by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
North Florida theatergoers may have a new venue to pursue their love of live theatre, if the Jacksonville Beach restaurant The Brasserie and producer David John Huber have anything to say about it. Their opening three performances on January 6, 7, and 8 drew full houses to the ballroom theater at 1312 Beach Boulevard, in a popular strip mall that houses a number of other restaurants and the Jacksonville Beach Post Office. Huber is planning additional productions in February and March.
The Brasserie, an “elegant casual dining restaurant” provided the food. North Florida newcomer Huber provided the play, a musical murder mystery entitled “Hernando’s Hideaway” that he wrote a number of years ago. He cast it locally, and directed and choreographed the entire production.
Three-quarters of The Brasserie’s gorgeous ballroom was filled with round tables, each seating eight. The south end was the performance area, an improvised stage, with a small bar and cash register in the background, and two trunks that the actors used as performance platforms. This worked quite well since then everyone could be seen and heard even in the back of the room.
A very simple explanation of his zany show would go something like this. Hernando’s Hideaway is the name of a somewhat disreputable restaurant, where we learn that Hernando, the owner, was murdered earlier in the day. Inspector Dick (Donnie Shilling) addresses the diners, the employees, and surviving relatives, and advises that he is investigating and will find the killer. For some unknown reason, he speaks with a German accent, perhaps to appear more mysterious himself. We learn that the inspector considers each of the other fourteen members of the cast a suspect, with the possible exception of Hernando’s young daughter Doris Rose (Madison Lee), who is a real cutie who mostly manages to upstage the adults.
Ira, the firm’s long time bookkeeper is played by local veteran actor, Butch Shadwell, who has performed with ABET, Players, and Dave and Busters Murder Mystery Theatre. Shadwell is a quite funny accountant who apparently has some personal problems and has overdosed on Viagra; everything looks blue to him. (We did mention this show is a bit wacky, we might add that it’s designed for an adult audience.)
The show is filled with offbeat characters. Chong (Jack Nostrand) is a chef obsessed with fish gut soup, his latest delicacy, which thankfully was not on the buffet; Bambi (Faith Gabrielle Doski) a sexy cigarette girl dressed in low-cut satin; Reverend Buddy Love(Justin Simpson) a very loud minister with dubious credentials; Buff(Aubrey Doski) and Biff (Jason Perez) two suspicious busboys; Chachka (Nikita Barin), who sings the impressive “Whatever Chachka” wants; and Yetta (Kristen Bemis) Hernando’s elderly mother. Ms. Bemis is one of the most experienced actors in the show, with twenty-five years of stage credits from New York and Los Angeles. Brae ‘Ana Sharp plays Mimi, the new Chinese manger of Hernando’s. Justin McGurrin appears as Dollar Bill, dressed in flashy clothes with a medallion around his neck that said “Pimp” just in case we needed help figuring out his role.
Playing Hernando’s widow Francine is Jo Channing, who is from the New England area where she was a singer and was involved in community theatre. She lets us know she is pregnant as she walks around in a red bathrobe swigging vodka and complaining about being sent to the Betty Ford clinic to dry out. Channing had the best voice of those who sang solos.
Richard (Aldrin Reasol) is the assistant manager and sings “Somebody” with gusto. The final character is Cassie Sue, played by Keeley Doski as a cute pigtailed teenager. A local actress, Ms. Doski has appeared in “The Sound of Music” and “Hair Spray.”
There are twenty short scenes in the show, which ran about ninety minutes, without an intermission. Each table had the opportunity to fill out a card indicating who they thought was guilty; Inspector Dick announced his conclusion as to the murderer; and the cast ended the show with a group song. The songs use the melodies of former hits of long ago, with new words provided by Playwright Huber to fit the script and action. The mostly young and energetic cast was well rehearsed and were obviously enjoying themselves while they entertained us.
The costumes were largely in black and white or other neutral colors, spiced with splashes of bright red. The production did not use traditional theatre lights. Instead, a large chandelier on a dimmer was the main source light and worked wonderfully well. In addition the extensive lighting around the walls of the ballroom provided special effects.
The pre-show buffet included fresh crisp salads (Caesar or mixed greens) and fresh fruit (including melons and strawberries). The hot food featured expertly seasoned white rice, mixed vegetables, spaghetti with a tasty meat sauce, baked fish, and bourbon chicken. All the food was good and well prepared. A cash bar was available before and during the show.
To cap off the evening, we moved over to the lovely main dining room and bar of The Brasserie, and enjoyed the music at the intimate piano bar. For restaurant reservations or more information, call (904) 249-5800 or visit www.brasserierestaurant.net.
David John Huber just relocated to the Jacksonville Beach area after ten years in South Florida. He will be opening a studio to teach children and adult acting classes and plans future productions in the North Florida area. In addition to more productions of Hernando’s Hideaway, David John Productions and The Brasserie are planning a special Valentine’s treat on Saturday, February 13. For theatre reservations or more information, call 239-645-5577 or visit www.davidjohntalentmachine.com.
Hernando's Hideaway Musical Murder Mystery
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM