“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, J.E. Webb is proud to present ‘The World’s Most Unusual Drug Store’!” It wasn’t exactly the greatest show on earth, but it might as well have been to the millions of customers who frequented Webb’s City, a shoestring startup that grew into a retail sensation. Webb, known as “Doc,” built his real-life empire by using wild and outrageous marketing tactics (including live mermaids, tic-tac-toe-playing chickens, and numerous other gimmicks). These stunts would attract patrons into his complex that eventually spanned several city blocks in St. Petersburg, Florida.
If anyone warrants a grandiose Broadway-styled musical, it is Doc Webb. And with Webb’s City, The Musical, premiering at Florida’s Ruth Eckerd Hall June 23, playwright and director Bill Leavengood (OB’s The Preservation Society and Florida Crackers) proves he agrees.
St. Petersburg native Leavengood and composer-musical director Lee Ahlin (American Stage Company’s musical adaptations for Shakespeare in the Park) have not only ventured into the showman side of Webb, but also showed the man behind the mask. With Webb’s City, they reveal a Webb who kept his prices down through the Great Depression, helped lead the war effort (selling $2 million worth of war bonds in under six hours), and stood by his African-American friends during the struggle for civil rights in the ‘60s.
The production will open at Clearwater’s Eckerd Hall, then move to the Mahaffey Theatre for the Performing Arts in St. Petersburg for June 30 - July 2 as part of the Pinellas County Millennium Celebration. The show, choreographed by Cheryl Lee, includes sets by Lino Toyos, lights by Joseph P. Oshry, and costumes by Emily Harris.
Tickets can be purchased for $12.50 and $17.50 at both theatres’ box offices: Eckerd Hall, 111 McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater, call (727) 791-7400 and the Mahaffey Theatre, 400 First Street South, St. Petersburg, call (727) 892-5767. For the Webb’s City website, go to www.pinellas2000.com/p2000/webbscity.html. -- by Ernio Hernandez