tampabay.com

Drama is when local stars shine

By BARBARA FREDRICKSEN
Published March 31, 2007


One great thing about live theater is that you never know when something unexpected, something electrifying, something unforgettable is going to happen.

Such a moment took place three years ago at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre during the musical Show Boat. The opening scenes had been sort of limping along, looking like a good, but not exactly spectacular show.

Then baritone-bass Phillip L. Boykin stepped forward, opened his mouth to sing, and every jaw in the audience dropped.

The song, Ol' Man River, is, arguably, the best in the precedent-breaking, precedent-making Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein II musical.

Even so, Boykin brought something extra special to the lyrics and music. "Boykin's powerful Ol' Man River ... suddenly energized the stage and made the production take off," I wrote in the review of the show.

Last week, Boykin signed a contract to come back to the Show Palace in July to be in Ain't Misbehavin', featuring the music of Thomas "Fats" Waller. The show runs July 13 to Aug. 26.

"We are just thrilled" about Boykin's return, said Matthew McGee, artistic director and a member of the Show Boat cast.

Meanwhile, frequent Show Palace singer-actor Sara Del Beato (A Show Palace Christmas; The Odd Couple; The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas) is heading south - to St. Petersburg - to be in the American Stage in the Park production of Little Shop of Horrors from April 11 through 29. She'll play Chiffon, one of a trio of sassy singers, in the zany musical about a blood-sucking plant.

Music fans have been watching Sara blossom as a performer since at least April 1994, when she won first place in the elementary school division of the "Reaching for the Stars" competition held in New Port Richey.

She's developed into an amazingly sophisticated song stylist since those early days, doing cool jazz, scat-singing, pop and house-rockin' gospel with equal ease.

Tickets for the American Stage in the Park show are $11 to $26. Call (727) 823-7529.

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Another area girl who has turned into a star is Andrea Eskin, who was enrolled in dance school at age 2, made her stage debut at age 7, and formed her own dance troupe at age 10.

Andrea (she was Andi Sperduti back then) made her professional stage debut at age 11, playing in Annie at the Golden Apple Dinner Theater in Sarasota. Shortly thereafter, she was cast as an extra in the movie Problem Child II with the late John Ritter.

She made her local stage debut at age 12 playing Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker at Stage West Community Playhouse in 1991, just about the time she got a call from the movie company asking her to come back for a bigger role. "I'm not interested in movies," she said all those years ago. "Movies are not perfect, but the stage is."

Fast-forward, and you'll find Andrea fulfilling her dream, dancing, singing and acting all over Florida and the Caribbean, and particularly at the Show Palace. She has choreographed many shows there, including Mame, Cabaret and Victor/Victoria and not only choreographed, but also is the female lead, Kathy Selden, in the current show, Singin' in the Rain.

I often write about Show Palace performers who move on to national touring companies and Broadway. It's nice to see some of our local kids turn into stars right before our very eyes.