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Show Palace lets "Ragtime' roll

The '20s-style musical revue's snappy music and fancy footwork bring the audience to its feet in admiration.

Show Palace Dinner Theatre owners Nick and Sal Sessa were grinning from ear to ear midway through the recent opening night of their latest show, a musical tribute to the 1920s called Red Hot Ragtime.

And no wonder.

As the curtain came down on Act 1, the audience members were on their feet, whistling and shouting their approval of the 11 singers, dancers and comics who had just given them 50 rousing minutes of snappy, stylish entertainment.

Choreographer/lead dancer John Vincent Leggio choreographed the popular Swing, Swing, Swing, concluding its run at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center's Jaeb Theatre, but he has taken snazzy dancing several steps further with Red Hot Ragtime. With a cast and a stage nearly twice the size of the Jaeb's, Leggio has doubled the action and doubled the fun.

Toss in scores of glittery costumes by director/costumer Jimmy Ferraro, a sophisticated, Gatsby-style set and mood-enhancing lighting by Tom Hansen and a recorded sound track that sounds pleasingly close to a full orchestra, complete with muted wah-wah trumpets, slide trombones and mellow piano, and the Show Palace gives an almost-2-hour show that leaves 'em shouting for more.

The production, put together by Ferraro, has a marvelous rhythm of its own, with a well-paced mix of high-energy tap, sweet soft shoe, ballads, blues and comedy that ebbs and flows like a melody. Scott Joplin's ragtime melodies drift through the show, giving it unity, but there are also nods to other musical styles of the era _ Bourbon Street, the Charleston, vaudeville and even a little burlesque.

The show is sparked by a Wisconsin import, singer Elizabeth Brandel, who does a throaty Love Me or Leave Me, a wistful Someone to Watch Over Me, a torchy The Man I Love and a comic take-off on Pagan Love Song with equal style and grace. Brandel has a voice made for the theatrical stage, a dazzling smile and the confidence to go with it. What a find.

Comic-singer-dancer Candler Budd brings new life to the old vaudeville jokes and routines, mainly with his impish, pop-eyed, innocent look, to reel in the audience.

Singer-dancer Chelle St. Pierre gets several chances to show off her talents, burning up the stage with her high-stepping Alabammy Bound and Baby Face.

The featured performers are backed by a strong song-and-dance line that rarely misses a beat or muffs a step: Troy LaFon, Scott Wright, Adrienne Phillips, Lynn Regan, Celeste Miller Cummins, Andreas Haimalas and Melanie Salamone. Dance coach Leggio pulled performances out of these seven that they themselves probably never realized they had in them.