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Dandy debut, by George

The St. Petersburg Little Theatre will open the season with a patriotic bang.

[Times photo: Lara Cerri]
Caitlin Morris, Alana Clapp and Alicia Barlow, from left, practice a song while Joseph Fletcher shouts out a line as the ventriloquist for the production of George M!

By JON WILSON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 11, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- The popular, flag-waving musical George M! opens the St. Petersburg Little Theatre's 78th season Thursday, and the theater will honor local firefighters and police officers as part of its "Celebrate America" theme.

Eleven schoolteachers are part of the 45-member cast, considered large for a community theater production.

The story traces the life of George M. Cohan, a major figure in early American musical theater. James Cagney popularized the role in the 1942 movie Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Veteran dramatists James Grenelle and Tim Topper share the lead in the Little Theatre production. Grenelle plays Cohan in his younger years. Topper, who portrays the older Cohan, leads the drama department at Perkins Elementary, magnet Center for the Arts and International Studies.

The show features several widely recognized songs, including Give My Regards to Broadway, You're a Grand Old Flag, Over There, Harrigan and the movie's title song.

[Times photo: Lara Cerri]
Musical director Jason Tucker, at the piano, nods to signify a change in the chorus. Travis Moore (who plays Walt), left, tape-records the rehearsal. Between them is Tim Topper, who portrays the older George Cohan. He leads the drama department at Perkins Elementary School.

"One of the most interesting things is we have a lot of people who are new to the stage," said director Jason Fortner. Working with so many newcomers can sometimes present a challenge, but "in this case, it's just been fun," Fortner said.

Fortner has lots of experience to pass along. He has appeared in musicals and plays both locally and with national touring companies for more than 30 years.

Musical director Jason Tucker also is accomplished, winning a community theater Lary Award in 2000 for choral/orchestra direction in West Side Story.

Cecil Cheek and Mary Lamb are co-producers.

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