Billed as "Not your ordinary dancing chicken musical," the Floridian tuner, Webb's City: The Musical, returns to St. Petersburg Nov. 15-24. Penned and directed by Wm. S. Leavengood and scored by Lee Ahlin, the homegrown show nevertheless strives for Broadway-level production values as it follows the history of St. Pete through one of its most colorful characters, J.E. "Doc" Webb.
Born just before the turn of the previous century, Webb moved from Tennessee to open a discount drug store in St. Petersburg in 1925. With P.T. Banum-like aplomb, Webb ended up expanding his store to ten city blocks and, according to production spokesperson and general manager Diana Lucas Leavengood, "showcasing mermaids, dancing chickens and kissing rabbits" on the premises. Webb's more serious nature was shown in his devotion to victims of the Depression era (by keeping prices down), the war effort (he sold $2 million worth of war bonds in under six hours) and then the civil rights movement.
Webb's City, which was originally commissioned by the Pinellas County Millennium Celebration, first played at the Ruth Eckerd Hall and Mahaffey Theatre in summer 2000. Success there spurred Mr. And Mrs. Leavengood to found found the the Live Arts Peninsula Foundation to re produce the musical on a recurring basis. Budgeting for the current staging is roughly $300,000. Live Arts is also commissioning other musicals which celebrate the history of Florida. The next will be The Manhattan Casino, conceived by Bill Leavengood and Bob Devin Jones but penned by Jones solo. That show tells of a St. Petersburg-based dance club that was a cultural mecca for the area's African-American community for nearly fifty years.
In recent years, New York has seen Leavengood's Florida Crackers (Circle Rep) and The Preservation Society (Primary Stages), but mostly the playwright has worked regionally, especially in California and Florida, where the American Stage Theatre held a season-long reading series of Leavengood's plays. Florida Crackers, 17 Black, the farce, What Is Art? and several one-acts (including Day of the Onandaga and Space Hunter) were published in a Leavengood compilation, "Florida Bound," in 1994, by Holvoe Books. In June 2000 he told the Tampa Tribune that the main mission of Webb's City was to create "an understanding of what life was like in the 20th Century."
For tickets and information on Webb's City: The Musical at the Mahaffey Theatre for the Performing Arts: 400 First Street South in St. Petersburg, call (727) 892-5767. — By David Lefkowitz