If you see a little bonfire and hear some happy shouting in the vicinity of Richey Suncoast Theatre, worry not. It's just the board of directors burning the mortgage on the theater — two years before it's even due.
The $100,000 commercial business loan was taken out in 2008 to add to the $200,000 already in the till to do the complete renovation of the inside of the theater's auditorium, said board member Marie Skelton. That was the next-to-last major renovation planned by the board and its then-leader, the late Charlie Skelton. The loan allowed the theater leaders to tear out everything, right down to the brick exterior walls, and put in new acoustic walls, fire suppression sprinklers, carpets, art deco auditorium lights, theatrical lights, an overhead catwalk for more lights, theater seats and a long list of other enhancements.
That project continued a total makeover of the theater that had started in 1997 and continued in earnest shortly after Charlie became board president in 1999, with the addition of the huge crystal chandelier in the lobby (2000), covering the peeling green-painted dome on the roof in a gold-leaf-like substance (2002), a complete exterior paint job and addition of sub-balconies (2004), followed by a new air conditioning/heating system, new doors, update of restrooms, exterior art deco signs, neon box office and concession stand lights, exterior marquees, total re-doing of the backstage area, addition of state-of-the-art sound boards and a beautiful, smokey-blue main curtain topped by the RST logo — and the list goes on and on.
At Charlie's suggestion, the board had voted to pay off the loan in August, but his untimely death in July while on vacation in Las Vegas postponed things until December, when the loan was paid off. Now all the paperwork is signed and filed, and Richey Suncoast Theatre is debt-free — and so gorgeous that the internationally renown Black Maria Film + Video Festival makes it one of its annual stops on its way around the world.
"Charlie's got a big smile on his face," his widow said of the paid-off debt. And well he should; it was in great part his and Marie's work that paid off the old debt the theater faced when he took over and built up the funds to do all the renovations.
Even so, the board and theater backers aren't finished yet, as there's one more project that was Charlie's heart's desire: a new marble floor in the lobby with the RST logo right in the middle of it. At present, that floor is the one laid back in the 1930s when it was the outdoor approach to the theater and shops on either side that now house the ticket office and two lounges.
"Our next project will be the lobby this summer," Ms. Skelton confirmed. They hope to pay for it with the Charlie Skelton Memorial Fund started shortly after his death. They have a respectable amount in that fund, but need more to do the entire project.
"We are still accepting donations," Ms. Skelton said. Mail to Charlie Skelton Memorial Fund, c/o Richey Suncoast Theatre, 6237 Grand Blvd., New Port Richey 34652.
That would give the theater's own Angel Charlie still another big smile.
Those who are diehard fans of Matthew McGee — and, believe me, they are legion — will be happy to know he's doing a one-man comedy show at the beautifully restored Capitol Theatre in downtown Clearwater at 7:30 p.m. on March 2.
McGee is the former artistic director, writer, actor, singer, dancer at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre and current Outreach Director and actor at the prestigious freeFall Theatre in St. Petersburg.
I went down on Saturday to see him in freeFall's current comedy/drama, An Empty Plate, at the Cafe du Grand Boeuf, where he plays the pompous Headwaiter Claude, and he was, as always, super terrific.
We spoke briefly after the show, and, sure 'nuff, he misses all of us up here in Hudsonland, though he is really loving his new gig and all the offers he's getting from theaters from Florida to Minnesota and places in between.
Matt is too modest to brag, but I noted in the program that he has won the Jeff Norton Award for "Best Leading Actor in a Musical" for his role as Dr. Frank 'n' Furter in The Rocky Horror Show at American Stage in the Park; was nominated for the Broadway World Florida Award for actor in a musical as Pluto/Shaw in freeFall's The Frogs; and was Creative Loafing's Critic's Choice as "Most Joyous Comic Presence" in its annual Best of the Bay issue, among many other accolades.
Getting his own one-man show at the 655-seat Capitol is quite a coup. His show is scheduled in a season that includes the likes of Travis Tritt, Helen Reddy and Judy Collins, among other big names. Tickets are $35 and $25, available at Ruth Eckerd Hall, which joined with the city of Clearwater to completely re-do the 92-year-old Capitol Theatre (it was Royalty Theatre from 1982 to 2008 and, before that, a movie house and vaudeville theater). It looks very much like those lovely theaters in London — large enough for a good show, small enough to be intimate.
You can also order tickets online at rutheckerdhall.com/tickets/matthew-with-a-z/12154 or call (727) 791-7400.