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Senior Follies fill, thrill the house

The lucky ones were the ones who got seats.

The not-so-lucky ones were turned away Wednesday from the eighth annual Clearwater Fun 'N Sun Senior Follies at Clearwater High. Workers scrambled to find extra seats, but even with that, there wasn't enough room for everyone. It was the first time the crowd was too big for the venue.

The packed house of mostly senior citizens enjoyed a lineup of singers, dancers and comedians, all of whom were older than 50. By evening's end, it was hard to tell whether the performers or the audience had more fun.

The show's oldest participant was 93-year-old Carrie Mendenhall, a regular at these affairs. Her rocking chair parody of Whistler's Mother was the comedy highlight of the show.

Dramatic tenor Dino DiLiberti sang two songs, and he stilled the audience with his powerful Italian rendition of Come Back to Sorrento.

"I think his voice is fabulous," said Marcy Lewis of Clearwater and Connecticut. "The fact that he donates his time says a lot for Fun 'N Sun."

This was Lewis' first Senior Follies, which is sponsored by WGUL-AM 860 and FM 96.1 and the Clearwater Parks and Recreation Department. Lewis said she had heard how good it was last year, so she, her husband and six friends came in a van to see the show.

"It was excellent," she said. "We don't have anything like this in Connecticut."

The Grandmother Rockettes in their red and gold sequined costumes opened the show with Maple Leaf Rag, followed by Michael "The Singing Barber" Hallowich.

The Happy Tap Dancers, who recently performed at Disney World, and inspirational gospel singers Pete and Marion Petersen rounded out Act One.

The Boom Boom Band from Boomingham, Alabooma, under the direction of Betty Jane Pucci, had its preview and farewell performance "in one fell swoop," Pucci said. "This is a one-occasion affair we put together for tonight, unless we get stormed for requests."

Music man Al Millard provided pre-show and intermission entertainment for the audience, which sang along with old time favorites San Francisco, Irene, Side by Side, Chicago, Heart of My Heart and Smiles.

Tap dancer Fran Norwood in purple with gold sequins, the Fast Forward (Barber Shop) Quartet and the black and white costumed dancing Rhythmettes completed the cast.

"I thought it was spectacular entertainment," said Ethelea Wardner from Palm Harbor. Wardner, a former music teacher, is impressed "that people this age still really get a lot out of life and are willing to entertain the rest of us and bring pleasure to us."