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Broadway meets Christmas Friday at the Mahaffey

Bill DeYoung

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Heather Tepe and Scott Difford are bringing a Broadway musical theater cast to the Mahaffey Theater Friday. Photos provided.

Seven spotlight veterans of Broadway and touring shows will come together Friday at the Mahaffey Theater for “A Very Broadway Christmas,” a program of musical theater seasonal tunes and Yuletide classics. Featuring a six-piece band and an ensemble of local and regional talent, the concert revue is the first production from Broadway On the Bay, a new St. Pete theater company with serious stage credentials.

Broadway on the Bay was founded by husband-and-wife singer/actors Scott Difford and Heather Tepe, who’ve lived in the area since September 2021.

Tepe

Tepe made her Broadway debut at age 10, playing “Baby June” in the Bernadette Peters-led production of Gypsy. She was the dance captain for Matilda the Musical, a swing in Billy Elliott, performed in the NBC live Hairspray and played Annie Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Her touring and regional theater credits are a mile long.

“All my life has been theater and Broadway,” said the New Jersey native. “ I pretty much grew up in Broadway. I went to a real school, but when we were putting on a show I was tutored in the theater. I would pretty much go to school Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday. That was my life, living backstage in a theater. That’s all I knew.”

Difford

Difford’s Broadway credits include The Book of Mormon, Matilda the Musical and A Christmas Carol, along with numerous tour and regional theater shows. He toured in Ragtime at the age of 13.

His parents live in Englewood, which is what brought the pair to the bay area in the first place; subsequently they fell, and fell hard, for the vibrant cultural atmosphere of St. Pete.

“Both of us have kind of gotten to that point in our career where it’s time to move on to the other side of the table, or to the next thing, outside of just solely performing,” Tepe explained.

“We saw the Mahaffey and we were confused as to why there was no big theater happening there. So we decided to do the other side of what we like to do – start directing, and choreographing and creating a theater company. Rather than just performing.”

Added Difford: “We both have fulltime jobs that are not theater-oriented. We grew up in this industry – we know it, we’ve been there, done it, and we understand we don’t need to be in New York right now.”

“Project Christmas” began, perhaps not surprisingly, with phone calls.

“We’re pretty much one or two degrees of separation from anyone who’s been on Broadway in the last 20 years,” Difford says. “That’s part of this this business model: We can get in touch with anybody we want to get in contact with, and see if they’re interested. So that’s what we did.”

The results – again, not surprisingly – were uniformly positive. “It’s not too hard to convince people up North to come down here, once November hits.”

Along with Tepe and Difford, Friday’s company includes:

Rockwell

Kate Rockwell was Drama Desk-nominated for Mean Girls: The Musical; she was in the original in Bring It On: The Musical, and appeared in Rock of Ages, Hair and Legally Blonde.

Mueller

Jillian Mueller was most recently seen starring opposite Kevin James in the Netflix sitcom The Crew; she starred as Vivian Ward in Pretty Woman on Broadway. Other Broadway and national tour credits: Dirty Dancing (Baby), Flashdance (Alex Owen), Memphis, American Idiot, and the original Broadway casts of Bye Bye Birdie and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Geoff Packard

Geoff Packard has been seen on Broadway in Bandstand, Matilda The Musical, Rock of Ages and Phantom of The Opera, and was in the first national tour of Wicked. He and his wife Chelsea teach in the University of Michigan’s Musical Theatre Department.

Chelsea Packard

Chelsea Packard has been seen on Broadway in Wicked, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Promises Promises, Hands on a Hardbody and The Radio City Spring Spectacular. National Touring credits include: Kristin Chenoweth’s Some Lessons Learned album tour and Wicked.

Greer

Justin Gomlak Greer is Director of Education and Community Engagement at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota; his Broadway credits include Annie, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Anything Goes, Shrek the Musical, The Producers, Urban Cowboy, Seussical the Musical, Annie Get Your Gun and The Hercules Summer Spectacular.

The 16-member ensemble consists of local, regional and statewide performers. The full cast also includes the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay.

Musical director is David Estevez.

Tepe and Difford insist they discovered an opportunity to give St. Pete something new, bright and shiny for Christmas. “We saw that most of the big touring shows go to Ruth Eckerd Hall, the Straz, Van Wezel,” Difford said. “You don’t see a lot of musical theater at the Mahaffey. It’s mostly concerts, comedians, things like that.

“So we basically reached out and told them our idea of trying to follow the normal regional theater business model, which puts on a couple shows a year, in a specific time period, combining local talent with out-of-town talent. And the production manager there was very interested.”

At this stage, he stressed, it’s not a partnership, per se. The couple are simply renting the Mahaffey for their holiday show – which they hope will be the first of many productions there each year.

There has to be a first time for everything, right? “Everyone who’s ever done well in business says you don’t do well without major risk,” said Difford.

Shows at 4 and 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 15. Find tickets here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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