February 11, 2012 | The Brandon Times
By DENNIS MALEY
SARASOTA � For a limited time, locals can travel back to the ritzy era of Delmonico's, America's original fine-dining restaurant, and experience a unique and innovative theater production in what amounts to a full night of exquisite cuisine and top-shelf entertainment. Simply Gourmet's theatrical adaptation of The Firesign Theatre's comedy album, Nick Danger �Third Eye,� or their culinary interpretation of a cultural icon would each be a splendid way to spend an evening. But put them together and throw in the magnificent charm of Seagate and you have the best night out of the year.
Chef Larry Barrett, co-owner of the Sarasota-based catering company, Simply Gourmet, secured the exclusive rights to produce The Firesign Theatre's classic comedy album for a series of performances at the Powel Crosley Estate in the first theatrical presentation of the troupe's brilliantly hilarious parody of vintage detective noir radio shows.
Often described as America�s Monty Pythons, The Firesign Theatre produced more than 20 albums, multiple films, as well as hundreds of live radio shows. The ensemble still performs to sell-out crowds nationwide, maintaining a cult-like following of fans. They were thrilled to have their work adapted in such a manner.
�We�ve given Larry full rein to create this production � and even take it on tour," said Philip Proctor, a Firesign Theatre member. "We�re very excited that 'Nick Danger' is the centerpiece for this exciting theatrical experience."
Chef Barret, who pulled double duty overseeing the cuisine and directing the show, brings impressive credentials to both the stage and plate. In addition to 25 years as an executive chef, he holds a diverse theatrical background, having performed on New York City stages, in television commercials and even on television shows, including �General Hospital,� �Days of Our Lives,� and �Loving." The Renaissance man and his wife and business partner Jamie Barret are well known for their culinary prowess, but at Wednesday's opening performance, he was equally impressive as director.
The locally-cast ensemble had remarkable chemistry, delivering the nostalgic zingers with perfect timing, while adding a dimension of physical comedy to the album's whip-snap humor that many fans have never had a chance to experience. The beautiful Joelle Davis' pouty turn as Nancy, the production's lead �dame,� was delivered with a cabaret quality, highlighted by her sultry performances of songs like Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and I Love Paris.
Keith Crimson's Nick was a true-to-form, hard-boiled private dick that did justice to the classic character that came to define the group, while Marty Fugate stole scenes in his �man of a thousand voices� multiple-character role that channeled Peter Lorre of Casablanca fame. John Forsythe was marvelous as the era-authentic radio announcer, especially when delivering the group's signature mock-commercials.
Barrett showed tremendous command of his cast in extracting such a well-synced, loose and ultimately flawless performance in an incredibly ambitious production that would have been entitled to a couple of snafus the first time out. The pre-performance dinner was the ideal compliment to the entertainment. Larry and Jamie managed to perfectly convey the spirit of the era through a selection of foods right from Delmonico's historic menu.
The meal began with a magnificent warm potato/leek soup that was bursting with zest. The perfectly-creamy consistency made for a hearty offering that would have been a perfect lunch all by itself. The Chicken Wenberg, a sliced roast chicken breast with cream garlic and a touch of flamed brandy was a timely main course and its simple, but sturdy qualities were the perfect match for the tomato and herb relish.
However, it was the potatoes Delmonico that had the crowd talking � an amazing concoction of thinly-sliced Idaho potatoes with Parmesan and Swiss. The mildly crisp and flaky coating on the soft and moist potato simply danced across the palate. Of course there was the classic apple crumb, updated with a Chantilly cream over the crispy walnut streusel served for dessert, which was equally well received at coffee time.
Opening night brought out an A-list crowd which included Euphemia Haye executive chef and proprietor Ray Arpke, famed local sculptor Su Griggs, photographer Barbara Banks, Taste Dining & Travel's Neal Finelli, as well as Powell Crosley Theatre director Gary Mazzu, a diehard Firesign fan who was also quite impressed with the quality performance.
You can enjoy this unique event through March 1, every Wednesday and Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Powel Crosley Estate, 8374 North Tamiami Trail, in Sarasota. Tickets are $45 and include dinner, live music and the performance, all in the serenity of the Seagate mansion, the perfect historical setting for such a night. It's truly a remarkable value, as I can't imagine where else one might enjoy fine dining and first-rate local theater in a venue as enchanting as Seagate for anywhere near that price, and a portion of the proceeds benefit the Crosley Estate Foundation. For info and reservations, call 941-225-9122.