Thursday, December 29, 2005

More arts list-making at the end of the year

In the St. Pete Times (unnumbered) end-of-year list by John Fleming, he had to this to say about one night in the Opera Tampa series at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

"Another musical moment to cherish from 2005 was Jessye Norman's recital, which demonstrated that if her voice isn't quite what it used to be, nobody brings such intensive, nuanced atmosphere to an art song as the great diva."

And he also praised two Broadway shows he saw in New York, The Light in the Piazza and "John Patrick Shanley's potent drama on the crisis of the Catholic Church, Doubt." (See below for more Broadway news.)

- Michael K

Broadway's annual numbers light up NYC; plays rebound in strong showing

While it's very, very nice that Broadway has been strong this year, it's especially nice that plays -- and not just musicals -- also provided strong numbers.

Broadway grossed a record $825 million in 2005, up from $749 million in 2004, according to the League of American Theatres and Producers, a trade organization.

Four musicals in particular are still doing big business six months after being nominated for Tony Awards for Best Musical: Monty Python's Spamalot (which won the Tony), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and The Light in the Piazza.

But plays, too, have made an impact on Broadway -- after a period in which straight pieces were overshadowed by big effects, big hair and big budgets.

Ticket sales for plays along were up by 530,000, which means -- according to an industry rep -- that four out of every five additional tickets sold this year were for a play.

"Clearly, there is still a place for plays on Broadway, and hopefully this success will result in even more in coming seasons," said Howard Sherman, executive director of the American Theatre Wing.

Hit plays this season included the Tony-winning Doubt, 700 Sundays, the one-man reminiscence by Billy Crystal, along big star turns such as Lane and Broderick in The Odd Couple, Denzel Washington in Julius Caesar and Alan Alda and Liev Schreiber in Glengarry Glen Ross.

Doubt started at off-Broadway's Manhattan Theatre Club and then moved to Broadway's Walter Kerr Theatre.

It won not only the Tony Award for Best Play, but also the Pulitzer Prize, the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award, the Drama Desk, the Outer Critics' Circle Award, the Lucille Lortel Award, among others.

- Michael K

(Sources: The New York Times, Associated Press, League of American Theatres and Producers)

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Taking another bow ...

This time of year it seems that "Best of" and "Top 10" lists are everywhere. Weekly Planet, Tampa's alternative weekly paper, compiles an annual Top 10 list of theater produced in the Bay area and this year's results look great for TBPAC. Five of this year's plays took place at The Center.

At number seven there was the jubilant Jaeb cabaret musical SATCHMO. Jobsite Theater, TBPAC's resident theater company, took numbers three and six with The Complete History of America (abridged) and Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune. Stageworks' Collected Stories took number five, and the Stageworks/Hat Trick co-production of The True History of Coca-Cola in Mexico finished out the list at number ten.

Congrats to all of these companies and productions! Here's to a great season of live theater at TBPAC in 2006! In January alone folks can choose from such diverse offerings as the hit musical Forever Plaid, the Pulitzer Prize winner Topdog/Underdog or the edgy late night comedy Phyro-Giants!

If you'd like to read the whole Planet list, you can do so here.

- David J.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Hey, isn't that Bebe Neuwirth?

Today, on the third and probable final day of the New York transit strike, multiple hyphenate Bebe Neuwirth found that not even earmuffs and a bike helmet grant anonymity.

In a call to Culture Shock, Bebe mentioned she was bundled and layered against the 23-degree weather in NYC. Riding a bicycle near the West Side Highway, she heard someone calling her name.

Perplexed, she turned to see two women waving at her.

"How did you know"? she asked them, surprised and amused that fame transcends even winter layers.

You'll recognize Neuwirth even more easily in Florida.

She's the Tony and Emmy Award-winning dancer, singer and actress you've seen in TV shows such as "Cheers" and "Law and Order" as well as on Broadway with "Chicago," "Fosse" and "Sweet Charity."

Bebe will be in concert at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center on Feb. 26, performing material from songwriting legends Kurt Weill ("The Threepenny Opera") and Kander and Ebb ("Cabaret," "Chicago").

TBPAC.ORG is currently hosting a full interview with Bebe, check it out.

--Michael K.

Monday, December 19, 2005

A special message from Catie Curtis

I am thrilled to be coming to Tampa soon! I'm hearing from happy fans, too. Sounds like a great venue. I look forward to seeing it!

- Catie Curtis

What's the buzz?

"A Christmas Carol."
Check.
"Frosty the Snowman."
Check.
"It's a Wonderful Life."
Check.
"Jesus Christ Superstar."
What?!?

In an odd bit of seasonal programming, the sly folks at the Sundance channel scheduled the 1973 Norman Jewison film of the Webber-Rice rock musical for December.

The anachronistic film definitely reflects the time it was made. The Roman guards wear combat fatigue pants. Characters are buzzed by low-flying fighter planes and chased by tanks. And both Jesus and Judas sing like ''70s rock stars, which I guess is kind of the point.

Yvonne Elliman's lovely "I Don't Know How To Love Him" is still moving, all these years later.

The live musical has fared better than the movie, which is frozen in a pop culture time capsule. (Even the device of having the cast arrive and leave the location shoot on what looks like Ken Kesey's bus seems strangely dated.)

It first played here at The Center in 1994 and then again in 2004. The most recent run especially drew big crowds. And the concept isn't quite so scandalous as it was when the musical debuted in 1971 in New York. (There have been two revivals on Broadway.)

* * *
More from National Teach -In Day

"The performing arts center is the largest arts center in the southeast. Jesse McCartney went there. Rockets [Rockettes] went there, too, for their Christmas song. We can all go and learn and have fun. It is Downtown. His job is to make sure people come. If no one comes, they get disappointed. They have a website that has everything. Go to tbpac.org." -- Nikki G.

"Thank you for all you showed us and I hope you come to tell us more about the theater and I hope I can go there sometime." -- Richard K

- Michael K.

Friday, December 16, 2005

From shelter to stage, an American success story

This morning I had the privilege of escorting Brian, dog trainer extraordinare, and Lola (aka Sandy in ANNIE) to a classroom at the Metropolitan Ministries Charter School. Twenty of these students were TBPAC’s guests at the Wednesday night performance of Annie. The kids were so well behaved, learned a lot and asked some great questions.

I learned a few things myself:
1. Lola clearly doesn’t answer to the name “Sandy.” So, on stage, Lola responds only to hand commands.
2. Marissa, the actress who plays Annie, has regular training time and play time with Lola to make sure that they are friends both on stage and off.
3. In the scene where Sandy appears to be lost in NYC, they get her to look from side to side (as though lost), by having two humans (one in each wing) use her favorite squeaky toys to get her attention from one side to the other and back again.
4. To make it look like Sandy is “injured” when Annie finds him, they put a small piece of tape on Lola’s foot. She doesn’t like the tape sticking to the floor, so she won’t put her foot all the way down. When Annie rescues him, she heals him by removing the tape.
5. You might notice my jumble of pronouns – that’s because Lola is a girl dog, who plays Sandy, a boy dog. What a great actress that dog is, to pull that off every night!
6. Lola was rescued from the Humane Society in Connecticut at 1 year old. After training for six years, she is on stage performing eight shows a week in ANNIE.
7. Lola has an understudy named Mike (also a rescue). Mike is only four, and Brian the trainer hopes that Lola doesn’t need the services of her understudy anytime too soon. Mike might not be 100% ready for a live show.

I am in awe of both Brian and Lola’s ability and dedication. I have one dog that I can’t even teach to sit. The other two, are only slightly more impressive. They get by on cute really. And, none of them bring home a paycheck!

But, I digress. It was a really cool way to spend the morning. It almost made me forget about my miserable head cold. A lot of other folks have much bigger challenges to contend with this holiday season, and thankfully, we were able to bring a tiny bit of Christmas joy to some kids who could really use it.

--Summer B.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

From the mouths of ...

More than 20 representatives of The Center fanned across Tampa Bay area schools during the National Teach-In.

One class, from Lake Magdalene Elementary, wrote "stories" about what they heard and we just received them here.

Here are some excerpts.

"He told us about the 5 different kinds of rooms. He also told us the bands that are already playing or are going to play." -- Zachary H.

"{He} talked about the Performing Arts Center and what kind of singers went there. Also what dancers went there and performers that also went." -- Landon P.

"That was a good show. Someday I will learn music." -- Darrell J.

"There are almost 100 people there at the performing arts center. They teach digital video. They teach ballet and hip-hop. They even have Hillary Duff. In December, the Nutcracker will perform. ... Before they had Phantom of the Opera and Lion King." -- Nikki G.

Nice to know some of what we said stuck with them. But what really resonated with the students I spoke with was that I knew who Jesse McCartney was (only because he had just played here some months ago.) Don't know who he is? Ask your kids.

- Michael K

Sunday, December 11, 2005

My Momma-San??!!

The King is dead. Long live the King.

Richard Pryor, legend, died yesterday at the age of 65. He had been ill with multiple sclerosis.

No Pryor and there's no Eddie Murphy, Dave Chappelle or Chris Rock. No Pryor and there's no Harlem Nights, The Toy, The Wiz, Carwash or See No Evil, Hear no Evil.

He was the first host of Saturday Night Live that frightened network censors to the point of them airing the show on a tape delay. That episode had two of my favorite sketches, Samurai Hotel and Racist Word Association Interview.

I used to sneak listens to my dad's records when I was a kid. Later, I'd stay up late at my grandparents to catch bits of Live on Sunset Strip or Here and Now on HBO.

If there's a heaven for dead comedians, I hope Hicks, Pryor, Belushi and Foxx are laughing their collective fool heads off this afternoon.

And if a boy is real, real lucky - they'll be rooting for the Buccaneers.

We already miss you, Rich.

- David J.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Catie Curtis connection

Catie Curtis is one of those artists who communicates directly and often with her fans.

In her most recent e-mail, the Boston singer-songwriter sends a tip to look out for her version of "Lo How a Rose Ere Blooming," along with Jenn Kimball, Jimmy Ryan and Kris Delmhorst, in the Dec. 11 episode of "Gray's Anatomy." That's this Sunday for any calendar-challenged readers.

And, for the really big news, Curtis goes into the studio in January to record a batch of new songs with producer Lorne Entress. You can hear some of those when Curtis comes to Club Jaeb at The Center on Feb. 20.

Speaking of Club Jaeb, blues whiz David Jacobs-Strain knocked out a small, but enthusiastic audience on Dec. 5. The talented but humble 22-year-old showed that a Stanford dropout from Oregon can channel country bluesmen. We'll try and get him back here for more folks.

- Michael K

Monday, December 05, 2005

Your input wanted

So we've had Culture Shock up and running for a bit, and it seems our readership is not doing too bad. We're averaging about 200 readers a week.

We don't get much in the way of comments, but we do know you're paying attention.

I'm really curious to see what sort of entries you folks want to read. We post some entries with what amounts to backstage insider info, some that point out interesting tidbits about shows or performers, some about things in New York or elsewhere even if it doesn't directly relate to TBPAC. We've posted entries about pop culture, movies, books.

What do you most enjoy reading about? What would you like to see more of? What could you do without?

Use the comment link below to sound off. I'm very interested to see what you have to say.

- David J.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

6 degrees to Opera Tampa?

This weekend is the opening of the 2005-2006 Opera Tampa season with Bizet’s Carmen. Now in our 11th season, each year we have been lucky enough to have Anton Coppola at the podium.

The Coppola name has quiet a family tree attached to it including Francis Ford Coppola (Anton Coppola’s nephew) as well as Nicolas Cage and Sofia Coppola. This got me to thinking… could you tweek the 6 degrees to Kevin Bacon to 6 degrees to a Maestro Coppola?

To add to the possibilities, Dorothy Danner is the director for this production of Carmen. Not only is she the first female director for Opera Tampa but also she’s the sister to Blythe Danner and aunt to Gwyneth Paltrow.

So that means Opera Tampa easily has links to film, stage and music.

Hmmm… 6 degrees to Opera Tampa just might work!

- Angela B.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Make it a Cajun Christmas

Christmas came early to the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center this year with the opening of Christmas Cabaret in the Jaeb Theater, which I saw in a preview.

Running through Dec. 18, this restaging of an annual holiday favorite spends the new first act celebrating the history and heritage of New Orleans. The songs include those you’d probably expect, but also a lovely “At the Edge of Lake Bijou” sung by Shelly Stephens – an unexpected pleasure.

As the images of Preservation Hall and Bourbon Street and Mardi Gras flash past on three overhead screens, we are left to wonder in Katrina’s aftermath, as the Narrator does, “What is a city? And can it be reborn?”

The second act moves into more familiar territory with a series of Christmas songs, divided relatively evenly between reverent and comic. The latter include “12 Pains of Christmas” and “Santa Brought Me Prozac.”

The surprises in the second act are the less well-known songs, “Mary, Did You Know,” sung here by Stephens, and (plucked from a Disney movie) “God Help the Outcasts,” by Kyle Prenger – all quiet, still gems in a frantic season. Yolonda Williams then takes "Joy to the World" to church.

To weave the acts into a holiday tapestry, Rick Criswell serves as the Spirit of Christmas and the Narrator. Other cast members include Alison Burns and Calvin Jones. Claude McNeal, the founder of the American Cabaret Theater in Indianapolis, directs.

- Michael K.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A performance that stinks

It's getting close to that time of year when we normally have big Christmas shows here at The Center. This year, of course, it's "Annie," along with "Lord of the Dance" and two "Nutcrackers" and our annual "Christmas Cabaret."

In 2002, it was Disney's "The Lion King."

Last year, it was "Phantom of the Opera."

And 2003's extended run of the "Radio City Christmas Spectacular featuring the Rockettes" provided many memorable sights, sounds and smells – on and offstage.

Since they execute as many as 1,500 kicks during a five-show performance day, the Rockettes always seek out trainers, ice packs and heat treatment for their aching muscles and joints.

I did several curtain speeches last year, so I was backstage with the Rockettes before some of the shows.

"What were they like?" people always asked me.

"Tall. Beautiful. Nice. They smelled like Ben-Gay."

Backstage, you see the studied nonchalance of the stage directors, the artistic repetition of the performers and some funny moments.

Before a performance, one of Santa's elves heard the call of nature too close to curtain.

"If we don't start this show soon, I'm going to wet my pants." (He didn't say "wet.")

Ah, the glamour of show business.

Happy holidays.

– Michael K

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Good Times

One of the things that comes with the marketing territory is working booths and tables at various and sundry events, trade shows, outdoor festivals etc.

This typically means that a few of us here in the department (or in fact all of us if the event is multi-day) get to pack up boxes of flyers, brochures, register to win boxes, entry forms and sometimes crafts for kids to work on or giveaways like candy or tchotchkes from a show and schlep out to points unknown in an attempt to make people more aware of what we have going on at The Center and our new conservatory.

This past weekend, I worked the annual Christmas tree lighting at Channelside (yes, the one world famous now for the Banana Joe's Panther cheerleader incident). It was a pretty big event attended by a lot of families ready to kick-start the holiday season. I'll withhold my own personal judgement here, as I'm still perplexed as to how anyone can be ready for Christmas when I can't even smell the Thanksgiving turkey.

It was a good place for The Center to be though, as we have our own holiday show opening this Friday - Christmas Cabaret - and we had about four of the castmembers come down to the event and perform for the crowd for about 20 minutes right after the grand tree lighting.

The event itself wasn't so bad. I might have preferred it a few degrees cooler, but it was by no means hot. I enjoyed a coffee from the nearby Joffrey's and did a whole ton of people-watching. The worst thing to happen all night was the hourly snowstorm courtesy of snow machines (actually, I am pretty sure it was tightly compacted soap bubbles) hanging from every pillar and tree in sight. Why's that so bad? Everything on our table was made from PAPER, so when the flurry was done with we had to take the top 1/4 inch of each stack and toss them in the trash.

Well, less stuff to have to carry back to the truck. I should look for the bright side here.

So, my favorite happening all night was when a couple about my age walked up to the table browsing and this was the conversation they were having:

She: I wished you liked going to plays.

He: Yeah? I wish you liked Pamela Anderson.



Other favorite's heard at other events like that are:

He: (puffing on cigar) Where are you from?

TBPAC Staffer: The performing arts center.

He: Oh. Yeah. My wife's been trying to drag me there for years. (walks away puffing)



He: (approaching the Broadway subscription table in the theater lobby) So like, if I get a, uh, subscription, do I have to pay for it if I don't like the shows?"



There's also a great one from the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival vendor day. When I and a co-worker arrived, they gave us two nametags. We each wrote our names on them, like you would, and went about working. When our relief came in half-way through the day, no more name tags were to be found. So, sort of in jest I gave a female co-worker my nametag so she had some sort of ID and we went about our day. Not long after that, the two ladies working the booth were introducing themselves to a man who appraoched and when my co-worker's name didn't match her nametag, the man says, "Oh, I get it... that whole transgender thing."

Good times, indeed.

- David J.

Monday, November 21, 2005

1 Degree of Kevin Bacon

It's a bit of a shame that The Bacon Brothers didn't sell more tickets to last week's show at TBPAC, but it seems like those who came really, really enjoyed themselves.

I worked the meet and greet/sound check party before the concert, where we had about 28 very excited winners. I'm always amazed by what goes down at things like this. First, there's always those few folks who want even more. They'll find a way to complain about their seats (which were FREE!) or how they'd rather have gotten this perk or that. I think some of that might be people just pressing their luck and seeing how far they can go before they're told no.

I also counted a few women who allowed their hands to migrate south when posing for a photo with Kevin. That was actually pretty appalling.

Perhaps the cutest thing that happened was watching two girls in their late teens titter their way to the front of the line to eventually present Kevin with a CD of Footloose for him to autograph. Even Kevin seemed tickled by that.

I've seen a lot of these kinds of events over the years, and there's no real wonder why a lot of people inside the industry refer to them as "Meet and Creeps." It's amazing sometimes what people consider as acceptable behavior.

Anyway, Kevin used our silver Sharpie to sign things with, and after the show we helped him around backstage and stopped him from making a big mistake as he headed for the stage door to go outside and make a phone call - where he would have no doubt been swarmed. Instead, we pointed him to the area on the loading dock that actually gets reception in a building otherwise a giant dead zone. I am now 1 degree of Kevin Bacon. Cool. ;)

Everyone probably has their favorite Bacon movie - but I have to go all old school and offer up his smooshed-into-the-cement bit towards the end of Animal House.

"All is well! All is well!"

I hope I look that good at his age. I just don't think he's aged in over a decade ...

- David J.

Friday, November 18, 2005

I'm just wild about Harry ...

It's been a few months now since I finished Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Pretty much instantly after finishing the book I realized that it would be a few years until the final volume came out. 2007 I believe?

I was quickly reminded though that the fourth film had a November release date. Well, ladies and gentlemen, today's the big day!

I have not always been a Hogwarts disciple. My first actual indication that these weren't just books for kids was when a co-worker had a copy of Goblet of Fire on her desk. She worked with kids, and at a bookstore previously, so I didn't think that much of it. When I asked her about the book though she told me it was in fact hers, and that she loved the series.

Soon afterwards I discovered several others were reading the books, then my own wife got hooked. By this time, I'd already seen the first film, which I enjoyed enormously. They still to this day have what I might consider the best casting of any film franshise in all of history. Kenneth Branagh, Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Gary Oldman, Emma Thompson, Richard Harris, Miranda Richardson, Ralph Feinnes ... Ok, I'll stop - you get the picture.

It was in anticipation for the film version of The Prisoner of Azkaban that I began reading the books myself. The first is really nothing more than an appetizer, and the second was like a salad. By the time I got to Azkaban though I felt like I was finally into the meat of this story, and felt that J.K. Rowling had really hit her stride as a writer.

I'm all for anything that encourages reading, and I really like how the books and films have been paced to aid in that. I know a lot of folks that even go back and do refresher-reads as the newest film nears release.

This franchise has it all - books, films, video games, incredible soundtracks, merchandise (can you believe I couldn't even find a t-shirt to buy this last weekend to wear to the premiere as they were all sold out?) and a zealous fanbase that writes their own stories (and not all of it is kid friendly, if you get my drift). The also have one of the best fan-maintained websites I've seen.

I am forgiving of how commercialized this has all sort of become. As much as it might pain my inner commie. Primarily because I feel like the quality hasn't suffered. The books have remained true to where she bagan, and the films honest to the story. And I don't know how in our day and age how you can find much fault with things that inspire children (and adults) to read, to dream, to use their imagination.

After all, who doesn't want to believe in magic?

- David J.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

This has got to be paying the bills

The highly popular musical phenomenon RENT is headed for the big screen. They even have custom soundtracks that you can pick up with covers featuring your favorite character.

The movie will feature many of the original castmembers including Jesse L. Martin (Law and Order), Taye Diggs (Kevin Hill, Ally McBeal) and Anthony Rapp (A Beautiful Mind). Looks like it won't be a straight translation from stage to screen as it appears some songs have been cut and dialogue has been added.

A bit of trivia ... Did you know RENT was based off of Puccini's masterpiece La Boheme? RENT is classified as a rock opera (though the film will not be since it's going to have dialogue), but I might take personal exception with the soundtrack's claim of being "rock 'n roll." Foo Fighters it's not ...

Director Chris Columbus (who is probably best known as the director of the first two Harry Potter films and still works on that franchise as a producer) has also commented that he's adding a bit on gay marriage to the story. He says "I could be shooting myself in the foot in terms of box office, I don’t care. I really believe strongly in this material.”

When asked about the merciless spoof of RENT, called LEASE, that appears in the film Team America (from the creators of South Park), he did a very good job of dodging the questions without giving a completely canned response. You can read the full interview at About.com.

Another bit of trivia ... Did you know Chris Columbus was also a screenwriter for Gremlins?

The film's website also has a blog, with many entries from all involved on the project.

This looks to be a pretty major film event. If the film version of CHICAGO taught us anything, this release could not only do well on its own, but breathe a whole new life into the stage version which is still on tour. Keep an eye out, it might even be back on it's way to Tampa sometime soon. I don't know anything, I'm just guessing.

- David J.

Friday, November 11, 2005

How do you spell sucess?

I mean, success.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is still stumping poor spellers and delighting Broadway audiences at the Circle in the Square theater next to Wicked.

As the Nov. 4th performance, they were all still there. The kid with the "magic foot" and the nasal issues. The former Spelling Bee champ. The Comfort Provider. The raging, off-the-lease assistant principal.

The little show that could still confounds the skeptics, as it did when it opened May 2 this year after transferring from Off-Broadway's Second Stage Theatre.

The theater is adorned with pennants and banners and faux sponsors, and a basketball backboard and net. Depending on where you grew up, you might feel right at home.

But if you can't spell, for example, C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E, hope that you don't get called onstage during the audience participation segment.

- Michael K.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The color of money

It didn't work for one one-name celebrity (Rosie) in her support of Boy George and "Taboo," but it might just work for another (Oprah).

"The Color Purple," a new musical based on the Pulitzer-Prize winning book by Alice Walker, started previews Nov. 1 at the Broadway Theatre in New York. It opens Dec. 1. On the marquee, it's "Oprah Winfrey Presents ..." -- her right as the sole presenting producer.

Reportedly, she's put $1 million into the show. Of course, she has some serious ties to the source material.

You may recall that Oprah made her movie splash in the 1985 film directed by Steven Spielberg. She was nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. (Whoopi Goldberg was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role.)

Although the plot, taken fairly closely from the book and the movie but with new songs, is a complicated tree of incest and abuse and racism, the preview audience on Nov. 3 gave it a standing ovation despite its harshness and degree of difficulty.

The feel-good ending had audience members sniffling for another five minutes.

The music is a blend of gospel, ragtime and other influences.

One of my favorite bits involves a trio of "church ladies" who provided a Greek chorus of tut-tutting, as well as plot commentary in song. Whenever they teetered on stage, they got a laugh.

Watch for the reviews after the official openings.

Until then, and perhaps after, Oprah's name can't possibly hurt ...

- Michael K.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Movin' Out ... and hitting the road?

The first time I saw Movin' Out was in St. Louis. I admit, I was a little skeptical about it being just another dance show, but I like the music of Billy Joel and agreed to go. Walking out of the theater that night I was feeling totally different. No longer was I skeptical, I was completely impressed, amazed, and blown away by the athleticism and skill of these dancers that I could hardly wait to get back to my hotel room to call and tell my friends about the show I'd just seen. Needless to say, I saw Movin' Out again when it played in Tampa to a sold out house this past January, and dragged everyone I know to see it with me.

I just logged on to the Movin' Out web page to confirm they've got Tampa on their tour schedule and to my disbelief there it was, in big black letters: "On December 11, 2005, after more than 1,300 performances, Movin' Out will play its final Broadway performance." Looks like Movin' Out is finally movin' off Broadway for good. After Dec. 11, the only chance to see this groundbreaking Broadway musical is on the road.

Hmm...do you think they'll start re-running the moving truck national commercials from last year? Seems appropriate.

- Heather M.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Force is strong with this one ...

Last night was the grand opening of the One Man Star Wars Trilogy in our Jaeb Theater. Special guests from the Florida 501st Stormtrooper Garrison and best-selling author and Hugo Award-winner Timothy Zahn were in attendance. Here are a few photos they sent me this morning.



The 501st members, Charlie Ross and Timothy Zahn


Me getting a book plate signed by Zahn.


Charlie ended up arriving pretty late due to some airport issues, but luckily the music and our pals from the 501st kept spirits up and we ended up only holding curtain by 10 minutes.

The show is an hour, so he spends about 20 minutes in each movie. His characters are crisp and his transitions seamless. Most characters were differentiated by simple hand gestures (cupped hands over the ears for Leia, on his knees holding a phantom cane for Yoda), but he also played every fighter-craft, capital vessel, walker and even the death star itself. Clad in only a black jumpsuit with a headset microphone, his only other theatrical device is cleverly simple and highly effective lighting. Every sound effect, piece of music and even the scrolling text from the beginning of the films were all intact - it was all Charlie, all the time.

Everyone seemed to enjoy his show regardless of how well they knew the movies, and he was welcomed into his bow with a standing ovation before he made the audience sit back down so he could thank the TBPAC staff for their great work getting the show together despite the ludicrously tight schedule, and to tell folks to make sure they never give up on their dreams.

He didn't take himself or his source material too seriously at all and never hesitated poking fingers in continuity errors or the less-than-finer-points in the films, or sweeping in references from the latter trilogy. He made a priceless reference about last night's release of the Revenge of the Sith DVD. He shared a great rapport with the audience, freezing in mid-sentence to ask a woman getting up and leaving if she was going to the bathroom before diving right back into the material. He did the same when she returned.

After the show and the signing in the lobby, I got the chance to go over to The Hub and have a few drinks with Charlie and his stage manager, James. Both have solid academic and professional backgrounds in the theater and it was a real treat to sit around and talk shop with those guys.

He's off tonight (his first off night in five weeks he remarked to me), and I believe he'll be trying to take in some of the sights here in Tampa, but he has shows Thursday through Sunday. I might advise getting your tickets early because it looks like we might go through these tickets faster than a Womp Rat passes through Jabba the Hutt.

- David J.

What a WICKED Sunday morning

When I arrived at The Center at 8:20 on Sunday morning, I couldn't believe my eyes. Not only was it WICKED Day in New York, but the enthusiasm seemed to have spread to Tampa, too. By 10 a.m. when the Ticket Office opened to begin selling tickets to the public for the Florida premiere of the tour of New York's biggest blockbuster WICKED, the line wrapped more than half way around The Center complex. The first of the thousands arrived at 3 a.m. to assure their place in line. All of the very early line-riders came prepared -- snacks, books, chairs, sleeping bags, blankets and video games. The line halved after about four hours, and halved again in another two.

Here's a photo of the line before the Ticket Office opened. Note that the line stretches all the way past our Stage Door, and that the Ticket Office is on the other side of the building.



The enthusiasm was palpable, as the soundtrack played loudly and many in line were unable to stop themselves from quietly singing along. Currently less than 8,000 of the original 60,000 tickets remain available for purchase. Talk about POPULAR!


- Summer B.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

26, female, enjoys James Taylor and opera!

Most of my friends would agree that I’m not your typical 26 year-old. I don’t like the club scene, I’m the only person under the age of 40 that saw James Taylor in concert and I have a retirement account (albeit a small one). But perhaps nothing makes that statement truer than my enjoyment of classical music and opera. I know ... you’re giving me one of those confused/puzzled looks, aren’t you? Most of my friends don’t understand why either and my explanation doesn’t seem to persuade them to the contrary, but I know there are more of us out there!

Just as I started to think that opera was dying a slow death in this “bubblegum pop” world we live in (be honest, is Britney Spears really doing the world of music any favors?), I received an email from the director of the upcoming Opera Tampa production of Carmen. She was briefly telling me about the wonderful woman playing the title role… an accomplished soprano at the age of 27! WHOO HOO!!! Yes, there are plenty of amazing sopranos out there, but not many this young. But the question is, can she sing?

I did a little research on our soprano, Cristina Nassif, and at the age of 27 she’s apparently already been scouted by legendary tenor, Pl├ícido Domingo, to sing with the Los Angeles Opera. What, you might ask, would make the opera world sit up and notice her? After a bit more research, I came across reviews of her recent debut as Violetta in Virginia Opera’s production of La Traviata. I think The Washington Times summed it up best, “Her luscious, well-supported vocal gifts bloomed magnificently, swiftly transforming her into a Violetta to remember with love and admiration ... With these performances, the gifted Miss Nassif – only in her late 20s – could be on the threshold of a truly brilliant career.”

Hopefully Cristina’s debut with Opera Tampa will produce equally amazing results. And, Cristina, a thanks in advance for helping to show today’s 20-somethings that opera isn’t just for our grandparents!

-Angela B.

Monday, October 31, 2005

An illuminating Light

I spent a great 70 minutes in the theater last night with Beijing Modern Dance Company's Rear Light. The videotape I watched was a very poor facsimile of the live experience. I really wanted to find thier management and beg them to do a clean DV camera shoot of the show and take some performance digital stills to help them better sell the show here in the US.

I am not usually the biggest fan of modern dance, but the Pink Floyd and chinese connections really interested me. I was amazed at the precision, the athleticism and the grace of those dancers. Modern dance often comes across the same as improvised jazz to me (something else I'm not typically fond of) - just a little too loose and unfocused.

I can't say that at all about Rear Light. What a great story they told last night. What a great opportunity for Tampa. I was glad to see the house about half full, but this will be one I am telling folks for years to come that they really missed out on.

If anyone is interested, here is a review that printed in today's Tribune: http://tampatrib.com/floridametronews/MGBXLCVCGFE.html.

And now I get to look forward to opening night of One Man Star Wars Trilogy tomorrow. Time to dust off the light saber ...

Happy Halloween, folks. Eat some candy for me.

-dj

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Egg hunts

Nov. 1 is a big day for Tampa's Star Wars geekdom. It seems also that the Tampa Squadron of the 501st Stormtrooper Garrison will have their hands full that night at video and gaming stores for the releases of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars Battlefront 2 as well as providing "security" for our grand opening of the One Man Star Wars Trilogy.

One of the more fun aspects of collecting DVDs is the advent of what's known as Easter Eggs. On DVDs these are basically hidden treats imbedded in the menus, featurettes or even the movies themselves. I found one this morning that's just wrong, or completely hilarious (all depending on how you look at things) involving my personal favorite SW character - Jedi Master Yoda.

It's a chunky file, so it may take a bit to load. If you want to access this on your copy of Revenge of the Sith, on Disc 1, access the language selection, then highlight the THX logo. Press 1 1 3 8 on your remote and press ENTER.

Hope you enjoy the real DJ Yoda ...




Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Think you're well read?

Time magaine critics just listed the "All-time 100 novels," the best -- they say -- 100 novels since Time started publishing in 1923.

By my scrupulous count, I've finished 33 (not started and quit as with "Gravity's Rainbow" and "Infinite Jest," but actually finished).

How'd you do? And what novels published since 1923 would you have recommended that didn't make this list?

-Michael K

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Life imitating art imitating life

Sunday New York Times headline: In Argentine Election, 2 Battle to Wear the Mantle of Evita

Apparently, the current first lady of the country and her predecessor are both claiming to be the spiritual heirs to Eva Peron.

Typical boast: "What is at stake is ... the party founded by the genius of Peron and the soul of Evita."

Eva Peron, wife of Argentinean General Juan Domingo Peron, died in 1952 at 33 and became a symbol for the poor people of Argentina because of her many charities in their behalf.

Her life became the script for the Andrew Lloyd Webber Broadway musical "Evita."

Now two real-life politicians are following that script in an attempt to seize political power.

-Michael K

180 degrees of separation?

A London photographer of produced a book of celebrity portraits based on the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game developed by three college students.

(You know the deal, right? Start with any actor and connect them to Bacon through other actors they're worked with in less than six steps. I don't play the game myself, but here's one online example:

Carrie Fisher was in Star Wars with
Harrison Ford, who was in The Fugitive with
Tommy Lee Jones, who was in Batman Forever with
Val Kilmer, who was in Heat with
Robert DeNiro, who was in Sleepers with
KEVIN BACON.)

The London photographer Andy Gotts spent $160,000 on the project, which resulted in the new book of 180 photographs, "Degrees," and a London exhibit. He started with one British actor who gave him a name who gave him another name until he finally was referred to Bacon.

Gotts had been concerned about the reaction from Bacon, who is a serious actor in such troubling and thought-provoking films as "The Woodsman" and "Mystic River," but he was cool with the project, according to The New York Times.

The actor who got Gotts to Bacon: Christian Slater.

-Michael K

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Wall endures

One of the more unique offerings at TBPAC this season is a new dance piece from the Beijing Modern Dance Company. The piece, Rear Light, is wholly inspired by and set to Pink Floyd's seminal album The Wall.

From the videotape that I watched and the promotional materials I've read, the piece explores an issue highly relevant to Chinese society today - a young Chinese generation's struggle to reconcile its traditional culture with western influences and a thirst for freedom.

Imagine a company of beautiful, athletic chinese dancers - half of them dressed in school uniforms and the other half in suits and trench coats - manifesting the epic struggle that coarses through Roger Waters' powerful lyrics. The titular rear light is used throughout the show creating breathtaking silhouette effects as the dancers leap, climb and enact a universally human struggle. The tape I watched was a copy of a copy, and converted from PAL to NTSC to boot, so I can't wait to see this show live.



In our post-Tienanmen world I often forget that the Communist Chinese government still has supressive control over that culture, regardless of the economic gains the country has made in recent years. I was reminded of this again when I read a news story on a Chinese national/Australian citizen that had toured to China with the Sydney Dance Company. The dancer was stopped and detained in Shanghai for handing out "pro-democracy" materials, and was said to be a member of the Falun Gong spirituality (a practice that shares teachings with Taoism and Buddhism) which is currently facing a tremendous amount of persecution by the Chinese government.

Falun Gong has groups across the world trying to gain support and exposure. My boss mentioned going to New York with his wife and seeing members holding a rally and spreading information via pamphlets and conversing with passers-by. The president of TBPAC also saw members in Beijing, but in a much more subdued setting as they had simple, quiet dawn services along with morning Tai Chi exercises. She would have never even known who they were, particularly considering how common morning Tai Chi exercises are in that country, but a local pointed them out to her.

Speaking of the president, she tells a great story about her trip to Beijing, where she discovered this company and this show. While in China on an ISPA conference, many of the organizations present were told about this young, dynamic company. They ended up pressing their local hosts as to how to find the company, then chartered two busses and set out for a trek. She said the drive was very long and they ended up arriving at a location that looked like a ill-equipped high school gymnatorium. Immediately, several of the conference attendees felt perhaps they had wasted their time on the excursion, but once the performance started they were all blown away.

All agreed that the performance was exquisite and had elevated the dance genre to a new level. The bus ride back to the city was spent discussing how these various performing arts institutions could band together and bring this group to the United States. It took two years to make these dreams manifest, but now Tampa has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see this immediate, relevant work.

So how did the inspiration come for the piece? The choreographer says that he'd never even heard of Pink Floyd, but a friend purchased the film version as a gift knowing he was a big fan of animation. Watching the movie and hearing the power of the music - even without an understanding of the lyrics at the time - he immediately knew that this was a story that represented the Chinese struggle and set forth on his work.

-David J.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Lavin master class

The first performer in our Club Jaeb series, Christine Lavin, graced us with her wisdom and sage advice yesterday. I was so amazed by the completely captivated audience of faculty, staff conservatory students, ticket holders from the previous night's performance and the general public. It was a fantastic experience that was a blend of her stories and songs and theirs.

Christine is quite an accomplished performer with an impressive resume who did not hesitate to lend her beautiful hand-crafted guitar to one of the students to perform a song he had written. Her unique guitar is featured in Guitar Maker's Canvas, a book highlighting well-crafted guitars. She was very down-to-earth and not only shared honest and earnest advice with the crowd, but also made sure everyone left with a copy of her 31 tips for songwriters and her recipe for Petit Pan Au Chocolat, featured in the song "Sunday Breakfast with Christine (and Ervin)".

She also shared stories of Birdland in NYC and other venues that offer an outlet for songwriters to try out new material and suggested that we start our very own here at the Conservatory.

Afterwards we toured the Center and Patel Conservatory, where she took great joy in observing the Youth Orchestra, Rock School and Classical Ballet rehearsals.

Upon leaving, she made sure to give everyone who helped with the evening a huge hug and a big thanks.

We send a big hug right back to you, Christine!

-Ami C.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Club Jaeb opens

As most of you know, The Center started a new music series last night called Club Jaeb.

About 220 people laughed, screamed, sang along and -- perhaps a few -- winced when Christine Lavin kicked off The Center's new Club Jaeb music series tonight. Oh, yeah, and a few of them knitted, too.

Lavin's the first act in the monthly series that resumes in November with Jen Chapin and continues with David Jacobs-Strain in December, Patty Larkin in January, Catie Curtis in February and, just announced tonight, Americana Music Association Emerging Artist of the Year Mary Gauthier (pronounced Go-shay) in March. Tickets for Gauthier aren't available yet.

Club Jaeb's first night drew an enthusiastic and varied audience downtown on a Monday night. At least one of the attendees at the "Baby, Please Don't Go" artists discussion next door in the Shimberg said the Jaeb series is exactly what he envisioned when he moved to Tampa.

That's what we hoped.

-Michael K.

Monday, October 17, 2005

GREEN with Envy? - Welcome to Culture Shock

Welcome to Culture Shock, the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center’s web log! Today is our first official day online and we are pretty excited about it, I have to say.

The TBPAC website is usually the color we like to call “Center Blue,” but you may have noticed that all of a sudden the website is GREEN. We decided to turn the website green for the week leading up to the on-sale of WICKED (in honor of the green girl Elphaba). After the show is on sale to the general public (Oct. 23), we will go back to “Center Blue.” But in the meantime, it's quite a different look for us. It sure was fun working on the color switch-over.

Feel free to send us comments to the posted blogs and let us know what you think!

Tonight's the night

We've been planning and talking about our new Club Jaeb for months now, and it's finally here. New York singer-songwriter Christine Lavin kicks off our monthly Monday series of folks, blues, zydeco, Americana and more. Thanks to our friends at WMNF radio for playing her music and getting behind this new concept at the Performing Arts Center. See you at the show!

-Michael K

Sunday, October 16, 2005

We can't wait for the acceptance speech

British playwright Harold Pinter, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature on Oct. 13, is known for his precise use of language.

The New York Times says: "So precise and pared down is his prose, so artful his use of pauses and omissions to invoke discomfort, foreboding and miscommunication that he has his own adjective, Pinteresque, signifying a peculiar kind of atmospheric unease. ... Mr. Pinter dispenses with the easy comforts of fluent speech and has his characters speak in non sequiturs and sentence fragments, interrupt one another, fail to listen, fail to understand. He uses language to convey miscommunication and lack of understanding rather than share comprehension."

I've only seen one Pinter production live, a lesser 1976 work called "No Man's Land" almost 20 years later at the Criterion Center Stage Right in NYC. It involved Jason Robards, Christopher Plummer and a lot of drinking. (On stage, not in the audience.) But it was, indeed, Pinteresque.

For a local spin on Pinter, check out UT professor Francis Gillen's Pinter Review here.

-Michael K

What was Ludwig doing in Philly?

A handwritten, 80-page musical score by Beethoven was found in a seminary in suburban Philadelphia. News reports say it will bring in $1.7 million to $2.6 million when it's auctioned on Dec. 1.

-Michael K

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The sounds and the fury

April 27, 1945-Oct. 2, 2005

"People talk about an artist having an eye. With playwrights, it's the ear that counts. Mr. Wilson had a peerless pair. His writing comes closer to the sweep of Shakespearean music than any of his contemporaries. Edward Albee creates intense and elegant chamber pieces; David Mamet, machine-gun jazz; Sam Shepard, rhapsodic plainsong; Harold Pinter, monastic chants; and Tom Stoppard, jaunty concertos. But these days only Mr. Wilson has written plays that sound like grand opera -- and it is not contradiction to say that is is opera rooted in the blues." -- The New York Times, Oct. 4, 2005

I only had the privilege of seeing two of Wilson's plays ... "Seven Guitars" in New York, and "The Piano Lesson" here at the Shimberg. I expect I'll have plenty more chances since his reputation will continue to grow. Meanwhile, the next time I'm in New York I'll go stand outside the former Virginia Theater, which will be renamed the August Wilson Theater, and offer up my thanks and a quick prayer.

-Michael K.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Now with more Geekiness!

An addition to my previous entry about One Man Star Wars Trilogy, coming here in Nov.: I just got agreat news today that sci-fi writer and Star Wars legend Timothy Zahn will be a VIP guest to our opening night show and will sign autographs following the show.

Timothy Zahn has won mulitple Hugo Awards and his novels have made it to the New York Times Best Seller List. He will be appearing in Tampa the weekend before our shows at Necronomicon '05 (a local sci-fi/horror convention).

-David J.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Of Math and Movies

"Proof," which featured a luminous Mary-Louise Parker when it opened on Broadway in October of 2000, has been reborn as a movie with Gwyneth Paltrow, who played the same role in London. Tampa audiences may have seen the CanStage production in TBPAC's Ferguson Hall in Jan. of 2003.

The plot of David Auburn's play involves a mathematical proof, but the real story is a suspenseful and meaningful meditation on certainty, truth and trust. It's nice to see Hollywood adapt something with some intelligent weight behind it. The movie opens in the Tampa Bay area today.

-Michael K.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Beware of falling angels

John Berendt, author of the best-selling "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," has turned his sharp eyes to Venice, a city of "melancholy, nostalgia, romance, mystery, and beauty." Instead of a murder, there's the mysterious burning of the Gran Teatro La Fenice, one of the most beautiful and most significant opera houses in the world. The same mix of elegant, quaint and curious real-life characters turns up in Berendt's keenly observed and languidly revealed tale of "The City of Falling Angels."

-Michael K.

Geek Love

I am currently working with members of the 501st Stormtrooper Legion, Florida Garrison, to help us make the experience of the One Man Star Wars Trilogy just that much more fun.

Before investigating, I didn't even know these guys existed. It's a nationwide organization and in addition to attending Star Wars related events and conventions, they do a fair amount of community service and charity work as well.

You learn something new every day.

The Tampa Bay Squad has already been very helpful in assisting us in spreading the word.

I'm sure if any of my bosses were able to cruise behind my desk this week they'd think I was totally slacking off, as I'm always on Star Wars fan sites, looking through photo albums from DragonCon and all sorts of other internet doodling to find all my geeky Star Wars people. Good times, indeed.

-David J.

Music Release

Lovers of Sir Lloyd Webber and Sarah Brightman will crash some chandeliers on Oct. 25 when her new CD, "Love Changes Everything," is released. The New York Times reports the all-Webber release includes a Spanish version of "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina," from Evita.

-Michael K.

Got Bebe?

I was flipping through my latest issue of Better Homes and Gardens and saw a new GOT MILK ad featuring Bebe Neuwirth. She is still hot after all these years!

-Leeann D.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

As most of you know (or at least I hope you do), Wicked is coming to The Center in January and February 2006. Stephanie J. Block is playing the role of Elphaba (the wicked witch). For those of you who don't know, Stephanie J. Block played Liza Minelli on Broadway opposite Hugh Jackman in The Boy From Oz. I was lucky enough to have caught this show on Broadway and what an amazing performer she is! I can't believe how lucky we are to have her touring in this production! You are all in for quite a treat.

-LeeAnn D.