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Showman polishes new venue

By BARBARA FREDRICKSEN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 15, 2001


Has it really been seven years and four months since Jimmy Ferraro and I tiptoed through strips of lumber and piles of sawdust as he prepared to open his 55-seat Angel "garden cafe" Theatre in Holiday?

It has, but here we were again, dodging carpenters and electricians and shouting over the noise of a worker who was slicing out slabs of concrete to make way for sewer pipes and water lines as Ferraro works toward the opening of his newest venture, the 200-seat Angel Cabaret Dinner Theatre in south New Port Richey.

"Can you believe this? Can you believe this?" he kept asking as we picked our way through sawhorses.

The original Angel was open for four successful years before Ferraro closed it in May 1998 to become artistic director at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre in Hudson, which had opened in 1996.

The series of Broadway musicals he launched at the 450-seat Show Palace have drawn hundreds of thousands of people from all over the state.

Ferraro left the Show Palace a year ago for health reasons, but the Show Palace kept the Broadway shows going under new artistic director Steven Flaa, hitting a new attendance record in February, when Hello, Dolly! brought in 13,485 patrons.

Meanwhile, Ferraro rested up and thought about his next theatrical venture.

It turned out to be the dinner theater in the former Mae's Fabrics in Southgate Shopping Center in south New Port Richey.

Now he's transforming it into an ornate performance venue, set to open on Oct. 19 with a musical, Nite Club Confidential.

The decor is Victorian, from the lace window curtains on the storefront windows to the crushed red velvet drapes at the theater entrance. The foyer will have ticket windows, gift boutique and a damask covered Victorian settee and chairs. The theater itself will have a stage 26 feet wide by 30 feet deep, shaped like a quarter oval. The walls will be painted hunter green, burgundy and mauve and the theater will have wall sconces and a beer and wine bar across from the stage.

Upstairs in the storage room, 200 red upholstered chairs are carefully stacked, along with more than 1,000 costumes and a variety of stage props, far away from the sawdust.

The separate buffet room is behind the stage. Behind that are dressing rooms, restrooms and a holding room for the yet-to-be-hired food caterer.

Ferraro has sold his house in Spring Hill and will soon move to New Port Richey -- "back home," as he calls it.

If you're going to see All Night Strut at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre this weekend, you'll see a pinch-hitter for singer-dancer Kissy Simmons.

Ms. Simmons flew to New York on Monday for her third callback audition for the Broadway productions of The Lion King and Aida. She expected to be back home by Thursday, but because of the the tragedy, she hasn't been able to return.

Instead, singer Sara DelBeato will fill in for Ms. Simmons' vocal numbers, and director-choreographer John Leggio reconfigured the dances around the missing dancer.

Show Palace regulars will remember Ms. DelBeato as the husky-voiced Doatsey Mae in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and a myriad of roles over the past years. Her finest Show Palace moment, though, had to be her smoking rendition of At Last during a spring fundraiser for the Pasco Art Council's youth music and dance programs.

Meanwhile, in New York, the casting director for Rent has called and asked Ms. Simmons to audition for that show while she's in New York. And the producers of The Lion King gave her front row seats for Thursday's performance.

"I think Kissy is going to be gone from here after this show," said Nick Sessa, the co-owner of the Show Palace.

The Pasco Art Center has come up with a novel way to let potential artists get an idea of what they'll do and what they'll learn in the classes to be given at the center.

On Sept. 22, the center will hold "Art Demo Day."

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., you can wander around the center and chat with the people who will be teaching oil, watercolor and acrylic painting, pottery-making, drawing, photography, mosaic work, caricatures and music at the center. If enough people say they're interested in taking something besides what is offered, center executive director Marj Golub and program coordinator Carey Yaskovic say they will see what they can do to put such a class together.

Here's a special treat: author Barbara Cronin Harrington will be at the event to sign her latest book, Give Him Back to God, based on a true story of a 1982 murder in Port Richey. Ms. Harrington will also be signing up people for her free writing-publishing workshop that will be given 1 to 5 p.m. Oct. 17 at the center.

The preview day is part of the annual Centennial Park festival. The newly renovated Centennial Library will be officially reopened for business at 2 p.m. There will be clowns, kids' crafts, a book and flower sale, food, refreshments and the works. The Baker House also will be open for tours.

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