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A spectacle in red and green

Published Sep. 4, 2005

Christmas Spectacular, the holiday show opening Friday at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre, is "kind of a cross between Smokey Joe's Cafe and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," according to its co-creator, John Leggio.

That means lots of singing, lots of dancing and lots of spectacle.

"We have an incredible group of singers and the best dancing we have ever had at the Show Palace," said Leggio, who put the show together with the help of music director Stan Collins.

Leggio, the Show Palace's artistic director, held auditions in Orlando, New York and the Tampa Bay area to find his 37 cast members.

To anchor the show, he's bringing back New York-based gospel/blues/jazz/pop singer Francine Finley, who nearly brought down the house when she sang a slow, wailing Fools Fall in Love during the Show Palace's recent Smokey Joe's.

"We've given her some pretty powerful numbers to really showcase her," Leggio said.

The show has traditional Christmas music: O, Holy Night and Joy to the World done with traditional solemnity.

It also has the light-hearted Jingle Bells, Let It Snow, and Santa Claus Is Coming to Town "done in a way people have never heard before," Leggio said. "The arrangements Stan wrote for them are upbeat, fast-paced, contemporary, with lots of dancing."

Many of the songs are grouped into vignettes. A singer's reverie, for example, turns into memories of the 1940s and then the 1950s, complete with period costumes and hairdos for each segment.

"All I Want for Christmas Is You (is done) with lots of dancing and jumps and some swing dancing," Leggio said.

Singer/dancer/comic Matthew McGee (Hysterium in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) has a key role, as do Sara DelBeato (recently a finalist for the lead in the road company of the Broadway musical Hairspray), Tyler Fish (Crazy for You), Laura Lynne Tapper (Julie Jordan in Carousel, Sugar in Some Like It Hot), Susan Haldeman (Crazy for You, Funny/Forum) and Troy LaFon (Man of LaMancha, Funny/Forum, Some Like It Hot).

Leggio recruited 13 young singer-dancers from his own theatrical school, Broadway Bound, to do a children's section, complete with dainty ballerinas and a doll fantasy.