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."
"Frosty the Snowman."
"It's a Wonderful Life."
"Jesus Christ Superstar."

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" -- 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.