The St. Petersburg Museum of History celebrates its 100th anniversary this weekend, and there’s an event Saturday that pays tribute to something even more vintage.
Gaspar! The Musical, presented as a staged reading inside the museum, is a new show by Bill Leavengood and Constantine Grame. The play re-imagines the life and legend of Jose Gaspar, the Florida pirate whose exploits have inspired Tampa’s annual Gasparilla Festival since 1904.
Never mind that Gaspar never actually existed, but was the creation of turn-of-the-century marketeers to drum up interest in their first May Day parade.
Remember The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.
Leavengood, a seasoned dramatist whose handful of historical plays have included Crossing the Bay and Webb’s City, previously collaborated with composer Grame on Drilled, a musical comedy about dentistry and the parallel pain of politics.
“Drilled was a great experience,” Leavengood says, “but we realized that by writing a political satire, once the politics changed it would be outdated, out of commission. I decided we should write something about Gasparilla as something that might be done perennially, or bi-annually, as part of the celebration.
“We tried to capture the feeling, and the fun, and the kind of wildness of Gasparilla in the show. So it’s a sort of swashbuckling romp about trading places.”
The stage is set with the opening song, “The Wonder of Plunder.”
“We are on the Floriblanca, which is the ship Gaspar supposedly captained, back in the golden age of piracy. We’re introduced to Gaspar and his cutthroat ways, and his crew that is starting to consider a mutiny against him.
“Then we’re on a modern-day tall ship, run by the Mystic Krewe of the Deep. We’re in modern times, with a very popular candidate – Joe Right – who’s running for the governorship of Florida. And the crew consists of all these power brokers, who are courting this guy, to get him elected. And get a lot of favors and benefits in return.”
There may be a political undercurrent in this show, Leavengood admits slyly.
He continues the story. “Under mysterious circumstances, both Gaspar and Joe Right go overboard. And when they’re pulled out by their crew and friends, they are on each other’s ship, and in each other’s time.
“So it’s about how Jose Gaspar, the bloodthirsty pirate, does as a Florida politician, and how well a Florida politician does commanding an actual pirate ship.”
The cast includes Jim Sorensen, Chris Loving, Amanda Ladd, Sydney Reddish, David Powers, Jonathan Dacres, Cody Novotny, James Swallow and Lauren Grame.
Ladd and Reddish were in the cast of Leavengood’s most recently-produced play The Sister-Mothers of Gulfport; Ladd also starred in the playwright’s one-woman show The Azure Sky in Oz.
Bear in mind, Gaspar! is a staged reading, with the actors/singers using scripts and printed music. There is no stage set … not yet, anyway.
“I’m trying to do the same thing we did with Webb’s City, on a smaller scale,” says Leavengood. “Hopefully we’ll get a full production mounted in January 2023. I’m applying for a grant for that as well.
“So the idea is for people to get to hear it and see it, and generate some momentum to get a full production.”
Find additional info and purchase tickets here.