My first live theater review as a professional was nearly a half century ago for a small daily newspaper in East Texas. It was a community theater production of the late Neil Simon's first play, Come Blow Your Horn, the tale of two brothers chasing women in 1950s New York City.
The production was a tad uneven in execution, something Saturday Night Live might call "not ready for prime time." Among other bumbles, there were long pauses as players tried to remember the script.
I was something of a smarty pants back then (some would say I still am, though I think I've mellowed a lot over the years), and I came up with a headline that I thought said it all: Come Blow Your Lines.
My newsroom colleagues loved it. But as we chuckled at what we thought was a clever bon mot, an angry gentleman burst in, my review clutched in his fist. It was the fellow who was playing the father in the show, and he was not amused. He also was the fellow who held the mortgage on our little newspaper, and I don't think he ever forgave me.
Somehow, my career survived that, and for the past 25 years, I've been covering theater for the Tampa Bay Times, mainly in the North Suncoast. I retired in 2008, but I couldn't stay away, so I came back part-time for a few years covering entertainment. After that, I cut back to reviewing shows at Stage West Community Playhouse, Richey Suncoast Theatre and Show Palace Dinner Theatre while sitting in my breakfast room in my nightgown, sipping coffee, the morning after each opening night.
But the theater scene is growing in Pasco and Hernando counties, with the arrival of two beautiful venues, Live Oak Theatre Company in Brooksville and Dreamhouse Theatre in Lutz, as well as the addition of a Black Box season at Richey Suncoast.
There isn't enough of me to cover all these plays and still have a semi-retirement life. And there isn't enough room in our paper to publish reviews for all their shows.
So our wise editors came up with the idea of a column that would touch on theater in general, as well as giving heads up to entertainment events of special note, like the super-duper band concert by the regional Grand Champion J. W. Mitchell High School Band every December. Wow, what a show!
The column will publish on an irregular basis, depending on what is happening in the theater/entertainment/event world in this area.
I've been a live theater devotee ever since I landed the title role in my fourth-grade production of Cinderella, probably because my mom said she would make most of the costumes, not because of my overwhelming talent.
Then I discovered it was more fun to sit in the dark theater and watch others put themselves out there for examination. That's how I became a critic, once likened to a eunuch in a harem: They are there every night, they know what is going on, they know how it should be done, but they just can't do it themselves.
You could use a good laugh
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I like to think that I'm fair. I have grown gentler over the years, mainly because local live theater has improved exponentially in the past quarter century, and it's justifiable to write nice things. Even so, my purpose isn't to stroke the egos of actors, but to let Times readers know whether a particular play or event is worth their time and money, as best I can tell.
Theater season starts in earnest around here next week with the opening on Thursday (Sept. 6) at Richey Suncoast Theatre of the musical Hands on a Hardbody. It sounds like a Stormy Daniels special, but is based on an event in the city of my birth, Longview, Texas, where contestants put their hands on a pickup truck, and the last one to remove his or her hand wins the truck. The play will run for the subsequent two weekends. What I write about it will be online shortly after opening night and in the paper the following Friday.
The Show Palace starts its season shortly thereafter, on Sept. 8, with a two-weekend run of comic Steve Solomon's one-man roadshow My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish & I'm in Therapy. Solomon has taken the off-Broadway show to multiple venues for more than a decade.
As they say, "watch this space" for other theater and event tidbits.