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Home > Reviews > Players Theatre: You'll remember the name.
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10/04/06
Jan Findley Theater Review

Those of us who emigrated from up north or back east to the Suncoast are always somewhat surprised to learn that institutions flourished here with real histories, even before we arrived! Take theater, for instance.

Take especially the Players Theatre, a community theater up in Sarasota. They are now into their 77th year, opening last Thursday evening with "Fame, the Musical." The Players were, in fact, one of the two first community theaters in Florida.

In a pre-performance talk, artistic director Burton Wolfe laid out a bunch of facts that back up the uniqueness of this historic company. He claims that in most theaters of the community type, ticket sales account for only 40 percent of the income, with 60 percent of the total income being donated.

The Players, on the other hand, receive 90 percent of their operating budget from ticket sales. Nuff said. Volunteers, as you might suspect, are a big help. The Players have 750 volunteers, putting in some 50,000 hours a year.

Audience to volunteers, this theater is well-supported, and very well-respected. It is in the early days of planning for the construction of a new facility and move to the cultural district to share parking lot space with the Van Wezel and Symphony Center four or five years from now. That's pretty high-class stuff.

The Players opened its history-making 77th season last Thursday evening with "Fame, the Musical," which has a unique history of its own: It was the first Broadway musical of which I'm aware that was first a movie and then a television series before it became a hit musical. "Fame, the Musical" opened on Broadway in the 1990s and was a smash hit.

"Fame" shows its age only in the way it treats the drug scene and the downfall of one of the featured teens. The approach to drugs nibbles around the edges, trying to avoid annoying the polite society of the time. We've become much more outspoken and direct about this vicious plague on our young people since then. But I nit-pick.

That's the only thing I can find to not to 100-percent endorse about the Players production of "Fame." It is ebullient (a word I don't get to use often) and power-packed. The singers belt out their songs in the best Broadway tradition, the individual dancers and the chorus dance with joy and focus, each of the leads sings and moves with 2,000-watt energy. If you like loud, fast-moving, brassy and energizing musicals, don't miss this one.

It's hard to single out any one or two players as the "stars" or the "leads." The whole cast deserves full credit, but I'll give a tad extra credit to Jazmine Giovanni, who plays the drug-doomed Carmen, and to Charles McKenzie, whose rap solo brought down the house, and to Tahlia Byers, the diminutive singing ballerina. Shane Ferreira, Garie Jean Williams, Alex Yepremian, Cynthia Ashford, Kwendel Lasha and Belinda Marino were equally outstanding.

This is a real gang-busters class. You won't be disappointed in any of the performances.

Thomas Dewayne Barrett serves as director and choreographer. He must be one totally pooped person after this assignment. Outstanding.

Deidre Reigel is the musical director. She took a small group of musicians and made them sound like a full pit orchestra. The costumes are by David Walker, in keeping and in style with the times; easy to look at. Marc Lalosh took a simple set design and made it do yeoman service, smoothly and effectively. Matthew Nitsch ran a cool board and got the lights in all the right places at the right times.

On the way to the parking lot I can report that audience reactions around me were equally enthusiastic. "If only they could bottle that energy, I'd buy it!" and similar comments were popular. The audience was hyped on "Fame."

"Fame" runs through Oct. 8, Tuesday through Sunday, with evening performances at 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.

All seats are $23 for adults and $12 for students. If you know a middle-school or high-school student, bring them. To order and for more info, call 941-365-2494.

The Players is at U.S. 41 north of downtown, at 9th Street. For $2 parking, turn right at 9th Street and go one block to Cocoanut, where there are two lots.

Jan Findley covers community events and the arts for the Englewood Sun and weekly Herald. You can e-mail her at burkefindley@verizon.net.

 

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