there for us, but we know this is something she needs to do for her health. We're here for her, and she's always telling us she's just a phone call away, and I won't hesitate to make that call."
Skelton has hired directors for the upcoming shows and will continue to serve as an advisor to the board, albeit long distance.
"I have a wonderful staff that has taken over this year and will continue in their positions and a fabulous board of directors who are supportive of the theater and want to ensure the theater’s success continues," Skelton said.
Some things will change, but some things will remain the same, according to Dillinger.
"We're still going to have the Black Box and Broadway series and plan to do some other things — summer camps and fundraisers," she said. Add to that the Big Band shows that have been a weekday staple for years.
Smith is particularly excited about bringing Carrie: The Musical to the local audience and was heartened by the number of young people who auditioned.
"It was great to see. That's what we wanted — to have these kids come out and that they all had a fair chance at a role," Smith said.
A highlight for the Black Box series will be Cabaret.
"Our audience will be sitting on stage at bar tables and will be part of the night club scene," Skelton said, adding that there will be a three-piece band on stage, as well. "The audience becomes part of the show. You don't have to interact, just sit there and watch the show."
Movies and more concerts are in store, courtesy of a new sponsorship Skelton recently secured with Humana Care Plus. She also has completed a contract with the Isaacs, a Grammy-nominated bluegrass and gospel group. They will perform in January of 2020.
Members of the New Port Richey City Council are eager to hear more about the direction of the theater, said Mayor Rob Marlowe, noting that "there is a feeling that the theater isn’t getting used as much as it could be."
City manager Debbie Manns will be sending out a formal invitation asking board members to meet, he said.
The city has set up similar meetings with organizers of Chasco Fiesta and Main Street New Port Richey, concerning their plans for future events, Marlowe said.
"We would love to have them come tell us about the exciting things they are planning and frankly see what we can be doing as a city to make all that happen," Marlowe said. "We want to get up to speed at what's involved, and if there is something the city needs to do to help facilitate it."
Whether and when that meeting happens "will be up to the entire board," Dillinger said. "We’re not in a place to have that meeting yet. We’re in a transition with Marie and our new sponsor. We’ve got too much to figure out."
"We’re glad the city is interested in the theater and wants to help," she added. "I've been posting on the theater FaceBook page to keep people informed, and that would be a place for them to look at."
Richey Suncoast Theatre Broadway Series 2019-2020.
Tickets are $70 for all shows.
Carrie: Sept. 5-8 and 13-15.
Four Weddings and an Elvis: Oct. 24-27 and Nov. 1-3
Blithe Spirit: Jan. 16-19 and 24-26.
Honky Tonk Laundry, March 5-8 and 13-15.
Cinderella, May 7-10 and 15-17.
Richey Suncoast Theatre Black Box Shows 2019-2020
Season tickets are $80 for all shows; $70.00 for Broadway season ticket holders.
Ordinary People: Nov. 8-10
Wits End: Jan. 31-Feb. 2.
Picasso at the Lapine Agile June 5-7
Cabaret: July 31-Aug. 2
For tickets, visit the box office at 6237 Grand Boulevard, New Port Richey, call (727) 842-6777 or email [email protected] Note: The box office will be open extra hours through May 31. Hours are 1-4 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, and 1-6 p.m. Friday. June through August, box office hours are from 1-6 p.m. each Friday.
Contact Michele Miller at [email protected] or (727) 869-6251. Follow @MicheleMiller52.