Big-name acts to take Show Palace stage

The theater, nearing its 10th year, is set to be a "satellite venue" of Ruth Eckerd Hall.

Published September 10, 2006

HUDSON - As the Show Palace Dinner Theatre approaches its 10th anniversary in October, it's taking a big step toward enhancing its entertainment program.

This week, the theater agreed to become a "satellite venue" of Ruth Eckerd Hall, according to the Clearwater facility's entertainment director, Bob Rossi.

This means that Eckerd's entertainment division will bring big-name performers and shows to the Hudson theater on what Rossi hopes will become a regular basis.

The first such show will be former Saturday Night Live comedian Joe Piscopo on Jan. 7.

"I'm hoping we can do a whole winter series up there," Rossi said.

Both Rossi and Show Palace co-owner Nick Sessa describe their oral agreement as a positive move for both sides.

"We have a 2,200 seat theater and a 180-seat studio (theater), and they don't allow us to do these types of shows," Rossi said. The Show Palace is about twice the size of the smaller Eckerd venue and can also offer dinner with the show in a "cabaret atmosphere," Rossi said.

Show Palace co-owner Nick Sessa is equally enthusiastic.

"We don't have the buying power that Ruth Eckerd Hall does," Sessa said. "This means we'll be getting even bigger and better acts."

The Eckerd shows will play Sunday through Thursday evenings, between the performances of the Show Palace's regular Broadway season, Rossi said.

Stage designers from Eckerd will work with Show Palace set designer Tom Hansen so that the Show Palace sets will also work for the Eckerd shows.

The Show Palace deal is part of Eckerd's outreach program, which has brought shows to the Center for the Arts at River Ridge, Clearwater's Coachman Park and other venues throughout Florida, but it is the first time, to Rossi's knowledge, that Eckerd has partnered with a for-profit dinner theater.

Rossi said he had been thinking about the arrangement for some time. The right time seemed to happen when Piscopo called Rossi to say he was coming to Florida to do several shows on the east coast in early 2007 and had some dates open before he headed back home to New Jersey.

Unfortunately, the dates Piscopo had open had already been filled at Eckerd with the musical Sweet Charity, trumpet virtuoso Arturo Sandoval and singer Frankie Valli.

Rossi wanted to keep Eckerd's relationship with Piscopo going and didn't want Tampa Bay audiences to miss the chance to see the popular Piscopo.

He said he immediately thought of the Show Palace.

"There's this little gem sitting right there on (U.S.) 19," he said. "The Show Palace is (affiliated with) Equity (Actors Association), has great technical capabilities, good food and built-in patrons and a track record of customer service. We feel safe dealing with them."

Sessa is happy that Rossi thought of his theater.

"It's nice to work with a large venue for the respect and prestige," he said. "It's nice that they respect us, too."

Tickets are on sale through the Show Palace box office at (727) 863-7949 or 1-888-655-7469. Dinner and show is $46.50, plus tax and tip.