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Performers sing for sake of youth in community

By BARBARA L. FREDRICKSEN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 17, 2001


Actor-singers Tom Bengston and Matt McGee are the ones who came up with the idea of Show Palace Dinner Theatre performers doing a benefit for a local worthy cause. The two are among the professional actors who come in to live in the area while they are performing in Show Palace productions.

"They came to me and said that people around here have been very good to them, and they'd like to do something for the community," said Nick Sessa, co-owner of the Palace. "They wanted it to be a show where they could just be themselves and let people see them as something besides a character in a show," Sessa said.

Bengston has played the Texas governor who would Do A Little Sidestep in Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, the outrageous artiste Boris Adzinidzinadze in Can-Can and the lecherous Osgood Fielding in Some Like It Hot. He is now portraying Horace Vandergelder in the runaway hit Hello, Dolly.

McGee was the nearsighted music group manager in Some Like It Hot and is playing the store clerk Cornelius Hackl in Dolly, but he probably always will be remembered as Fyedka, the Russian soldier who hit and held that perfectly pitched high note in To Life in Fiddler on the Roof.

In this show, dubbed Actors' Night Off, Singers' Night On!, Show Palace performers will do the songs they themselves choose to sing.

"One is going to do some Bruce Springsteen stuff, another is doing some Joni Mitchell," Bengston said. "People who have been coming to our shows can see the actors in a whole new role."

The show date of April 30 works perfectly with the Show Palace schedule. It's right in the middle of the eight-week run of the musical Carousel and comes before the musical Forever Plaid, which is bringing back the four young men who played it a couple of seasons ago. This means the Carousel actors won't be in rehearsal for a new show.

"We'll have a lot of talented people here with lots of time on their hands," Bengston said. "I went to Nick, and he liked the idea" of the fundraiser.

The out-of-town actors had no idea what worthy cause to back, so Sessa began asking around. Before long, he came up with the perfect organization: the Pasco Arts Council's Youth Outreach Program. In accordance with the actors' request, the proceeds of the show will go to the performing arts only, specifically the 5-month-old Pasco Youth Ensemble music group and the acting classes.

"Nick and I met with the council director," Marj Golub, Bengston said. "She brought pictures of some of the projects they'd done with kids. This is just right. We (actors) all started (acting) very young, and it's good to be able to help kids."

Trish Demasky, the Art Center program director who started the Pasco Youth Ensemble, was delighted. The teenage members are ardent music lovers who willingly troop to the art center once a week to practice and hope they're the core of what will eventually become a Pasco Youth Symphony similar to the Tampa Bay Youth Orchestra.

"We're trying to raise $4,000 to help send our orchestra members to summer music camp at FSU or do other musical things," she said. So far, the 12 members have raised about $800 performing for arts shows and fundraisers and from other donations, she said.

Bengston helped start a similar fundraiser for young people in 1995 while he was in a show at the Paul Bunyan Playhouse in Bemidji, Minn., his home state.

"Now they have a benefit every August," Bengston said.

So far, Bengston and McGee have signed up fellow performers Elizabeth Brandel (Mary Bailey in Wonderful Life!), Sara DelBeato (Doatsey Mae in Best Little Whorehouse), Patti Eyler (Pistache in Can-Can, Dolly in Hello, Dolly), Steven Flaa (Billy in 42nd Street), Susan Haldeman (Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn in Music Man), Adrienne Phillips (Ermengarde in Hello, Dolly), Steve Rossi (judge in Dolly), Aaron Wooten (waiter in Dolly) and Scott Wright (Henchman in Some Like It Hot).

The show is 8 p.m. April 30 at the Show Palace, 16128 U.S. 19, Hudson. Tickets are $15, open seating. Call 863-7949 in west Pasco, toll free 1-888-655-7469 elsewhere.

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