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Summer's arts fare heats up

If you think the after-Easter exodus of snowbirds means the local entertainment scene will shrink as much as the traffic on U.S. 19, think again. Local venues are planning a full roster of plays and shows to get us through the long, hot summer, which, despite our great weather now, is sure to come soon.

The offerings look really exciting, with something for everyone: comedy, drama, musicals, magic, dancing, audience participation, even a visit by Italian comedian Pat Cooper at the Show Palace in Hudson on June 14.

The most conspicuous part of the lineups may be what isn't there: those musical revues that seem to have been everywhere for the past couple of years. As far as I can tell, out of four area venues, there's only one musical revue coming up. Everything else is either a show with a plot, big names or specialty acts.

For theater owners, musical revues make sense. They're relatively quick, easy and cheap. Why pay big royalties, take weeks learning lines, or spend money building sets and buying costumes when you can let people wear their own costumes (or what's in the theater's wardrobe room) and sing what they already know?

Audiences liked them at first, but, eventually, even the biggest music lovers reached the saturation point. Attendance dropped as people opted for something with a story, preferably something that would make them laugh.

Wisely, the theaters have responded. The Angel "garden cafe" Theatre, where eight of the last 13 shows have been musical revues, plans only one such show all summer, God Bless Irving!, a tribute to Irving Berlin, from June 13 through July 20. The other shows are "book" comedies, starting with the female version of The Odd Couple from May 9 through June 8; Everybody Loves Opal from July 25 through Aug. 24; and Love, Sex and the IRS, originally scheduled for last summer, Aug. 29 through Sept. 28. It's $52 for all four shows, or $15 apiece. (813-841-6435)

Michelangelo's Dinner Theater on County Line Road is going right through the summer doing comedies, one-person shows, audience participation mysteries and perhaps a book musical, starting in April with Same Time, Next Year, the comedy that makes annual adultery not just okay, but rather charming.

The Show Palace in Hudson is serving a lively smorgasbord of entertainment, including the outrageously funny audience participation show Nathan and Gina's Wedding on April 4 (almost sold out), May 3 and a matinee on May 18; a Hawaiian luau with hula dancers and knife twirlers April 19; the cast of The Young and The Restless on April 26 and 27; and, of course, Cooper in mid-June. (863-7949 in west Pasco, 1-888-655-7469 elsewhere.)

Stage West Community Playhouse, which has had music revues or musicals in summers past, is taking a big leap, doing the non-musical but very appealing comedy The Cemetery Club on July 11 through 13 and 18 through 20.

That's just a taste of what this remarkable community theater group has in store for its audiences.

Perhaps to make sure people save some of their entertainment money for next fall, Stage West has announced its 1997-98 season. It's an interesting, challenging and ambitious one that should draw players and audiences from far and near.

The season opens with the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat the last three weekends in September. Next is Tennessee Williams' highly emotional but somber drama Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in November.

A show sure to be a real audience-pleaser, the farce A Bedfull of Foreigners, will play in January. The musical biography of New York's favorite mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia, aptly named Fiorello! with an exclamation point, plays next March.

The season closes with the sexy comedy murder mystery A Shot in the Dark in May 1998.

All five shows are $44 and tickets go on sale to the general public in late May. Call (352) 683-5113 for an application form if you're not a season ticket holder now. Seats will be sold from the top of the waiting list once all the present members have had a chance to renew.

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