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

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. 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.