Friday, February 25, 2011

The melting pot of her ancestors

Israeli singer Yasmin Levy keeps Ladino tradition alive
With her haunting howls and Ladino-laced songs, Judaeo-Spanish singer Yasmin Levy brings new life to her ancestral songs.

“I grew up in Jerusalem,” she said by phone recently. “It’s a melting pot with people from all over the world listening to different music, smelling all kinds of smells, tasting foods; this mixture is who I am. I am an Israeli. I’m Turkish. I’m Spanish. I am a human being. All those traditions are inside of me.” Her new album Sentir showcases her love for large vocals, much like some of her favorite voices: Edith Piaf, Luciano Pavarotti and Tina Turner.

Sentir includes Una Pastora , an Unforgettable-style duet with her father, celebrated Israeli cantor and composer Isaac Levy, who died in the ’70s.

On March 3, Levy performs at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. We caught up with her to talk about her unique heritage and the culture of Ladino music.

Explain Ladino music to me.
Ladino is the songs of the Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492. The song is the only thing they took with them from Spain. Everything they had in life, they sang about. The language, the song, the memories were all passed orally from generation to generation. Mothers sang secular songs to their daughters at home and men sang them to their sons in synagogues. The traditional is a cappella. Those songs were never meant to be on stage. They are pure soul songs, very beautiful and very innocent. The way I do it is not the traditional way. I mix them with flamenco, Turkish, Cuban, and Arabic sounds to make it interesting.

Do you speak Ladino?
No one in my generation speaks Ladino. It’s an endangered language. Everyone who speaks it is 70 and 80 years old. In my opinion, two generations from now, it will die and disappear. The only thing to survive will be the songs, and that’s why it’s a mission to spread it as much as I can, and also a way to love my father since he passed when I was 1.

How do you write songs, or are they all traditional?
When I sing in Ladino, all the songs are traditional, and done with great respect and responsibility. Ladino is holy and I don’t want to touch it. It’s important for me to write and compose my own songs. I do it in Spanish so I can have total freedom, get wild and express myself without thinking about responsibility and tradition.

How was it to “sing with” your father on Una Pastora ?
It was very difficult because I adore him. I had to see myself as an equal singer and I could never see that. It took me many times until I told myself, “It’s okay, he’s dead. Don’t be afraid, you’re not comparing yourself to him, you’re not disrespecting him.” It was like he was with me in the studio. We used a 50-year-old recording.

What languages do you speak?
Hebrew, English, Spanish, a little bit of French, and I write and read Arabic.

What if you couldn’t sing?
Oh, my God (gasps). I would be sad. I would be the saddest person ever. I think I would help animals.

What is your message?
I give myself totally. I commit suicide on stage. No masks, no borders, it’s as if I’m almost naked. I put myself in the in the hands of people. I want people to open their hearts so they might discover a beautiful world.

BY: Stephanie Bolling
St. Pete Times

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Jersey Boys ticket give-a-way

Want to win a pair of Jersey Boys tickets for opening night, March 23rd?

You could be already eligible! One winner will be picked from all the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts friends (on Facebook) - and if you aren’t a friend yet, you have until February 28th to become one!

The contest begins now and you must be a Straz Center Facebook friend by February 28th at 4:30 p.m. The winner will be randomly selected from all the friends/'likes' we have. Tickets for the opening night performance on March 23rd will be held for the winner at Will Call and will be notified of their winning via FB. Please make sure we are available and able to contact you via FB message, etc.

Prize to be redeemed at the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts located at 1010 N. W.C. MacInnes Place, Tampa, FL 33602. No purchase necessary. Participants and winner(s) must be legal U.S. residents and residents of Florida. Employees of the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, their subsidiaries and affiliated companies, participating sponsors and their advertising agencies and members of their immediate family are not eligible to participate. Not valid where prohibited by law. Contest begins on or around February 3, 2011, at noon. The last contest deadline ends on February 28, 2011 at 4:30 p.m. One winner will be randomly selected from all eligible entries received. Only one entry per e-mail address. Anybody’s who currently “liking” us now is eligible, as is anybody who adds us before deadline. Prizes will be awarded on or around March 23, 2011. The winners will be notified by social media outlets, on or around March 2, 2011. Odds of winning vary greatly depending on number of entrants from this state. The David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts assumes no liability or responsibility for any prize once it is awarded, or any damage, loss or liability arising from the award, acceptance or use of the prize, and Contest winner agrees to release and hold harmless the Released Parties against any and all claims of liability arising directly or indirectly from the Contest or the prizes and the use of such Contest winner's name, voice and photo. The Released Parties assume no liability for lost, illegible, incomplete, misdirected or late entries or prize claims, or for typographical or other errors in the offer or administration of this Contest including, without limitation, errors in the printing of the offer and official rules, selection, notification and announcement of the winner, or distribution of prizes. The Contest is subject to applicable federal, state and local laws, rules and regulations, and is void where prohibited or otherwise restricted. The prizes offered in this contest have no cash value and may not be returned for cash. Tickets may not be exchanged for another date, time and/or performance.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Star is Born


Ethan Fuller got his big break on Interstate 4.

“They called us when we were driving home from Tampa to Indialantic on I-4,” says Camille Fuller , mother of Ethan, 12.

Ethan had been cast to play the leading role in Billy Elliot on tour.

“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime,” his mom says.

Ethan is now in New York, where he is undergoing the intensive training needed to play Billy, probably the biggest part for a child actor in musical theater since Annie . The actor is onstage for virtually the entire three-hour show.

“It’s definitely hard, because you have to do everything,” Ethan says. “You have to do ballet, tap, acro (acrobatics), sing, act, and you have to look like you’re not tired at all. And I have to pick up a British accent.”

The role of Billy is so demanding that four young actors rotate in performances on the national tour, now playing at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa. The musical, with a score by Elton John , is about a boy in an English coal-mining community who has to overcome his working-class family’s objections to follow his dream of being a ballet dancer.

Dance runs in the Fuller family. Ethan’s older brother, Collin , 17, is a student at the School of American Ballet in New York. Both young Fullers received ballet training in Florida from Peter Stark , dance chair of the Patel Conservatory, part of the Straz Center.

“Ethan is a hybrid dancer,” Stark says. “He has been studying ballet, but also contemporary dance, so he’s sort of a ballet-jazz kid. Ethan loves ballet, and he is really good at it, and I think he can transition into a Broadway show and then back into ballet if he wants.”

Billy Elliot plays here in Tampa until this Sunday, Feb. 20th. For tickets, click HERE.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Meet the Billys

Four boys are in the touring company of Billy Elliot to play Billy, rotating in the role during eight shows a week. They are part of a community of children in the musical, whose cast includes 20 actors from 7 to 15 years old, along with eight child wranglers (chaperones) and three tutors, not to mention assorted parents, other family members and pets.

Billy is a demanding role that calls for a variety of dance styles — ballet, tap and "acro'' (acrobatics) — as well as acting and singing. "It's the equivalent of running a marathon and playing Hamlet,'' resident choreographer Kurt Froman says. And since Billy is 11 or 12 in the show, when an actor grows too tall or his voice changes, he is out of work.

Meet the boys:

Daniel Russell, 14
Hometown: Umina Beach, Australia
5 feet, 89 pounds
Billy's accent: "It is very different from the Australian accent. We're trained in the accent in every line that we speak. It's called the 'Geordie' accent from the Newcastle area of England, where the play is set.''
Favorite number: "I like when we get to go on the high wire and fly around in the dream ballet sequence. That's the bit where I really enjoy myself. We're in the air for about two minutes.''

Kylend Hetherington, 13
Hometown: Auburn, Mich.
4 feet 11, 85 pounds
Try, try again: "I've been working for this role for almost four years,'' says Kylend, who auditioned for Billy Elliot in Orlando, New York and Detroit. He played another character, Michael, in the Broadway company before joining the tour to play Billy.
Billy camp: "I did Billy camp, where they take kids they think have the potential to play Billy and work on their ballet, tap and acro. Tap was definitely my strength. I started tap at 4, then ballet at 9.''

Giuseppe Bausilio, 13
Hometown: Bern, Switzerland
5 feet 1, 105 pounds
Life on the road: "It's nice to have the bed made every day. My mom is traveling with me now, and we have a white Western terrier named Billy.''
Getting to know Elton John: "He is an awesome person. We met him in Chicago and went on Oprah with him.''

Lex Ishimoto, 12
Hometown: Irvine, Calif.
4 feet 9, 83 pounds
The littlest Billy: "I'm the lightest Billy and the youngest. I have a background in street dancing and hip-hop.''
Big number: "My Electricity (a solo in Act 2) is really, really different. The Electricity of the other boys is balletic, with a lot of flow. In mine, I do a lot of acro and hip-hop."

See one of the Billys on stage NOW-Feb. 20. Click HERE for more information and tickets!

(Article by: John Fleming, Times Performing Arts Critic)

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Billy Elliot the Musical wants you to Go Red for Women!

Beginning at 6:30 p.m., on Friday, Feb. 4, patrons wearing red in person at the Straz Center Ticket Office in support of the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women National Wear Red Day can purchase up to four tickets to the Tony Award-winning Best Musical Billy Elliot for just $25 each.

Did you know that every minute another woman dies of heart disease? According to the St. Petersburg Times, that’s more than the next four causes of death combined, including all forms of cancer.

To help raise awareness of National Wear Red Day, the nine stars on the Straz Center’s exterior will glow red on Feb. 4.

This discount applies only to the Friday, Feb. 4, 8 p.m., performance and is available only in person at the Straz Center Ticket Office. The offer cannot be applied to previously purchased tickets.

For more information about the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts and its upcoming events, please visit