For more than a decade, the late Charlie Skelton used his summer vacation time in Las Vegas to write quirky, lovable Christmas shows for Richey Suncoast Theatre. He invented zany characters (and names) and familiar local situations - the CAVE group (Citizens Against Virtually Everything), for example, a thinly disguised depiction of a homeowners' association with an imperious board led by the bossy Mrs. Artiluke guarding against the slightest infraction of the rules.
The CAVE dwellers always got a big laugh, along with good-natured boos and hisses.
Charlie and wife Marie are largely credited with saving the theater from economic collapse after a spate of ineffective leadership in the early and mid '90s. He managed the remodeling of the entire theater, attracted and encouraged new patrons, actors, and workers, started new programs that enhanced the local entertainment scene, paid off the debts, and fattened the coffers of the theater, even as he tirelessly worked to bolster several other nonprofit organizations throughout the county.
So it was severe blow to the theater and the community when he unexpectedly died of Legionnaires' Disease at age 66 during his 2012 Las Vegas trip. Young people whose professional careers he had helped launch, adults whose lives had been changed through his encouragement, and hundreds of friends and admirers expressed their sadness and dismay over his death. And many vowed to keep his memory alive through their dedication to his projects, especially the theater, and to support his equally hard-working wife, Marie.
The story of how it all happened, what is happening now, and what everyone hopes will happen in the future is the topic of playwright/director Kathryn Tilley's musical/drama Remembrance: A Pasco Christmas 2013. Ms. Tilley has performed in several Richey Suncoast shows, including Joanne in Company and her Charlie Award-winning performance in the title role in Mame.
"The show is about the late Charlie Skeleton (played by Keith Surplus) and his wife Marie (played by Megan Gillespie the first weekend and by Ms. Tilley the second)," Ms. Tilley said. The show starts in the present, with Charlie gone, but still present in spirit. "He comes back as a ghost to show Marie that she is not alone, that she has so much family still here in the theater community they built together."
Characters and scenes from past Christmas shows that Charlie wrote are part of the "past" section of the show, and his insistence that everyone who wants to be in the show should be included is respected in the "present" and "future" sections. That means a large cast, lots of songs and dances, and those unexpected moments that always popped up in his productions will be in this show, too.
"It was a difficult show to write, but I think I had some heavenly inspiration working for me," Ms. Tilley said. "The show definitely has some sad and tender moments, but there is a happy ending."
Patrons can expect to see some of their favorite characters from past shows — Carl Brown playing Carl the Marvel, Jeanne Botz as Mrs. Artiluke, Cate Huyck as the spoiled Erika Artiluke, Ally Klein as the Britney Spears Doll, Jeffrey Oles as Mad Mark Scientist — as well as fairy dancers, Tahitian dancers, tap dancers, carolers, elves, and, of course, Santa and Mrs. Claus.
"I am honored that this will be performed and proud to honor the memory of Charlie and my love and support for Marie," Ms. Tilley said.
The Show Palace Dinner Theatre will present Irving Berlin's White Christmas, based on the 1954 Bing Crosby/Danny Kaye musical movie about two World War II Army veterans who form a singing act and meet two singing sisters at a remote Vermont resort. It opens Thursday and continues matinees and evenings through Dec. 25. The theater is at 16128 U.S. 19, Hudson. Dinner and show, $49.50 adults; $24.95 ages 11 and younger. Call (727) 863-7949 or online at www.showpalace.net.