Friday, October 30, 2009

REVIEW: In the Heights

It’s easy to see why "In the Heights" won the 2008 Tony Award for Best Musical. The show is absolutely spellbinding.

"In the Heights" kicked off its first national tour last week at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, wowing crowds to the rhythms of the Latino and hip-hop cultures.

This isn’t your ordinary musical, as it has a highly contemporary feel to it. There’s hip-hop, salsa and urban dance along with some light rap tunes. While rap in general may turn some people away, it doesn’t in this fun and energetic show. Part of the story is told through the vehicle of different music styles and dance, which makes for enjoyable theater.

"In the Heights" is a story about the people of Manhattan’s vibrant and tight-knit Washington Heights Latino community, and the ups and downs they face as life changes. The story centers on a young shop owner named Usnavi who would love nothing more than to move to the Dominican Republic, where his roots are. He would also like to win the affection of Vanessa, who is struggling with her own troubles. Subplots include Nina, who returns home from college to tell her parents — who expect much from her — that she’s dropped out because of financial difficulties. Her father, Kevin, who owns a car service, faces a huge financial decision. In the meantime, Kevin isn’t too fond of his daughter’s budding relationship with Benny, who works for him.

There are other entertaining subplots that work well in this story, though I would have liked to have seen a little more background on Nina’s mom, Camila. Regardless, whether you are young or old, there are characters and/or situations that you instantly connect to. This show is truly multi-generational. Speaking of which, for older audience members, there are a few traditional Broadway music ballads nestled into this Lin-Manuel Miranda show that they will especially enjoy.

Overall, some of the best musical numbers includes "96,000," which received a long ovation from the crowd, and "The Club/Fireworks." Besides the dancing, part of the intrigue of the musical lies in some of the special effects movements — particularly in the eye-catching slow-motion scenes.

While the cast and the band were incredible in "In The Heights," standout performances are given by Kyle Beltran as the lovable Usnavi; the smooth Rogelio Douglas Jr. as Benny; the charming Arielle Jacobs as Nina; the humorous Shaun Taylor-Corbett as Unsavi’s comic relief cousin Sonny; Elise Santora as the wistfully-aging Abuela Claudia, and Isabel Santiago as Daniela the sassy salon owner.

With drama, humor, festival music and dance, there’s plenty of delights for everyone who sees "In the Heights."

-January Holmes

Spooky radio theater

If haunted houses and spooky films aren't enough to scare the wits off of you this Halloween. Maybe a creepy ghost story or two will do, where you're left with just darkness and your own imagination.

The FSU/Asolo Conservatory presents a special Late Night Series event - "Terror On The Air," 11 p.m. Oct. 31. The free, hour-long event will be held in the Cook Theatre of the FSU Performing Arts Center. There, a darken stage will be set for two radio plays performed onstage as a behind-the-scenes rendition of a 1940s live radio show. Performed will be "Sorry Wrong Number and "Don't Tell Me About Halloween."

While the event is free, donations are welcomed. Guests can wear a costume or come as you are.

The theater is at 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. For more information, call 351-8000.
-January Holmes

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Former Manatee Player member on "Cold Case"

This just in:

Sarah Glendening, best remembered on the Manatee Players' stage for her role as Scout in "To Kill A Mockingbird," will appear on the CBS hit "Cold Case: WASP" at 10 p.m. Sunday. The team will re-open a 1944 case of a female pilot participating in a civilian program to aid the Air Force during World War II, according to Glendening stars as Vivian Lynn.

We heard Glendening also appeared on the CBS soap "As the World Turns" earlier this year.

- January Holmes

Tampa murder case on TV

If you like watching real-life intriguing court cases, tune into "On the Case With Paula Zahn" on the cable network Investigation Discovery at 10 p.m. Sunday.

The episode will feature the Tampa-based case of Tracy Humphrey, a man who married a teenager to manipulate her into killing his ex-girlfriend, Sandra Rozzo. Zahn interviews key witnesses and Rozzo's 19-year-old wife, Ashley Lane. Lane's testimony resulted in a life-sentence for Humphrey.

Check your local cable listings for the channel.

- January Holmes

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Free food, music and wifi Friday

From Anna Pohl of the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority:

Chipotle Mexican Grill will be handing out 75 free burritos during the next Bradenton Courthouse Square Concert, scheduled for 11-1 p.m. on the grounds of the historic courthouse.
Performing this Friday will be Ishmael Katz, a talent singer, songwriter and acoustic guitarist who performs original folk music, ragtime, blues and Americana with a genuine style of his own and a unique twist on political and social satire.

Every concert offers easy-listening music during lunch every Friday on the Courthouse Square, located on Manatee Avenue West between 10th and 12th streets. Bring your lunch or get something to go at one of downtown Bradenton’s area restaurants and stop by the Courthouse Square for some music.

Remember to bring your laptop, too. Bright House offers free wireless access throughout downtown to its Roadrunner subscribers; Non-customers can surf the Web for a small fee.

Pet's Life Naturally is sponsoring a “Doggie Happy Hour” at each concert, so bring your leashed dog to enjoy a doggie treat and a bowl of water. Volunteers with Southeastern Guide Dogs also plan to attend most of the concerts and will have information available about their cause.

Robin's sells concert sandwich deals for $5 for a sandwich, drink and chips at the noon hour.

For more information, please contact Anna Pohl, Downtown Development Authority Events Coordinator, at (941) 704-4366 or Visit for more information.

Courthouse Concert Schedule:
10-30-09 Ishmael Katz
11-6-09 Brian Langill
11-13-09 Al Fuller
11-20-09 Dave Mankes
12-4-09 Brian Langill
12-11-09 Dean Miller
12-18-09 Jazzology Duo

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Hot day at festival/What to see there

How is it October when it literally feels like 110 degrees outside?! I melted in the sun during Ringling International Arts Festival's Asian Family Funfest. Regardless of the heat, though, families had a great time watching Chinese acrobats entertain in the museum's courtyard. Plus, there were plenty of great activities for the kids, who received free admission into the museum for the event. You can read about in Sunday's paper.

I was able to escape the heat a little later to see the New York-based theater troupe Elevator Repair Service perform its workshop premiere of "The Sun Also Rises" (first part) that's based on Ernest Hemingway's novel. Since it is a workshop piece, still in the ironing-out stages, I'm not allowed to critique it - but I must say I loved 99.8 percent of what I saw. The acclaimed, cutting-edge theater troupe really does put the "clever" in theater. The play is my second favorite work at the festival. The first is Ella Hickson's "Eight," of course.

Wanna go, but not sure what to see?
Tomorrow is the last day of this wonderful festival. Part of me hates to see it end. The other part of me wants to have a normal life again (it's like I've lived at the Ringling all week). This will probably be my last post about the festival itself. I encourage everyone who hasn't been yet to go and if you have already gone, go again to see more.

Some of the performances ended today (I really wanted to see more dance stuff but I missed it). But out of what's left, here's what I recommend for Sunday (which is pretty much everything):
  • Chamber Music, featuring Mason Bates (I haven't seen it, but have heard good buzz on it)
  • Ella Hickson's "Eight" definitely
  • Elevator Repair Service
  • Meow Meow (a one-woman variety show with a little risque mixed in; she'll make you laugh)
  • Peter Brook's "Love is My Sin" (can't beat Shakespeare)
  • Cafe performances (I haven't been to a festival cafe, but have heard good buzz on all the events there - and it's free to the public at the Ringling Museum). Sunday's offering is local dance group Moving Ethos.
  • And Maria Pages' flamenco dancing (I haven't seen this either, but heard great things about it). It's sold out, though. But don't let that stop you. Sometimes people RSVP but don't show up. Ex: Elevator Repair Service shows have been sold out before the festival began, but there were a few empty seats at today's 2 p.m. performance. So you never know until you show.
- January Holmes

Day three at Ringling Festival

The crowds continued to pour into Ringling's International Arts Festival Friday. Many of them filled the Cook Theater to see Deganit Shemy & Company's intense and provocative "Arena" - which I tried to give my impressions on for a story in Saturday's paper. I say "tried" because I don't have a dance background. The piece is hard to put into words and quite different from anything I've ever seen. You have to experience it for yourself.

Tonight I went to a late performance of Ella Hickson's "Eight." Plays are more my element. And from what I've seen at the festival so far, this has been my favorite. The work is about the faithlessness of contemporary British 20-somethings featuring eight monologues. For more about it, read here. But only four of the monologues are presented with each performance. Apparently the audience gets to vote on which four they would like to see. Somehow I missed that part.

Before the play begins, the actors step on stage one by one and stand there like a statue until the house lights dim. The cast includes Adam Carpenter, Devereau Chumrau, Tom Ferguson, Kerri Hall, Will Little, Solomon Mousley, Gwendolen Duckworth and Lizzie Watts. One-third of the cast are students from the FSU/Asolo Conservatory.

Cast members take their seats at the rear of the stage when the play begins. One at the time, they come up and tell their stories. Their tales have a heavy air of wonderful wit balanced with drama before they expose the root of their troubles. Hickson is to be commended on the play's gripping dialogue. The actors did a remarkable job bringing her script to life.

In Friday's 10:30 late show, we heard from the voice of a prostitute, a successful businessman whose life suddenly changes in an instant, a gay man with an unexpected secret and a woman wrapped up in infidelity. Each story has its own moral jewel, which makes "Eight" so appealing. I can see why this up-and-coming playwright has swept awards for it world-wide.

I just wish I could see the other four monologues.

- January Holmes

Thursday, October 8, 2009

People flock to festival

The first full day of the Ringling International Arts Festival drew droves to the FSU Center for the Performing Arts and the Ringling Museum of Art. The parking lot was a sea of cars. People flooded the theaters, eager to see some of the best performing artists the international world has to offer.

The last time I saw parking so full was probably when Syesha Mercado sung on the museum grounds last year during the American Idol finals.

Today, I saw Peter Brook's "Love Is My Sin" — based on Shakespeare's sonnets. Then I returned a little later in the day for a dose of "Meow Meow," cabaret diva extraordinaire. Read about both in this week's Herald.

In between shows, I met a nice woman from Winter Haven who came to Sarasota with a friend just to attend the festival. She told me about her brief encounter with Mikhail Baryshnikov right after watching one of the dance performances. After she knew he was in the theater, she marched over to where he was and said hello. I have yet to meet him in person. But I enjoyed our brief phone interview from last week, which was featured in Sunday's Herald.

There's still plenty of festival for folks to see. Though I'm told that all of Elevator Repair Service shows and Maria Pages shows are sold out.

- January Holmes