Theater lovers, actors, gather for Poole party

Published March 3, 2007

Community theater directors in these parts should have been at the Lime 'n Coconut restaurant in Tarpon Springs on Wednesday night.

They could have cast their upcoming musicals and plays for the next two seasons just from the singers, dancers and actors crowded into the two dining rooms and flowing out onto the deck at the funky l'il place.

About 80 people had gathered to visit with award-winning community theater director Dick Poole, who got married and moved from New Port Richey to California about 14 months ago. He was back in town with his bride Gerry for an all-too-short stay.

Hundreds had gathered at Francis Wilson Playhouse in Clearwater on Nov. 17, 2005 to pay tribute to the man many consider the Hal Prince of the Tampa Bay theater scene (he probably had to hire an extra truck to haul his theater trophies, statues and plaques out to the West Coast).

The Wednesday night gathering happened on much shorter notice - a quick e-mail to Poole pals from Jane Russell Geddings, who choreographed many of Poole's shows.

That was all it took to get theater stalwarts to come from all over the bay area: Val and Stuart Sanford (Abigail Adams and Edward Rutledge in 1776); Keith Surplus (Graylag in Honk!); Star Dawn Verosic (Lucy in Ladies in Retirement); Lanny Freeman (Buddy in Follies); Mary Ann Boos, musical director in many Poole productions; Kathleen Monahan, who oversees the Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center where Poole did many shows, plus scores of others.

I never thought that telling someone "You don't look a day over 60" would be a compliment, but Poole, who just passed 84, loved it. He does indeed look decades younger, thanks to a long honeymoon in Europe, a planned vacation to Asia, lots of California sun and, no doubt, lots of attention from his lifelong friend, now bride, Gerry.

Theater talk

I always look forward to seeing a new community or professional production, but I'm just plain giddy about the upcoming show at Stage West Community Playhouse, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, a new take on several ancient Roman comedies.

It's one of my very favorite shows, with hilarious characters and dialogue and great Stephen Sondheim songs (uh-oh - I just caught myself humming Comedy Tonight, which drives anyone around me nuts). Even so, it must be very carefully cast and directed, or it will fall as flat as the sole of a Roman sandal.

I've seen good and bad productions of the show, and I have high hopes for this one. Director Barbara Everest has a small truckload of directing awards herself, and her costumer (and mom), Madeline Child, can't be beat.

The cast is a mix of some of Stage West's best actors and several newcomers in key roles, so each scene will be a surprise.

If I have a problem applauding, it's only because I'm going to have all my fingers crossed that this will be one of the good productions.

On that note ...

Richey Suncoast Theatre manager Charlie Skelton says that he's been thinking about turning things upside down in the theater's box office during the run of the musical Anything Goes.

"Everyone in the show is having so much fun, I should be charging the cast and letting the audience in for free," Skelton said.

Just kidding, of course. Skelton wants to be able to collect as much as possible to help pay for all the fancy fix-ups going on inside the theater, including a brand new grand curtain to replace the rather well-used one there now.

Even as Anything Goes dances on, the cast has already been chosen for the musical that opens May 10, The Music Man.

Skelton said 135 people auditioned for the show, and 66 (you read that right, sixty-six) were cast. It will be the largest cast ever on that stage.

The lead role of the fast-talking traveling man/huckster Harold Hill went to Chip Wichmanowski, the executive director of the Pasco Schools Foundation.

He's played everything from Daddy Duck in Honk! to the guitar-plucking Al Feeney in annual Christmas show, but this is his first big lead.

His love interest, librarian Marian Paroo will be played by Heather Graves, who played the lovely baroness in The Sound of Music in 2002, when she was Heather Farley.

Young Hannah Hall and Wichmanowski's daughter Ali are switching off on the role of Amaryllis, Marian's piano student.

"They were equally talented, so I decided to let them share it," said Marie Skelton, who is directing and choreographing the show.