I'd better buy some good running shoes soon, because the 2013-14 seasons at local theaters are killer-dillers, what with new formats, new series and lots of overlapping shows.
Example: On the night of Jan. 16, the Show Palace Dinner Theatre will open the musical classic Guys and Dolls, Stage West Community Playhouse will open the fun and quirky Forbidden Broadway, and Richey Suncoast Theatre will start the comedy/farce There's a Burglar in My Bed.
That's not all. On Oct. 10 and March 13, both the Show Palace and Stage West will be opening shows the same night. And on May 8, there are openings at both Stage West and Richey Suncoast.
That's a lot of entertainment for area audiences, but one big headache for a critic who likes to cover opening nights and can't do three at one time.
The overlapping opening nights happen in large part because of a major scheduling change at the Show Palace. Instead of opening on a Friday night and continuing weekends, the Show Palace is switching to Thursday night openings, starting Aug. 15, and dropping Friday shows altogether. Shows will run Thursday and Saturday nights, Sunday matinees, plus other showings as needed. Why the switch?
For one, it's what the other two major theaters in Pasco and Hernando do. For another, after that first Friday opening night, subsequent Friday nights are the least attended at the Show Palace, according to co-owner Nick Sessa, though it's a mystery why. Besides, there are lots of requests for Thursday night shows from individuals and groups, who apparently want their weekends free but don't want to miss the shows.
The Show Palace is also cutting the run time of shows from six or eight weeks down to four or five weeks, with two to four weeks in between shows. The theater won't be dark by any means; the owners are scheduling one-time specials in those now-empty slots.
It seems that many patrons have been asking for more frequent changes and more variety, and this is a way to do it. One-night specials have gone over well at the Show Palace's sister venue up the road, the Palace Grand, but the Grand doesn't have the lighting and sound system that many performers need, and the Show Palace does.
Besides, having one big production on the Show Palace stage and one in the making causes an overlapping need for housing for actors, which can get expensive in a hurry. This way, one cast can wind up a show, move along, and make room for the new cast to occupy the Show Palace's cast quarters.
The Show Palace has already booked some of those show specials and is selling tickets now. So far, they're all on a Friday or Saturday night, and most of them are $25, plus tax and tip, with a cash bar and a light menu available at additional cost. Doors will open 90 minutes before the show for those who would like a drink and light fare. So far, the shows are:
• 1 and 8 p.m. June 22: Dame Edna impersonator Michael L. Walters (Max Bialystock in The Producers); $25.
• 8 p.m. June 28: A tribute to the late Johnny Cash by Keith Coleman, $25.
• 8 p.m. Aug. 3: Former Show Palace regular Candler Budd (Greater Tuna, Red, White and Tuna) comes down from New York City for one night of comedy improv, perhaps with a local friend or two, $20.
• 8 p.m. Sept. 27: Rocket Man, a tribute to Elton John in his early career (by an unnamed performer), with laser lights, flamboyant outfits and those biiiig glasses, $25.
• 8 p.m. Nov. 23: Doo Wop with a Twist, starring Joey Dee & the Starliters (Peppermint Twist); Tommy Mara and the Crests (Sixteen Candles); and Kenny Galenoa & the Saints, $25.
• 8 p.m. Jan. 10: Neil Diamond tribute by Keith Ally, $25.
This is all in addition to two new series at Richey Suncoast: monthly concerts by the 42nd Street Big Band and another series of Doo Wop shows, both October through May 2014 (watch the Times for details later).
And speaking of special shows...
I drove down to the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater last week to see former Show Palace artistic director Matthew McGee's one-man show, Matthew with a "Z." It's a mix of hilarious tales from McGee's childhood, celebrity impressions and songs made famous by who else but Liza herself. He was in top form, backed by a three-piece combo that included Stan Collins, another Show Palace alum.
It was a blizzardy (well, for Florida anyway) night — egad, those Big City canyons can funnel that cold wind right down your coat collar — but his faithful fans (many of us from Pasco and Hernando) were there, loving every minute of it.
Matt met everyone in the lobby after the show for photos and greetings. He's having a ball at his new gig, the Freefall Theatre, and he's already landed a good role in the upcoming American Stage summer show in the park, where he won rave reviews as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in last summer's Rocky Horror Show.
Even so, he says he misses all of us up here on the Nature Coast and hopes he will be back some day to do a show or two and see all the dear friends he made while he was here.
And we all want him back, too.