If you need a pick-me-up after the whirl of the holidays, a place to entertain lingering holiday visitors, or just a place to relax, three of the North Suncoast's full-time theaters are launching all-new shows this month — two timeless Broadway hits and a Ken Ludwig comedy set in the 1930s.
'Beauty and the Beast'
The Show Palace Dinner Theatre in Hudson kicks it off on Saturday with Disney's Beauty and the Beast, the French fairy tale turned into the Academy Award-nominated animated movie in 1991, reworked for Broadway in 1994 — it ran for 13 years — and a soon-to-be-released new movie, with a mix of live and animated characters (Emma Watson, Dan Stevens — Matthew on Downton Abbey — and Kevin Kline).
The Show Palace's 26-member cast is doing the Broadway version of a rich young prince (Vince Orabona, A-rab in West Side Story, and Matthew Frusher, Tony in West Side Story) placed under a spell by a beggar woman (Brittany Morgan, Judy in A Chorus Line) because of his rude, arrogant ways. She turns him into a hideous beast and his household staff into various household objects, gives him a rose and tells him that unless he can learn to love and to be worthy of someone else's love before the last petal falls from the rose, he is doomed to remain a beast for the rest of his days.
Ten years later, the beautiful, bookish Belle (Katie Mitchell) appears to be just the person who could rescue the prince, except that the preening town bully, Gaston (Michael Mathews, My Way), has already decided she should be his.
How it all works out spotlights many Show Palace veterans: Pete Clapsis (Doc in West Side Story) as Belle's eccentric father, Maurice; Matty Colonna (Paul in A Chorus Line) as Gaston's bumbling sidekick LeFou; Victoria Stinnett (Irene in Crazy for You) as the castle cook, Mrs. Potts; Kevin Korczynski (Joseph in Joseph/Dreamcoat) as the castle maitre d', Lumiere; Jay R. Goldberg (Uncle Fester in The Addams Family) as the castle's head of household, Cogsworth; Heather Baird (Anita in West Side Story) as Babette, the castle's flirtatious maid, and Nicole Catalan (Give Our Regards to Broadway) as Madam La Grande Bouche, an opera singer turned into a wardrobe.
Playwright/writer Linda Woolverton gives the old fairy tale some modern twists and sly political references. For example, the shallow Gaston appears unworthy of Belle's love because he wants her only for her outward appearance and not for her inner worth. Belle is forbidden to approach the Beast or even go close to his living quarters in the (wink-wink) West Wing. On the other hand, the script implies that the abusive, terrifying Beast can be transformed to a loving, caring man, if only he is loved enough, a theory decried by domestic abuse counselors.
Even so, the colorful show is filled with Alan Mencken's music and Howard Ashman and Tim Rice's lyrics, including the title tune. The director/choreographer is Jill Godfrey, who has done the same jobs for several Show Palace productions, including West Side Story, and performed in others. Pat Werner coordinates costumes from the Theater Company.
'Shakespeare in Hollywood'
Richey Suncoast Theatre in downtown New Port Richey begins the new year on Jan. 12 with the screwball comedy Shakespeare in Hollywood by Ken Ludwig, who also penned Leading Ladies, Moon Over Buffalo and the books for Crazy for You and An American in Paris.
Set in 1934 Hollywood, the heyday of movie glitz and glamor, it has two of Shakespeare's most beloved characters, the King of the Fairies, Oberon (Jason Hoolihan, Jack in Leading Ladies), and the prankster Puck (Ashlee Craft, Audrey in Leading Ladies), magically transported through time to a Warner Bros. set, where the famous director Max Reinhardt (Chris McGinnis, Man in Chair in The Drowsy Chaperone) is shooting the film version of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Max is desperate to find actors who can be convincing as Oberon and Puck, and the two time-travelers are immediately cast as, naturally, Oberon and Puck (Victor Jory played Oberon and Mickey Rooney played Puck in the real movie version). Impressed by Hollywood lights, they dive into the Hollywood scene, with the help of some pretty women, movie moguls, a busybody gossip columnist (Jessica Glass) and both nice and naughty actors.
Everyone is vexed by the bluenosed censor, Will Hays (Mark Lewis, Gerard in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), who keeps watchful eyes on any suggestion of sex talk in the movie or among the players. Can Oberon and Puck's magic fairy love dust help things along — or just make matters worse?
There are passing movie stars, such as James Cagney (Jeff Schoonmaker, Butch in Leading Ladies) and Joe E. Brown (Wayland England) and even big boss Jack Warner (Miguel E. Rodriguez, Leo in Leading Ladies) makes an appearance.
The play received mostly rave reviews from publications like the Wall Street Journal, which said it "will charm your socks off," and the Baltimore Sun called it "deliciously inventive … funny, literary and farcical, sophisticated and silly, political and fanciful, high-brow and low-brow."
'Fiddler on the Roof'
Has there ever been a Broadway musical as beloved as Fiddler on the Roof? It set a longevity record after its 1964 New York debut, lasting 15 years. It has been revived five times on Broadway, launched two touring companies, and has been done in regional and local theaters too many times to count. There's even a junior version for school kids.
It wasn't expected to be like that. At the time it was written, it broke all the rules of Broadway musicals, with its themes of persecution and poverty and a far-from-happy ending.
But last it did, and Stage West Community Playhouse in Spring Hill will launch its version on Jan. 12, followed by a two-weekend run.
The theater troupe did Fiddler back in the 1991-92 season, when shows had been performed in school auditoriums and other venues for 12 years, and just months before ground was broken for the current two-theater complex on Forest Oaks Boulevard. The show won four of five awards at the first HAMI Awards presentation.
Set in 1905 Russia, it is the story of the poor Jewish milk vendor Tevye (Dalton Benson, Lefcourt in The Butler Did It); his loving wife, Golde (Lynda Dilts-Benson, Annas in Jesus Christ Superstar), and their five daughters, all living in the impoverished village of Anatevka. Even though they are regularly harassed by Russian police and soldiers, they are determined to go on with their lives and their traditions.
That includes having Yenta, the Matchmaker (Chris Venable, Mother in Joseph/Dreamcoat) find suitable husbands for the daughters, which leads to conflicts, disappointments and rebellion as the daughters reject the men chosen for them and marry for love instead. The 38-member cast is one of the largest in the theater's history.
The music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick have become classics: the dramatic opening song Tradition, as well as Matchmaker, Matchmaker; If I Were a Rich Man; Sunrise, Sunset (a favorite for weddings), and the tender Do You Love Me?
Brady Lay (Father in Ragtime) is directing the show; Dixie Lay is making her Stage West debut as musical director, but has been musical director for Mame, Little Shop of Horrors and You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown at other theaters.