The original's still the greatest.
It's been more than 30 years since "Greater Tuna" first started making the rounds of local and regional theaters around the country. It later spawned three sequels ("A Tuna Christmas," "Red, White and Tuna" and "Tuna Does Vegas") that have turned the quirky comedy into a franchise.
The franchise has made a lot of money for its writers, Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard. But the silly and obvious sequels have harmed the reputation of the original play, which has much edgier humor and much more depth than the others.
People who have only seen the sequels often have negative impression of the "Tuna" cycle.
But it's the original that's coming to the Kiwanis Theater at the Manatee Performing Arts Center starting this weekend, and even after all these years, the people involved say it's still very funny.
"It's hilarious," said Daniel Greene. "It doesn't grow old."
Greene is one of two actors who play 20 characters in "Greater Tuna."
The characters are the entire population of tiny Tuna, Texas. The play takes the audience through one day in "Texas' third-smallest town."
"It's a lot of fun," said director Steve Dawson. "The lines are great. All you have to do is perform the script with lightness, and a little bit of pathos, and the laughs are there."
Dawson makes it sound as though it's an easy show to perform, but "Greater Tuna" has acting challenges that few other shows demand. And that's part of what makes the show so much fun, he said, for both the actors and the audiences.
Each of the cast members -- in this production, Greene and Alex Catalano -- plays 10 characters. There are men, women, children and even a dog, and the actors have to change characters (and change costumes) quickly. At the same time, they have to make the audience care about the story and the people.
"It's not like 'Saturday Light Live' or 'Mad TV' where you're playing caricatures," Catalano said. "You have to keep it real, or as real as can be, especially at the end."
Manatee Players shows often feature a lot of familiar faces, but Green and Catalano are both new this season.
Greene lives in Palmetto but for the past 18 years has acted mostly at Venice Theatre. He's making his Manatee Players debut.
Catalano acted and studied in Los Angeles. He studied at the Groundlings Comedy School and graduated from the Stella Adler Acing Academy -- two of the area's most prestigious actor training programs -- and made his Manatee Players debut in "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever."
Dawson's a Manatee Players veteran. His last show was the hit musical "Peter Pan."
Details: April10-27, Kiwanis Theater, Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave, W., Bradenton. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $26 for adults, $15 for teachers and $13 fee for students.. Information: 941-748-5875, www.manateeplayers.com.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.