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SEASON FOR SONG

Singer Francine Finley nearly brought down the house when she sang a soulful Fools Fall in Love and a sassy Hound Dog in Smokey Joe's Cafe at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre recently.

She's coming back to finish off the job in the upcoming show, Christmas Spectacular.

"Francine is a star's star," said John Leggio, the Show Palace artistic director and writer/director of this show. "We've given her some pretty powerful numbers to really showcase her."

Leggio has brought in another New York-based singer, LaDonna Burns, who "can also sing pretty powerfully," to join the 37-member cast for what he promises to be a blowout of a show. Ms. Burns has performed at American Cabaret Theatre, Buck Creek Players, Footlight Musicals and the Madame Walker Theatre in Indianapolis, and at Theatre on the Square in San Francisco, among other venues.

"The traditional Christmas songs _ O, Holy Night, Joy to the World _ all of these will be done in a way people have never heard before," Leggio said. "I don't want to give anything away, but even Jingle Bells is in a very different form."

The second act features Ms. Finley singing Born This Day with a big chorus.

"We have an incredible group of singers and the best dancing we have ever had at the Show Palace," he said. "A lot of the dancing is Rockette kind of stuff."

Among the singers are M. Frank Holmes, who has played Jim in Big River, the plant Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors, himself in Ain't Misbehavin' and Henson in A Soldier's Story at several Orlando and Orlando-area theaters, including Disney Institute.

Also in the show are Show Palace veterans Susan Haldeman (Crazy for You, Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), Troy LaFon (Man of LaMancha, Funny/Forum), Matthew McGee (Hysterium in Funny/Forum, Love, Sex and the I.R.S.) and Laura Lynne Tapper (Julie in Carousel, Sugar in Some Like it Hot, My Fair Lady).

"We're featuring Sara DelBeato, who has a powerhouse voice," Leggio said. Ms. DelBeato has been in Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, My Fair Lady, Some Enchanted Evening and other shows at the Show Palace and was recently a finalist for the lead role in the road tour of the musical Hairspray. "This show finally shows what she can do," Leggio said.

Tyler Fish, who stepped into the lead male role of Crazy for You in January after the original player broke his foot, will also be featured.

"Tyler will have a song, but, really, in this show, everyone gets to shine," Leggio said. "If they're not singing, they're dancing. It's constant for everyone."

Christmas Spectacular was written by Leggio and Show Palace music director Stan Collins, who have done several musical revues for Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center's Jaeb Theatre. It has favorite holiday songs, many of them grouped to make vignettes.

"It's kind of a cross between Smokey Joe's and Joseph (and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat)," Leggio said. Smokey's Joe's showcases singers; Joseph has big production and comedy numbers. "The arrangements Stan wrote are upbeat, fast-paced, contemporary, with lots of dancing.

"In one (segment), you kind of go down memory lane with Christmas memories," Leggio said. "Someone is remembering Christmas, and it fades into a whole 1940s segment. We do Let It Snow, with Harry Connick Jr.'s arrangement. The second part of Christmas memories takes us into a whole 1950s section," he said.

One segment features 13 young singer/dancers from Leggio's Broadway Bound theatrical studio in Spring Hill. "That one has I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas. And we do a doll fantasy thing with girls in ballerina costumes."

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