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Articles from Tampa Bay Times

"Legally Blonde' at Richey Suncoast Theatre

"Legally Blond" runs through May 28 at Richey Suncoast Theatre in downtown New Port Richey. From left are cast members Suzanne Meck as Pilar, Kaela Koch as Margot and Anthena Romanski as Elle.

You know a musical is good when even two adorable little dogs can't steal the show (though they do get lots of "oohs" and "aahs" when they make their wide-eyed, well-behaved appearances).

But that's what happens in Legally Blonde, the 2007 Broadway hit playing through May 28 at Richey Suncoast Theatre in downtown New Port Richey.

Thanks to a stellar, almost 50-member cast of high-energy singer/dancers, led by beautiful RST newcomer Athena Tootie Jolee Romanski (yes, that is her full name) as sorority president/aspiring Harvard Law School student Elle Wood, Melissa Smith's knockout choreography, and Marie Skelton's fine direction, Legally Blonde delivers so much pow and punch that the puppies become just two more elements in an overall adorable show.

Sure, it's politically incorrect — note the hilarious Gay or European? in Act 2, or the cynical Blood in the Water sung by the lecherous law professor Callahan (David Bethards) in Act 1 or even the spoof of the near-sacred Riverdance — but it's all done with such chutzpah that you can't help but burst out laughing.

That's in great part because of Brian Moran, who goes from being the trashy, good-for-nothing Dewey in one scene to the mincing pool boy Nikos in another to a gorgeously hunky, "walking porn" UPS delivery guy Kyle in the still another. (I had to double check it was the same man doing all three, just to be sure.) Talk about talent — this guy has it.

As always, Beth Phillips is a darling (remember her star turn as Billie Bendix in Nice Work If You Can Get It?) as Paulette, Elle's wise and wonderful hairdresser, who has just about given up on men until she meets Kyle. Mitchell Gonzalez creates a convincing cad as Warner, a nastily ambitious Harvard man who dumps Elle for the "more serious" Vivienne (played with appropriate snark by Brooke Stinnett), a fellow law school student he deems more worthy of himself. Jess Glass is a hoot as the spunky lesbian law student Enid, at first skeptical of Elle, then her fiercest champion.

Ryan Blintz gets a chance to show not only his acting skills, but his wonderful singing voice (Take It Like a Man, Chip on My Shoulder, Legally Blonde) as Emmett Forrest, Elle's law school pal, supporter, encourager and, eventually, No. 1 fellow. Molly Cook bursts with energy and life as fitness guru Brooke Wyndham, the murder suspect who poses as Elle's greatest challenge and victory.
Marvelous in supporting roles are Mark Lewis as Winthrop, the sputtering law school dean; Cody Farkas as the tie-dyed dancer Grandmaster Chad; and the trio of Kaela Moran, Megan Gillespie and Suzanne Meck as Elle's ever-faithful sorority sisters Margot, Serena and Pilar and her ever-helpful, imaginary Greek chorus that appears to lift her up whenever things get really tough for the Malibu girl turned courtroom fighter.

The continuing joy in the musical, however, is Romanski, as the upbeat, completely likable Elle, whose metamorphosis from seemingly air-headed boy's toy to a creative, perceptive and whip-smart attorney is a pleasure to watch. She can Bend and Snap with the best of 'em, then direct the Scene of the Crime like a seasoned pro, tossing her ice-blonde hair with zest and zeal. Her Elle is proud but not arrogant, sweet but not syrupy — in short, just right at every moment.

Special kudos to David Daly, who stepped in to play Elle's Dad (in addition to four other roles) when the original actor was taken to the hospital just before opening night.

And here's hoping Paulette's mic problem is cleared up (one near the mouth, not on the forehead, please) so that her "Where are they now" explanation at the end of the show comes through clearly, because it's one of the most hilariously surprising parts of the whole thing.


Review: Richey Suncoast's 'Jekyll & Hyde' captivates audience

In a recent informal poll of area actors asking what show they would most like to do, the musical Jekyll & Hyde was one of the top five choices of the majority of respondents.

For one thing, it's very popular with audiences — and what actor doesn't love an enthusiastic audience? But perhaps more important, it has many plum roles that actors love to do.

Perhaps that's why co-directors Emily Nettnin and Jess Glass were able to fill the current production at Richey Suncoast Theatre in New Port Richey with many of the area's top-notch singer/actors/dancers, several of them promising candidates for lead roles in future shows.

Jekyll & Hyde, based on the Robert Louis Stevenson novel, examines the dual nature of man for good and evil. Respected Dr. Henry Jekyll (Jason Ensor) believes his father's severe mental illness — indeed, the mental illnesses of the world — could be cured if only there were some medication that could overcome the evil in mankind and let only the good survive. He begs the board of directors of the hospital where his father is confined to let him experiment with these drugs. But five of them flatly reject him; his future father-in-law, Sir Danvers Carew (Bob Marcela), abstains, and his request is denied.

At that point, Dr. Jekyll decides to experiment on himself so that he can then cure his father and others suffering with mental illness. But the entire plan backfires. He concocts a potion that brings out his evil side and sends him on a murderous rampage, then finds that he can't reverse it at will, no matter what combination of drugs he formulates.

I will admit I've seen versions of this show that were downright silly, more Reefer Madnessthan serious thriller, with bubbling laboratories fit for Young Frankenstein and overacting that made me stare down at my toes in embarrassment.

Not this production.

Directors Nettnin and Glass, the actors, the production crew and the orchestra make all the right moves, presenting a drama that captivates from start to finish, moving smoothly from one scene to the next and building tension that is both horrifying and convincing.

Great credit goes to young Ensor as Dr. Henry Jekyll/Edward Hyde, Mallory Quinn as the prostitute Lucy Harris and Mitchell Gonzalez as Jekyll's longtime friend, adviser and lawyer John Utters. Kudos also go to set designers Adam Sieber and Patrick Moran, whose simple laboratory is as realistic for the period as Madame Curie's, and to costumers Marleen Gravitz, Jess Glass, and Marie Skelton, whose opulent upper-class outfits and bawdy prostitute garbs establish both the economic and social status of both groups at first sight.

Ensor finesses every scene, tenderly hurting in Lost in the Darkness as he faces the truth about his insane father, resolute in I Need to Know as he contemplates his choices and, arguably most difficult of all, pulling off the famous "hair scene," Confrontation, with wild but controlled energy, raising his entire body to the tip of his fist as he vows to be good, then collapsing and leering as his evil self takes over. Quinn's Lucy is tough but tender, her Broadway-size belt just right for this role. Gonzalez's Utterson establishes the voice of reason and decency, without being prudish about it.

Brooke Stinnett is lovely as Henry's fiancee, Emma Carew, her soprano ringing the rafters, her angelic face kind and sensitive. Bob Marcela as her father, Sir Danvers Carew, is the epitome of caring father; Jeff Schoonmaker is impressive as Simon Stride, the secretary of the hospital board. Makeup designer Lydia Hazen deserves special notice for the grand job she did on bawdy house pimp Spider (David Daly), a slimy degenerate with no heart.

Each of the 26 cast members deserves a special shout-out, but space prevents. Kudos must go to music director Mark Anthony Jelks, whose seven-piece ensemble keeps perfect pace and tune. Listen for Lisa Grimsly's flute solo as Lucy sings her hopes for A New Life in Act Two. Cheers to resident choreographer Melissa Smith, whose colorful production numbers bring out the best from the entire cast.

Directors Nettnin and Glass deserve special praise for innovative use of space, with an opening scene that brings the entire audience into the heart of the show right off the bat, and use of the aisle and stairs keeps everyone as involved as a walk through a Disney World haunted house. (Word of caution: Be in your seat five minutes before curtain time, and if you must go to the restroom during the show, use the outside aisles.)

Richey Suncoast's Jekyll & Hyde got off to a stormy start when the arrival of Hurricane Irma forced the cancellation of three of opening weekend's shows, so seats may be scarce for the final three performances on Sept. 22, 23 and 24. It would be wise to purchase tickets quickly so as not to miss this really fine production of a crowd-pleasing show.






















Review: Onstage lunacy makes 'Shakespeare/Abridged' a must-see

Okay, so maybe you were turned off by the very thought of a play by William Shakespeare somewhere in your sophomore year of high school, back when you were more attracted by sports or band or the person three rows up in Algebra 1 class than a lecture on Macbeth.

Or perhaps you've seen The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged, somewhere else and think once is enough.

Forget all that. The Shakespeare/Abridged playing at Richey Suncoast Theatre II, Charlie and Marie Skelton's Cabaret, isn't "real Shakespeare," even though the Bard of Avon's words are generously scattered throughout the play. And it isn't exactly like the one you saw somewhere else.

Sure, this is still a zany version of all 37 Shakespeare plays, plus 154 of his sonnets, condensed to about two hours, including intermission. But it's new and updated, with ad-libs and crazy physical humor that is seriously physical, and especially effective since you're sitting on stage, often less than 3 feet from the flying "swords" and knives and flailing arms and legs of the actors.

Even so, have you seen Othello done in rap, Hamilton-style, with foot stomps, hand claps and couplets that would make both Shakespeare and Lin Manuel-Miranda giggle? Or a Juliet (of Romeo and Juliet) with a 5 o'clock shadow? Or several Shakespeare plays condensed into one wild and crazy football game? Or all 16 of Shakespeare's comedies mashed into one madcap five-minute play? Or Macbeth lugging around a golf bag (after all, it is set in Scotland)?

And it's also different from what you might have seen before because it stars four of Richey Suncoast's (nay, the entire area's) best actors (I would have said "the best" except that RST has a deep bench of fine male performers in addition to these four) — brothers Mitchell Gonzalez (Conrad Birdie in Bye Bye Birdie) and Patrick Gonzalez (Lancelot in Spamalot) and a second set of gifted brothers, Brian Moran (title role in Young Frankenstein) and Patrick Moran (Freddy in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels; Igor in Frankenstein). There's no human way to resist these talented young men, who work together like the brothers and/or good friends they are.

(You probably should know that two of them stepped in at the last moment when another actor had to drop out — but I'm not saying which two because there's no way you can tell it, they are all so good.)

The show is usually done in one 90-minute act, but the RST version is expanded to two hours by a comically sincere introduction by Patrick Gonzalez, an intermission and an extended version after version after version of what many Shakespeare aficionados consider the perfect play, which would be Hamlet, but not the Hamlet, much less the Ophelia and Gertrude (both done by Patrick Moran) you might expect.

There's audience participation, and a couple of spit takes that call for the kind of ponchos one might don at a Gallagher watermelon smash. And even though there are some off-color asides, double entendres and muttered obscenities, they go by so fast, the younger set probably won't catch them. So this could be considered suitable for all ages.

As with Shakespeare, there is wordplay: Mitchell Gonzalez patiently explains that being a "pre-eminent" Shakespearean scholar doesn't mean he is a superior scholar; the "pre" makes it mean that he is "before" being eminent, and that's why he knows little, if anything, about the subject at hand.

The lunacy on stage couldn't happen without a lot of behind-the-scenes support, starting with director Emily Nettnin, who managed to corral the on-stage foursome without dampening their energy, enthusiasm,and abundant talents. Stage manager Adam Sieber kept the action going, with the help of his crew — Brittany Gonzalez, Suzanne Meck and Janine Moran. Light designer Matt Beil and light board operator Garrett Case added to the comedy. And producer Marie Skelton made sure everything was where it should be.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged, at 8 p.m. April 22 and 29, and 2:30 p.m. April 23 and 30, at Richey Suncoast Theatre, 6237 Grand Blvd., New Port Richey. Tickets are $25, open seating. Call (727) 842-6777 or at the box office before the show.


Review: Hermine delays, but fails to dampen, Richey Suncoast Theatre opener

Hurricane Hermine may have blown opening weekend at Richey Suncoast Theatre down the road a week, but it didn't dampen the performances or the enthusiasm of the cast and crew of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the musical comedy about charming con men and the ladies they charm, playing weekends through Sept. 25.

As performed by the amazing cast at RST in New Port Richey, it's 2 1/2 hours of laughs, surprises, singing, dancing and Mark Anthony Jelks's sweet little orchestra that keeps everything moving.

Director Emily Nettin's stellar lineup was in perfect form for the belated "family and friends" final dress rehearsal on Sunday that, for the most part, looked and sounded as sharp as it would at the end of a three-week run. This show requires six top-notch singer/actors, as well as a sizable ensemble to do multiple roles, and this show attracted the best of the bay to do them.

That's what happens when a theater chooses shows that actors want to be in, and RST has scheduled a bunch of them over the past couple of seasons — Spamalot, Young Frankenstein, The Drowsy Chaperone, Urinetown — that have helped the theater build a full bench of outstanding performers to audition, including professionals and several who could be if they so choose.

Almost stealing the show is Patrick Moran as Freddy Benson, the low-level gigolo who yearns for Great Big Stuff like his new friend and mentor, the suave and successful Lawrence Jameson, played with smooth irony by the always wonderful Michael McGuigan. Both these roles require perfect timing, where pauses can mean everything, and they both have those down pat.

Moran's high-energy physical humor combined with his innocent baby face create a Freddy who can go from winsome to wicked on the turn of a dime. McGuigan's Lawrence is unfailingly charming and resourceful, always one step ahead of everyone else … until he isn't.

David Bethards is marvelous as Andre Thibault, Lawrence's faithful sidekick with a captivating French accent, which, by the way, he maintains throughout the show. Watch for Bethards's dance moves; for someone so, um, substantially built, he is as light and graceful as a swan.

The men are wonderfully matched by three of the bay area's top females. The gorgeous Victoria Stinnett makes Muriel Eubanks, a wealthy, but naive do-gooder, irresistible, even as she maddeningly falls for Lawrence's transparently phony royalty routine. After all,What Was a Woman to Do? she melodramatically sings as she sheds her jewels to save Lawrence's hypothetical kingdom.

Suzanne Meck nails the rowdy Jolene Oakes, a big-haired oil heiress from Oklahoma who is determined to marry the marriage-averse Lawrence. Meck's Oklahoma twang, skin-tight jeans, well-worn cowboy boots and fringed jacket (tip of the hat to costume designer Katherine Rivera) bring the wide-open spaces right into Lawrence's elegant chateau (hat tip to set designer Dan McConaghy and crew).

The slender, beautiful Janine Paradiso makes a perfect Christine Colgate, "The American Soap Queen" who arrives on the scene just as Lawrence and Freddy have reached an impasse over who should have exclusive swindling rights of Beaumont de Sur women. So the two make a bet: The first one to con the soap heiress out of $50,000 wins — and the other must leave town.

That's when the real twists and turns start. Listen carefully; writers David Yazbek and Jeffrey Lane wrote some clever, funny lines and astute cultural references (note Freddy's favorite comic book, too) that are worth hearing and trying to remember.

A special shout-out to the 10-member ensemble, which sings and dances its way through playing house staff, casino patrons, sailors and a chorus line, with quick-changes in costume and attitude suitable for each role. Watch especially for RST veteran Mark Lewis as Gerard and newcomer Adam Sieber as the Coupier, who seem to be everywhere at once. And kudos to Brendan Boniol, who stepped in at the last minute to do a fine job operating the sound board when the original operator was suddenly taken ill.

Word to the wise: Don't leave when the you think the musical has ended; there are one, two, or three more twists coming, and you don't want to miss them.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, a musical comedy that opens the 2016-17 season, plays weekends through Sept. 25 at Richey Suncoast Theatre, 6237 Grand Blvd., New Port Richey. Shows are at 8 p.m., except Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $18 cash or $20.07 credit card, all reserved seating. Season tickets still available. Call (727) 842-6777.


Review: Laughs aplenty in Richey Suncoast Theatre's smartly cast 'Leading Ladies'

How many laughs and smiles can be packed into a single two-hour, 40-minute show?

Richey Suncoast Theatre gives that question a good test with a splendid rendition of the comedyLeading Ladies, playing weekends through Oct. 30, thanks to smart casting decisions by director Robin New and solid performances by each actor.

Outstanding is award-winning Richey Suncoast newcomer Miguel Rodriguez (director/actor at Carrollwood Players) whose comic timing and physical humor as Leo Clark, a down-on-his-luck Shakespearean actor, is priceless.

In the play, set in York, Pa., in 1958, Leo and his acting partner, Jack Gable (a charming Jason Hoolihan), decide to impersonate the long-lost relatives of a supposedly dying millionaire, Florence (an adorable Susan Nichols), in order to finance their future acting efforts.

Problem is, the relatives, "Max" and "Steve," turn out to be Maxine and Stephanie, two young females and not strapping men such as Leo and Jack. Undaunted, the guys dig through their Shakespearean costumes for wigs and costumes and transform themselves into imitation doting nieces in totally outlandish garb.

And, really, is there anything funnier than big, 5 o'clock-shadowed fellows playing young girls with high, trilling voices? Especially fellows as talented as Rodriguez and Hoolihan. Rodriguez is here, there and everywhere, making quick changes from Max to Maxine to Max, double and triple takes, and coy pauses, while deftly and unobtrusively allowing laughs to die down before delivering his next line. Hoolihan manages to keep a straight face, while stumbling about in "Stephanie" high heels, a diaphanous dress and lavender wings like those of Titania in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

They're supported by some of the New Port Richey theater's best, including multi award-winning Bill Schommer as Doc, the gold-digging dad to Butch (Jeffrey Schoonmaker, a master of pratfalls), and Rich Aront as the Rev. Duncan Wooley. Schommer can steal a scene simply by walking on stage. But, trouper that he is, he resists the urge and simply ups the ante with his performance skills. It is gratifying to see Aront, a skilled performer in his own right, doing a bang-up job in a key role, after having done yeoman duty in several minor on-stage (but major backstage) parts.

Rounding out this pleasingly talented cast are stage newcomers Blake Parker as Meg, fiancee to the money-grubbing Rev. Wooley (ah, but it's all for "charity," he assures), and Ashlee Craft as the roller-skating Audrey, adored by Butch, but smitten by Jack. Parker's Meg is sweetly naive and innocent. Craft's Audrey is spunky and cute, nodding sweetly and uttering non-sequiturs, though Audrey is smarter and wiser than she sounds. These two young ladies are keepers, with promising futures on stage.

Leading Ladies moves quickly and smoothly, a credit to director New, who also took on stage manager duties, aided by a sizable backstage crew. This is the third show by multiple Tony Award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig at Richey Suncoast, the previous two being Moon Over Buffalo and Lend Me a Tenor. Still another is on the schedule, Shakespeare in Hollywood, set for Jan. 12 to 29.

By the way, Ludwig was born in York, Pa., the locale for Leading Ladies, and knows the area well.

Leading Ladies, a comedy farce by Ken Ludwig, weekends through Oct. 30 at Richey Suncoast Theatre, 6237 Grand Blvd., New Port Richey. Shows are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $18 with cash, $20.07 with credit card. Call (727) 842-6777.



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