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Business

Brisk ticket sales help theaters to refurbish

Show Palace Dinner Theatre hired a new chef and upgraded the sound system. Richey Suncoast Theatre was able to cover its cracked dome.

By BARBARA L. FREDRICKSEN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 16, 2003


The economy might be creaking in some areas of Pasco County's business sector, but not in the county's theaters.

Despite a $1.55 increase in ticket price in February 2002 -- its first in two years -- the 6-year-old Show Palace Dinner Theatre matched its 2001 attendance, thanks in great part to a larger-than-expected turnout for its most popular holiday show ever, Christmas Spectacular.

The story was the same for Richey Suncoast Theatre, which raised its ticket price to $13 a show in September (it had been $10 for plays, $12 for musicals), then saw an impressive surge in attendance for its 2002 fall lineup and increasing demand for tickets for the rest of the year.

Those moves have been followed at the relatively new Angel Cabaret Theatre, which, after little more than a year in business, bumped its price up $2 a show at the start of this year, from $32.50 to $34.50.

The jumps helped the theaters to refurbish facilities and upgrade services.

The Show Palace hired a new executive chef, Gary Niles, whose resume includes stints at the tony Innisbrook Resort and the huge Raymond James Financial office building in St. Petersburg. Among Niles' first moves were changing the menu to include thick-sliced grilled steaks, sauteed mushrooms and chicken simmered in burgundy wine and adding a large dessert buffet.

Show Palace owners Nick and Sal Sessa upgraded the theater's sound system dramatically, and several shows featured a live band. Plans for the coming year include almost doubling the size of the theater's warehouse and establishing a full-blown costume design and creation center, with Erik Michelsen in the newly created position of costumer.

Richey Suncoast has continued its remodeling, at long last covering the peeling and cracked dome atop its roof with gold material that makes it look like the domicile of a Arab potentate. In the coming year, Richey Suncoast board president Charlie Skelton said, the theater hopes to spruce up the auditorium's interior, perhaps redoing the walls and ceiling, and to have the exterior painted in newer hues and colors.

Angel Cabaret owner Jimmy Ferraro has purchased new table settings and changed caterers, moving to New York Style Catering and chef Gregory Michael Salamon.

Meanwhile, the Aripeka Elks continued to draw hundreds of people to their inexpensive dinner shows that feature musical acts, comics, impersonators and small off-Broadway shows.

"We are able to donate to several charities from these shows, plus our other events," said Mary Ann Steffes, lodge publicity chairman.

Pasco-Hernando Community College Foundation's performing arts season continued its success with nostalgia acts such as the Drifters and the Four Lads, ethnic acts such as Mallku from South America and novelty shows like New Odyssey, a trio of musicians who play more than 30 instruments.

In Dade City, hopes to turn the old, long-unused Crescent Theatre into a combination performing arts center and senior center were abandoned. Instead, theater boosters hoped to transform the building into the senior center and obtain government grants and corporate and individual donations to build a 250-seat theater next door. A University of South Florida study showed that such a facility could require a subsidy of as much as $63,000 a year, even though it might bring in a great deal of revenue.

As the new year arrived, however, hopes were fading for a quick theater building project.

Pasco County enjoyed a moment of fame in December, when River Ridge Middle School student Brandon Mauro won a featured role on television's top-rated show, C.S.I. Brandon turned out to be the murderer, the first time C.S.I. had had a perpetrator that young.

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