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Stage Planner: Downsized casts outdo themselves, Holiday Pops, 'The Wiz' lives on


At least three theaters are currently staging plays in which a few actors play exponentially more roles. The 39 Steps, a comic adaptation of a Hitchcock thriller now at American Stage, takes the prize with four characters playing somewhere around 150 parts (most of those divided between two of the four).

Producing artistic director Stephanie Gularte, who also directs The 39 Steps, attributes the popularity of the go-for-broke form to two main factors.

"Many professional theater companies cannot afford to regularly produce large cast shows, and playwrights are responding to that with innovative pieces that embrace the small cast," Gularte said.

Second, she said, "These plays offer a wonderful opportunity for audiences to experience the talent required to pull these pieces off successfully. These plays have the potential to celebrate what theater at its best can do — bring the artist and audience together in an unspoken contract that embraces creativity and imagination."

The use of a dozen members in Freefall Theatre's Peter and the Starcatcher is hard to gauge at a glance, but it encompasses the crews of two ships, a tribe of cannibals, a family, Peter Pan and his friends, a pirate crew and a chorus of mermaids. The 37 characters in This Wonderful Life, a stage adaptation of the Jimmy Stewart movie, It's a Wonderful Life, are more distinct.

All 37 are played by Larry Alexander without a costume change.

"You are forced to (change characters) without the aid of accoutrements," said Karla Hartley, Stageworks' producing artistic director (who also directs This Wonderful Life). "It's really an exercise in concentration."


Among those cheering last week for The Wiz Live!, NBC's live musical presentation, was Whitney Drake, who played Dorothy in the 2014 American Stage production in St. Petersburg's Demens Landing Park.

As a featured singer on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, Drake couldn't catch the televised show. She did follow the enthusiasm on social media, watched clips online and absorbed reactions from those who had seen it.

"A talented cast of seasoned stars and blossoming novices performed this live broadcast for 11 million viewers," Drake said in a text message. "Amongst those viewers was my 6-year-old niece. She was able to experience live theater in her living room. This made me very happy because she had no idea what The Wiz or any musical was.

"Now," Drake says, "she aspires to play Dorothy one day, just like her aunt."


To people who come from somewhere north of here (the majority of you), it's probably absurd to even talk about making the holiday season "complete," since it could be 80 degrees on Christmas. The next best thing to snow might be the Florida Orchestra's Holiday Pops concert, a tradition so popular it has added a family-friendly Saturday matinee. The orchestra recorded the 2013 concert, and CDs (pictured) will be available for purchase at all shows.

The orchestra will play White Christmas, the Ave Maria, a Mannheim Steamroller version of Silent Night, Santa Baby and Greensleeves, among other favorites. Guest conductor Bob Bernhardt will also invite the audience to sing along to old favorites including Joy to the World, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and more. The featured singer is Mela Dailey, whose classical contest-winning repertoire includes opera, musicals, gospel, jazz and country music.

Concerts are at 8 p.m. Friday at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. $15 to $45. (727) 892-3337. Musicians are collecting Toys for Tots at all three venues. At the Mahaffey, they will collect food for Tampa Bay Harvest.


On Monday, singer Becca McCoy and composer-pianist James Weaver will repeat a Christmas concert they created five years ago at American Stage Theatre Company.

A Not So Silent Night features novel arrangements of old favorites, devoting at least as much time to the Nativity and related themes as to the contemporary celebrations involving Santa Claus. McCoy, a St. Petersburg native, has worked as a professional actress in Chicago and locally for years, and recently reprised her one-woman show, The Pearl in the Hogwaller, by popular demand. Weaver has recorded A Not So Silent Night and two other CDs. He teaches piano at Bringe Music and St. Petersburg College. The show starts at 7 p.m. Monday in the American Stage lobby, 163 Third St. N, St. Petersburg. $20 ($18 in advance). (727) 823-7529.

Stage Planner: Downsized casts outdo themselves, Holiday Pops, 'The Wiz' lives on 12/09/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 9, 2015 11:45am]
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