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Little Theater stages 'Fractured Folk Tales'

By JOHN FLEMING, Times Performing Arts Critic

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 23, 2000

A. Paul Johnson threw a birthday party the other night for Fractured Folk Tales, a revue whose music he composed for Indiana Repertory Theatre in 1975. Since then, the work has been done in at least 25 productions, according to the St. Petersburg composer.

"I've seen kids do it. I've seen adults do it for kids. I've seen adults do it for adults. I've seen it done as a dark cabaret piece. I've seen it done as a jolly clown piece. It's been done all across the country. Alaska Rep did a tour of it in the 1980s. Syracuse Stage has done it. It really is a show for all seasons. What can I say?"

Now Fractured Folk Tales, co-written by John Abajian, is being performed again. Johnson directed a cast of 15 for this season's final Lobby Theatre presentation at St. Petersburg Little Theatre.

"The stories are classic children's poetry and stories, like Aesop's folk tales, and every piece has a different style of music," Johnson said. "Little Red Riding Hood is done as a country-western sort of musical. There's a piece called The Chivalrous Shark, which is done with a New Orleans jazz flavor to it."

Johnson is a fan of the community theater's lobby series, where the seating is limited and casual.

"It's been one of my favorite spaces to work in ever," he said. "Let's face it. There's no way live theater is going to be able to compete with the movies. We can't compete with the big touring road houses. So the next best thing is to seat people on a couch or a lounge chair, with their glass of wine or a snack, and put the actors literally right in their laps. There are times in this show when the audience is going to be 6 inches away from the action."

Some plays work better than others in such an intimate setting. "The trick has been finding shows that really lend themselves to the idea that you're part of the show," Johnson said. "We opened the season with The Belle of Amherst, and several people said they felt like they were sitting in her living room hearing Emily Dickinson talk to them like a friend."

Attendance has varied. "We've had some performances with a dozen people in there, and we've had some performances with 80 people," said Johnson, who is on a committee that develops programming for the space. "I think it just depends on the night and the show and the subject matter."

Fractured Folk Tales opens tonight and runs through July 2. Tickets are $4 and $8. Call (727) 866-1973.

MORE THEATER - There's one more performance at 7:30 tonight of The Old Curiosity Shop, the University of South Florida stage adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel at the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg. Scenic designers Barton Lee and Beau Edwardson outdid themselves with the atmospheric set, and Jeff Norton plays the diabolical moneylender Quilp. Tickets are $4 and $8. Call (727) 822-3590.

Eight O'Clock Theatre announced its 2000-01 season, to be performed at Largo Cultural Center, including South Pacific (Oct. 20-Nov. 5), Arsenic and Old Lace (Jan. 26-Feb. 11) and Damn Yankees (March 23-April 8). Call (727) 587-6793.

PIANO -- Composer/pianist Robert Helps plays Chopin, Ravel and Poulenc on the Horowitz Steinway Concert Grand in a free performance at 7:30 tonight at the Piano Gallery, 5990 Ulmerton Road in Clearwater. Mezzo-soprano Theresa Andrasy will also perform. The touring piano was played by Vladimir Horowitz during his career. Call (727) 530-3304.

GALA - Interim conductor Randy Leonard leads the Tampa Bay Gay Men's Chorus in Randall Thompson's Last Words of David and other works at 8 tonight in Ferguson Hall (formerly the Playhouse) of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. Also on the program are the Gulf Coast Men's Chorus of Sarasota and a pair of women's groups, Crescendo and No More Silence. The concert is a prelude to GALA Festival 2000, held July 22-30 in San Jose, Calif. The previous gay and lesbian choral festival was held in Tampa in 1996. Tickets are $17-$20. Call (727) 865-9004.

VERDI - A recent Kirov Opera production of the original 1862 La Forza del Destino airs at 8 p.m. Wednesday on WEDU-Ch. 3. Verdi revised the opera seven years later, and the original is rarely seen, though Sarasota Opera staged it for the first time in the United States in 1996.

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