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Loving every minute of it

photo
[Times photos: Jill Sagers]
Fadi Akhtar, left, and Sandra Bostick rehearse a scene from Triumph of Love, which is described as a “pretty simple, intimate show” by director Jason Tucker.

By JOHN FLEMING

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 5, 2001


Jason Tucker, veteran of many community theater productions, is putting on a show, Triumph of Love, at the Palladium.

Jason Tucker is not yet 30, but he has a musical theater resume that goes back more than 20 years, to a role in a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

"I would sing with my mom a lot," said Tucker, a fifth-generation Floridian, born and raised in St. Petersburg. "I used to harmonize with her in the car."

For the past decade, Tucker has been a mainstay of Tampa Bay theater, as musical director for more than 50 community and high school theater productions. Now he's branching out with a show of his own.

Triumph of Love is not typical community theater fare, and that's one reason Tucker wanted to do it. He has done plenty of staples like Grease and West Side Story and Hello, Dolly, but this latest project is something new.
photoJason Tucker, who has spent more than 20 years in community theater in the bay area, is planning to head off to New York when he wraps up a few more local jobs.

"Everybody involved in the show, it's our first time doing Triumph of Love, which is nice," said Tucker, the producer and director. "A lot of times you're doing the same show over and over in different incarnations."

There are four performances, tonight through Sunday, at the Palladium Theater. Featuring a cast of seven and a 10-member orchestra, it is a chamber musical adapted by James Magruder from Marivaux's romantic farce that spoofs the 18th century's Age of Reason. With music by Jeffrey Stock and the witty lyrics of Susan Birkenhead, it had a brief run on Broadway four years ago in a production that starred Betty Buckley.

Tucker raised the production's $10,000 cost from friends and family. The biggest expense is the $2,200 in royalties and rental fees for script and score.

The cast includes some of his favorite actors: Amanda Elend, Michael Raabe, Gary Smith and Micki Schumacher. "I've always wanted to get them all together in one project," he said. "Because it's a pretty simple, intimate show, we've been able to really develop the characters."

Tucker is hoping for an attendance of 400 per performance, which he admits may be optimistic, but he should be able to count on support from the many community theater and high school cast and crew members he has worked with over the years.

He has done musical direction of productions at Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Osceola, Seminole, Dunedin, Countryside, Dixie Hollins and Pinellas Park high schools, as well as the Florida State Thespians conference at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

"He has been a godsend," said Jeanne Reynolds, supervisor of music and theater programs with the Pinellas school system. "He's just a wonderful musician, with a tremendous breadth of knowledge of musical theater. If you go to a production by Jason, you know it will be a good one."

Tucker, a keyboard player, has learned a thing or two about what works in high school theater.

"Grease is a good way to get a lot of people involved, because you can do almost anything you want to it," he said. "If you want to cast all 100 kids who audition, you can do it. It's not difficult musically, and if there's a song that needs transposing, it's a cinch."

One of his best memories is from a production of West Side Story at Clearwater High, whose highly regarded theater program is directed by Joy Roche.

"It was one of those shows where everyone connected with it was perfect," he said. "I really worked hard on the kids -- and this was difficult music, this was Bernstein, not Grease -- and they learned it. I was so proud of that show."

He pushes for a budget that allows hiring a few professional musicians to mix with members of the school band in the pit. "You have to have the ringers in there, and then it becomes a wonderful experience for both sides," he said. "The kid gets to learn, and the pro gets to teach."

Tucker, who frequently plays for touring Broadway musicals, enjoys the purity of community theater. "The reason I keep coming back to community theater is the people," he said. "It's more common in community theater that you feel that sense of joy and awe over what we're all doing together. Once theater becomes a job, it's easy to forget the joy."

Three community theater productions that he was involved in and remembers most fondly are Over Here, a big band musical, done at the defunct Tides Dinner Theatre on Redington Beach; a production of Sweeney Todd at St. Petersburg Little Theatre; and last summer's staging of West Side Story by Eight O'Clock Theatre in Largo.

Tucker, whose dream is to be a composer of musicals, was in a retrospective frame of mind last week because he is planning a big move. After Triumph of Love, he has a few more jobs locally -- rehearsal pianist with Ann Reinking's Broadway Theatre Project at the University of South Florida, musical direction of Side Show at Gorilla Theatre -- and then it's off to try to make it in theater in New York.

"I'm 28, and I figure why not?" he said "I'm going to try to find a place to live. I'm going to try to get out on the audition circuit, maybe put in my name as a vocal coach at the local universities. I think musical direction is something I could do in New York, from beginning to end, helping to arrange a show, teach it, then conduct it."

PREVIEW

Triumph of Love, with book by James Magruder, music by Jeffrey Stock and lyrics by Susan Birkenhead, is at the Palladium Theater, 253 Fifth Ave. N, St. Petersburg. Performances at 7:30 tonight, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $8 and $11. (727) 822-3590. Web site: www.geocities.com/triumphoflove/

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