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Stage Planner: An American in Paris, new theater for seniors, a local talent leads homeless outreach

Garen Scribner plays Jerry, an American G.I. in postwar Paris, and Sara Esty plays Lise, an elusive French ballerina, in An American in Paris at the Straz Center from Tuesday to Dec. 25.
Published Dec. 22, 2016

The year's hugest holiday show is certainly going to be An American in Paris, which requires nine semitrailers to lug its set and equipment to the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday. Based on a 1951 film starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, the story follows an American soldier who stays in Paris after the war to pursue his painting. He falls in love with a French ballerina, who, it turns out, is already spoken for by a close friend.

The stage adaptation opened in Paris in 2014, then scarfed up four Tonys and a Grammy nomination in 2015. In March, original cast member Garen Scribner stepped out from his understudy role to play leading man Jerry Mulligan on Broadway. The show closed a week before the national tour launched in October, also starring Scribner. It's a breakout opportunity for the former soloist with the San Francisco Ballet, who in 2011 danced with Jennifer Lopez in a steamy L'Oréal Paris commercial. (It starts with a shirtless Scribner doing pushups.)

"I feel so free when I do this role," said Scribner, 31. "I hope that comes across on stage."

The dance bug bit him as a 7-year-old cast member of the Washington Ballet's Nutcracker, listening to adult dancers whispering in other languages as they came off stage. He loves working with co-star Sara Esty ("she's brilliant, an incredible actress and singer") and a score made up of tunes by George and Ira Gershwin. Songs include I Got Rhythm, 'S Wonderful, They Can't Take That Away From Me, and the title track, An American in Paris. Runs through Dec. 25. 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. $39-$125. (813) 229-7827. strazcenter.org.

The St. Petersburg Opera Company offers an expansive holiday concert, with tunes from Christmas, Hanukkah and Broadway musicals. Baritone Todd Donovan, who played Emile de Beque in the opera's South Pacific, in will reprise a stirring Younger Than Springtime. "Opera Idol" Christina Franco and the St. Petersburg Opera Chorus and youth chorus will all step up. The concert starts at 2 p.m. Sunday, and 9:30 p.m. Monday at the Palladium Theatre, 253 5th Ave N, St. Petersburg. $22-$67. (727) 823-2040. stpeteopera.org.

After a career as an auditor for the U.S. Postal Service, Linda Goldman never thought she'd be writing plays in retirement. But after looking for ways to entertain seniors at Temple B'Nai Israel in Clearwater, she felt she didn't have a choice.

"Unfortunately, I was not able to find plays that didn't ridicule their memory — forgetting things, (wearing) Depends — it was sickening," said Goldman, 71.

So she started her own theater, the Senior Actors Guild and Education Services (SAGES). When it came to writing, Goldman said, "I had to borrow a script to see what one looked like."

Her first show, Grandma Goes Off Her Rocker, opened in May. The Deal Maker, about a son and daughter-in-law trying to talk a father into handing over his car keys, runs this weekend. Goldman sees a cultural bias in favor of encouraging only young people to follow their dreams.

"When you are older they say, 'Are you a fool?' " Goldman said. "But when, if not now?"

Also on the SAGES team: former One Life to Live actor Stephan Alpert, 70, who serves as art director; and marketing director Marvin Hollander, 87, formerly of the New York Times. "We had to teach (Hollander) how to use a computer," Goldman said.

The Deal Maker starts at 7:45 p.m. Saturday (7 p.m. hors d'oeuvres), and 2 p.m. Sunday at Temple B'Nai Israel, 1685 S Belcher Road, Clearwater. $20 Saturday, $15 Sunday. sagesinc.blogspot.com.

With all the buzz going to her brother, Hamilton alum Ephraim Sykes (who played Seaweed J. Stubbs in NBC's Hairspray Live), his sister, Martina Sykes, is also a performer with talent and a track record. The actor recently came off a national tour of Motown the Musical, including an August appearance at the Straz Center. She played Gwen Gordy, sister to Berry, and one of the Vandellas.

Now Sykes, 29, is on the promotional team for the tour of The Color Purple and keeping an ear to the ground for other opportunities. In the meantime, she's volunteering with the heART Mission, organizing Friday's food and clothing drive for the homeless, Holiday heART. Goals of the event, which Sykes organized with the Bethel Foundation, include getting food and other survival articles to at least 80 people.

She is the daughter of the Rev. Manuel Sykes, pastor of Bethel Community Baptist Church, and Belinda Sykes, an exceptional student education specialist for Pinellas County Schools.

"They instilled in me that it's not about you," Sykes said. "You don't just get a gift and receive things. You take your gift and give something back." The event runs from 4-6 p.m. Friday at Bethel Community Baptist Church, 2901 54th Ave. S, St. Petersburg. What to bring: Warm clothes, jackets, blankets, scarves, gloves, clean tube socks, travel-sized toiletries, body wash, old sleeping bags.

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