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Richey theater announces new season

Richey Suncoast Theatre has announced its 2002-2003 season, and it includes one of my favorite, favorite shows _ Once Upon a Mattress, the musical version of The Princess and the Pea. Once Upon a Mattress launched Carol Burnett's stage career, and it is easy to see why. It's full of physical humor and mugging, and those are Ms. Burnett's strong suits.

The Pasco schools summer drama camp kids did it in 1996, and their version was simply superb, thanks to wonderful performances by kids from all over the county, particularly by sisters Molly and Wendy Knapp. Molly played the strong-willed Queen Agravain, who is searching for a proper bride for her son, Prince Dauntless the Drab. Wendy, who went on to be a Gulf High School track standout, played the Burnett role of Princess Winnifred the Woebegone, who swims a moat and overcomes all obstacles to win the prince.

I've kept my fingers crossed since then that another theater company would do the show so I could see it again and again. If Richey Suncoast can find the right Winnifred _ a seasoned performer who is not afraid to play it over the top _ the show will be a winner.

After a Sept. 12 opening, Once Upon a Mattress will run weekends Sept. 13-29. Director is Alison Crockett.

That show is followed by Don't Dress for Dinner, a French comedy that has a philandering husband planning a weekend away with his mistress, only to have her other lover stumble onto the scene. There is lots of mistaken identity, door-slamming and rushing about, all with split-second timing. The incomparable Saul Leibner will direct this one, which runs Oct. 24-Nov. 10.

The Christmas show, which is part of this year's regular season, will run Nov. 29-30 and Dec. 1, 6, 7 and 8. Director to be announced.

The year 2003 starts with Gypsy, the musical based on the conflict between stripper Gypsy Rose Lee and her overbearing mother, which runs Jan. 16-Feb. 2 and will be directed by Dick Poole.

Interestingly, the Show Palace Dinner Theatre will open the same musical less than three weeks after Richey Suncoast closes its version. I wonder how many people (besides me) will go see both versions.

Poole also will direct the next show, the mystery-drama Ladies in Retirement, billed as a psychological melodrama. It plays Feb. 27-March 16.

The season closer is the venerable Annie, the musical based on the comic strip character Little Orphan Annie, which plays May 15-June 1. No director has been named.

A season ticket for all six shows is $70, a savings of $8 compared with the new single ticket price of $13 for musicals and plays. Season tickets go on sale April 3. Current season ticket holders have until June 2 to renew their subscriptions and keep their seats. Call (727) 842-6777.

Meanwhile, Richey Suncoast is doing a lot of sprucing up, redoing the unsightly doors to the little balconies on the second floor, painting the dome either silver or gold and power washing the front facade, says Charlie Skelton, president of its board.

Stage West announces dates, directors for shows

The area's other community theater, Stage West Community Playhouse in Spring Hill, has set dates and named directors for the shows in its previously announced 2002-2003 season.

Ray Cooney's farce, Run for Your Wife, will play Thursdays and weekends Sept. 5-22 and will be directed by Harvey Lasky. Lasky, a professional screen and stage actor, has been in three Stage West shows and won a HAMI for his portrayal of the Pope in The Day They Kidnapped the Pope.

The musical Mame, based on the play Auntie Mame, will run Nov. 7-24 and be directed by Barbara Everest, who also directed the musicals The Secret Garden, Cabaret and Gypsy.

Bill Devlin will direct the difficult drama-comedy, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which runs Jan. 9-26. Devlin was the fellow who had the courage to tackle Cat on a Hot Tin Roof a few seasons ago and do a darned good job with it. It will be interesting to see what he does with Cuckoo's Nest.

Stage West will borrow Playhouse 19's executive director, Ray Hill, to direct what should be the season blockbuster, A Chorus Line, March 6-23. Hill directed that musical at Richey Suncoast Theatre in 1995 to raves and ovations. More than half the actors in the Richey Suncoast production came from Hernando County, and Hill has put out feelers for them and others who made that show so terrific.

The Stage West season winds up with the Carl Reiner's comedy, Enter Laughing, playing May 8-25. Once again, the king of comedy directing, Saul Leibner, will guide the show.

Season tickets are $60 for all five shows through March 31; after that, the price is $65. Season ticket holders have until March 31 to keep their seats. Call (352) 683-5113.

Meanwhile, as promised, Stage West is bringing back last summer's surprise hit, The Rocky Horror Show, in July. As is the tradition with The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the live productions on July 12, 19 and 26 will start a midnight. The ones on July 13, 20 and 27 will start at the regular 8 p.m. There's only one Sunday show, at 2 p.m. on July 28.

"This show isn't what of our season tickets holders would expect," said Andrea Gleason, a board member and treasurer for Stage West. "Still, they all enjoyed it and said they had fun, even though it's a little raunchy."

Tickets for Rocky Horror are $16.