Roberta MacDonald: Songs, Stories and Mr. Chatterbox

By Kay Kipling June 24, 2011

If you’ve never been to the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre in its 40-year history, the question is: Why not?

The downtown theater, owned by producer Robert Turoff and his wife, actress Roberta MacDonald, has been serving up entertainment and a dinner buffet for decades in what was once a Morrison’s cafeteria. Over that time, I and thousands of others have seen countless shows, mostly of the Broadway musical variety, sometimes starring MacDonald herself.

Now MacDonald is starring in a show that’s a little bit different: Songs, Stories and Mr. Chatterbox is a look back at her career, both in New York and here, at a time when the theater (Sarasota’s only commercial theater, as opposed to nonprofit) stands in need of a financial boost from the community to stay open. A plea for support is part of the show’s raison d’etre, but it’s also a chance for the ever energetic MacDonald to sing a few of her favorite songs and tell some of the stories from a nearly 60-year career in the biz.



MacDonald and Plunket do a little reminiscing.

To that end, she’s aided by interviewer and co-performer Bob Plunket, aka Mr. Chatterbox (full disclosure: he’s a colleague of mine here at Sarasota Magazine), who sits with her on the stage, asks questions and does some banter, and even essays a dance step or two with her. (Turoff introduces the show by calling both MacDonald and Plunket “certifiable eccentrics,” and in that sense it’s a match made in heaven.)

MacDonald enters in black, with a red feather boa, and promptly launches into the song Some People from Gypsy before settling down to chat with Plunket—a stroll down Memory Lane that leads to reminiscences of her days at the High School for the Performing Arts in Manhattan, of time spent with her second cousin, the late actress Shelley Winters, of colleagues ranging from her acting teacher, Sidney Lumet, to costars including Dick Shawn, and of brushes with Barbara Walters (MacDonald did a stint on the early Today show), composer Richard Rodgers and more. If you’ve been around Sarasota and the Turoff clan for a while, as I have, you may go in to this show thinking you know quite a lot about MacDonald’s background, but you’ll find there’s much more to learn.

For the most part, it’s an entertaining telling, too. Video clips and images projected on a screen, along with frequent breaks for songs at logical moments in the evening (the easy-to-like Once in Love With Amy, from Where’s Charley?, in which MacDonald played Amy, leads to some audience interaction before the intermission), keep the show from becoming too much talk. In Act II, as we learn of MacDonald’s victories over cancer and other health issues, it’s natural to hear her belt out I’m Still Here from Stephen Sondheim’s Follies; she’s a survivor and a trouper with a vocal delivery at this point in her life that may remind you a little of Elaine Stritch (although she’s cheerier in demeanor than Stritch).

 Plunket’s a good foil for MacDonald, and musical director Don Sturrock knows how to expertly go with the flow as his two performers play around. (Although some of the show is scripted, MacDonald’s personal stories may vary from evening to evening, and the audience gets to ask questions toward the end, too.)

The show continues only through July 2; for tickets call 366-5454 or go to
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