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Brice is right

(ran PW, PS editions of Pasco Times)

Since she was small, Sara DelBeato can remember identifying with 1920s stage and radio star Fanny Brice.

"It's my dream role," said DelBeato, who will portray Brice in Stage West Community Playhouse's production of Funny Girl, which opens Thursday. "I got into theater to play Fanny Brice."

Just as when she was 5 and her stage was her bedroom floor, DelBeato belted out songs from the Jule Styne/Bob Merrill Broadway hit at a recent rehearsal, her husky voice embracing songs such as Don't Rain on My Parade, Who Are You Now? and People.

"I remember being really little and singing I'm the Biggest Star, just crying because I identified so much with the part," DelBeato said later.

But unlike Brice during her early career, few doubt the talent of this 20-year-old from Pasco County.

DelBeato has had several feature roles in area theaters _ Richey Suncoast, the Show Palace and the now-defunct Angel "garden cafe" Theatre. She came within two places of landing the lead in the Broadway blockbuster Hairspray during her first jaunt to New York to audition.

This will be DelBeato's first lead role in local theater. The Broadway version of Funny Girl catapulted Barbra Streisand to stardom, and in 1968 she went on to do the film version.

The story line loosely chronicles Brice's life, including her time as a Ziegfeld girl and her ill-fated romance with con man Nicky Arnstein. But before any of that, the audience meets a 19-year-old ugly duckling and watches as she _ and both of her left feet _ are fired from a second-rate chorus line.

She is, as Fanny puts it, "a bagel on a plate full of onion rolls."

"It's that kind of spunk that really draws me to her," DelBeato said, the wide brim of her hat framing a bright smile. "I just admire her so much."

Director Pam Surbaugh, a Stage West veteran, knew what she was getting when she cast DelBeato. In 1999, both women sang in the Show Palace Dinner Theatre's God Bless Irving, a musical tribute to composer Irving Berlin.

"I was thrilled when she showed up at the audition," said Surbaugh. "She's funny, and she's such a joy to work with."

Alongside DelBeato, Michael Benson will play Nicky Arnstein, a character that he says, like Fanny, is more than it seems in the beginning.

"The character is a real challenge," Benson said of the role once played by Omar Sharif. "By the end, you begin to see the holes in his act."

_ Joy Davis-Platt can be reached at 848-1435. Send e-mail to