This will be Rita’s twenty fifth successive pantomime season for David Lee directing as well as presenting her very unique choreographic style.
Rita was born in Leicester, the youngest of three she was the only one in the family to follow in her father’s footsteps. Her father Dennis started singing at the age of 16 and after winning an Al Jolson contest he worked for E.N.S.A in WWII and upon his return to civvy street appeared with many of the greats of our industry including Johnny Dankworth, Humphrey Littleton, Ken Mackintosh, Lee Tarosa and Edmondo Ross. For many years he was lead vocalist with the Basil Halliday Band based in Nottingham and made many recordings over the years for the BBC. Rita says “although I don’t think my Dad ever really wanted me to go into the business, deep down I think he knew that it was in my blood and therefore inevitable!”
She started her dance training at the Janette Dupont Stage School in Leicester at the age of nine and continued her studies at the famous London Studio Centre. Before becoming a top choreographer in her own right, she worked for such notable choreographers as Phil Winston and the legendary Brian Rogers for whom she appeared in a season of “How Tickled I Am” starring Ken Dodd at the London Palladium. The show was also recorded for posterity and has already received two screenings on national television. In 1993 she appeared in the Cannon & Ball 25th Anniversary Show at Blackpool’s North Pier.
Her other television credits include; several appearances on The Magic Comedy Strip for John Fisher assisting the world famous American illusionists The Pendragons with guest comedian Joe Pasquale.
In 1987 Rita she met producer David Lee, who ironically like her father had also been inspired early in his career by Al Jolson! They have been working together for over fourteen years, during which time she has progressed to directing, receiving considerable critical acclaim for her work. She has also choreographed shows for Japan, Korea, Portugal and Cyprus for the British Armed Forces as well as productions for several cruise lines and the Rank Organisation.
She has choreographed a galaxy of stars including the international Australian superstar Natalie Imbruglia, Lysette Anthony, Celena Cherry of the Honeyz, Red Dwarf star Craig Charles, Jonathon Morris, Maureen Nolan, Neighbours stars Lucinda Cowden and Fiona Corke, Yorkshire’s very own Billy Pearce and even Gladiator’s Wolf, Hunter and Panther!
One of the highlights of her professional career came in 1992 when she was invited by the Grand Order of Water Rats to choreograph and stage a “Can Can” as a finale’ for a 50th Birthday Gala dinner at the Savoy Hotel, the guest of honour being HRH Prince Michael of Kent. Her other presentations before royalty include a show at Windsor before HRH Prince Philip.
In 1994 she was honoured to be invited to become a member of the Grand Order of Lady Ratlings. Another great moment occurred in 1997 when she was invited to present two special routines to the memory of legendary American composer Jule Styne at the London Palladium. Other prestigious productions which have benefited from her sensational dancers are “You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet! and for Warner Bros. a national theatre tour of Oh Yes It Is LOONEY TUNES Live On Stage!
2004 has seen Rita co-devising ten high-energy spectacular floor show productions with David Lee as well as choreographing them for the Club Tropicana on the Lincolnshire coast alongside such stars as her dear friend Joe Pasquale, Bobby Davro, Freddie Starr, Duncan Norvelle, Keith Harris & Orville, Showaddywaddy, The American Four Tops and The American Drifters.
This season she will also present her work at all Pantoni's five venues.
With over thirty seven years experience in professional showbusiness and having presented well over one hundred pantomimes, it is surprising to note that David does not come from a theatrical family. His father was a builder and his mother worked in a woollen mill.
His first experience of the stage came at the age of five; “I can’t remember why ran on to the stage with all the other kids who were invited to enter a talent contest on the South Pier in Blackpool, but what I still remember to this day is the presence of the audience out there in the dark and the magic of the multicoloured lights before me.” Looking out over the footlights and listening to that wonderful sound of applause, David knew there could be no other vocation for him in life but the stage.
“I recall the bug for the stage just got stronger and stronger and it wasn’t long before my mother, desperate to know what to do with this kid who seemed to have an obsession with entertaining, enrolled me into a local stage school where I learned basic stage craft and picked up a little basic knowledge of tap dancing.”
Upon leaving school at the age of fifteen he appeared in his first summer season in Whitby, this was followed by many No1 theatre and cabaret tours and appearances with his tribute to Al Jolson. Then in 1978 he decided to move into the field of production, predominantly as a pantomime producer with Goldilocks & The 3 Bears starring Johnny Hackett at the Doncaster Civic Theatre. Then as now he returned to his childhood for inspiration, never forgetting the magic of the shows he had seen at the Bradford Alhambra, produced by the legendary “King of Pantomime” Francis Laidler. This season he has once again researched past Laidler pantomimes going back as far as 1912 to try and bring more of the “Laidler Magic” to his Yeovil production.
Over the years David has presented many top names in showbusiness, including; Shane Richie, Jeremy Beadle, Kathy Staff, Little & Large, Wayne Sleep, Alvin Stardust, The Original Rainbow (Geoffrey Hayes, Bungle Zippy & George), Windsor Davies, Bernie Clifton, numerous Neighbours stars including international pop superstar Natalie Imbruglia, who played Beth Brennan in the popular Australian soap. Other UK stars include; Jonathon Morris, Billy Pearce, Keith Harris & Orville, Gladiators; Wolf, Hunter and Panther, Carol Lee Scott, (Grotbags) Neil Buchanan, Jack Douglas, 60’s recording stars Craig Douglas, Susan Maughan and Jess Conrad and many more plus late greats Roy Castle, George Melly, Jon Pertwee, Ted Rogers, Joe Mr Piano Henderson as well as showbusiness legends Spike Milligan, Tommy Trinder and Sandy Powell.
Ten years ago he was honoured by being elected to that most prestigious showbusiness fraternity The Grand Order of Water Rats. This year Pantoni is presenting five pantomimes around the country; which include The Octagon Theatre in Yeovil, The Civic Theatre in Doncaster, The Empire Theatre in Consett, The New Foral Pavilion in New Brighton & The Library Theatre in Luton.