Tuesday, November 29, 2011

REVIEW: 'My Fair Lady' at Asolo Rep in Sarasota is fantastic

It’s hard to imagine a much more brilliant stage production of “My Fair Lady” than the one being presented by the Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota.

Leads Andrea Prestinario (Eliza Doolitte) and Jeff Parker (Henry Higgins) joust with just the right bit of bite and make you believe they’re falling in love without so much as even sharing a kiss.

It’s the 1956 Broadway smash (turned classic 1964 film) brought into the beautiful Mertz Theatre and given a most wonderful intimacy courtesy of music director Doug Peck and assistant music director Ian Weinberger playing all of Frederick Loewe’s glorious melodies on a mere pair of facing pianos.

Sans the orchestra, the characters are free to deliver those loverly lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner with gripping nuance and grace.

Lerner’s dialogue, largely derived from George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” teems with welcoming believability. Whether witty, comic, morose or whimsical it works extremely well when delivered by Prestinario, Parker and the rest of the superb, 19-person cast working under the masterful direction of Frank Galati.

The director allows Prestinario to play Eliza as the proto-feminist I believe Shaw and Lerner intended all along. Remember, she’s the lowly flower girl who goes to the misogynistic and elitist phonetics professor demanding he allow her to pay for speech lessons. By show’s end, Eliza has made a lady of herself and turned bachelor Higgins “accustomed to her face.”

Who knows?

Maybe she won’t even get him those slippers after the final curtain and continue teaching him how women should be treated.

Regardless, Eliza’s character arc has always been the most fascinating aspect of this practically perfect musical and Prestinario shines with ample help from Parker, whose Higgins also goes through a satisfying transformation.

In addition, what has always made “My Fair Lady” such a terrific show is that the scenes and musical numbers are equally strong. Galati and cast maintain the extraordinary level of sustained greatness throughout. It's what makes the nearly 2 1/2 hour performance (not including intermission) zip by.

Prestinario has a big, beautiful voice but also understands the subtly required to sell a bittersweet kiss off such as “Without You.” Parker smartly nods to Higgins originator Rex Harrison's speak-sing approach while allowing his sonorous pipes to take over when appropriate. (Yes, Parker is a better vocalist than Harrison was.)

As for the rest of the cast, each person contributes strongly. Joel Hatch plays Colonel Pickering — the one who makes the wager about Eliza becoming a lady — with a winning amount of snobbery and empathy. Sean Effinger-Dean makes Freddy Eynsford-Hill a most believable boy in love, especially when he sings “On the Street Where You Live.” And that scene-stealing Bryan Torfeh is outright hilarious as the villain Zolton Karpathy.

For all the charm of the cast, I would be remiss without mentioning the look of the show. Set designer Russell Metheny, costume designer Mara Blumenfeld, lighting designer James D. Sale, sound designer Kevin Kennedy as well as resident hair/wig and makeup designer Michelle Hart do a tremendous job of transporting the audience to the London of 1912.

Voice and dialect coach Patricia Delorey, with help from English-schooled cast member Cliff Roles, also deserve applause for making sure no one sounded silly with the Cockney or upper-class British accents.

Sure, you can sit at home and watch the excellent film version of “My Fair Lady.” But what the Asolo Rep has done with this spectacular musical shouldn’t be missed. It will make you fall in love again even with the most familiar scenes and songs all over again.

If you go
What: “My Fair Lady”
When: Through Dec. 23
Where: Asolo Repertory’s Mertz Theatre, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota
Tickets: $27-$71
Information: 941-351-8000 or www.asolorep.org

Neil Diamond has Tampa date at St. Pete Times Forum

Neil Diamond, who finally received some much-deserved cool points this year when he became a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee, has a June 3 date at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa.

Tickets for the greatest-hits show go on sale 10 a.m. Dec. 5th. Ticket prices for this event are $52.25, $82.25, and $117.25 (Facility fees and service charges are not included. Charge by phone at 800.745.3000. VIP Packages are also be available.

My first and, so far only, Diamond experience came at the Forum in 2008:
The 67-year-old crooner threw himself into every self-penned lyric, turning decades-old chestnuts into in-the-moment jolts of emotion that rocked a crowd of 13,000-plus — myself included.
Yeah, good times.

In addition, Columbia Records and Legacy Recordings recently announced it would release "The Very Best of Neil Diamond – The Original Studio Recordings" Dec. 6. The album  features 23 songs and is being billed as the first Diamond collection to draw from the artist's complete studio discography.

It includes tracks such as “Forever In Blue Jeans,” “Cherry, Cherry,” “Sweet Caroline,” “I’m A Believer,” “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon, ” “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” “Red, Red Wine,” “America” and all the others that have been making people smile for the past half century.

Diamond becomex a Kennedy Center Honoree on Dec. 27. He will also perform at the 85th Anniversary Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the "Today Show," NBC’s Tree Lighting at Rockefeller and the "Tonight Show with Jay Leno" in upcoming weeks.

Photo: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

Monday, November 28, 2011

Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw tour headed to Tampa

Country kings Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw's "Brothers of the Sun" tour will be making a stop at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa for a big Saturday bash June 2 that also includes Grace Potter & The Nocturnals as well as Jake Owen.

Tickets go on sale 10 a.m. Dec. 9 and will be available at the Raymond James Stadium box office, via Ticketmaster or by phone at 800.745.3000.

"Additional fees may apply to ticket prices" (which means count on 'em).

Prices haven't been announced yet.

"Brothers of the Sun" marks  the first time in 10 years that Chesney and McGraw have toured together.

Not a huge Chesney fan but do enjoy his touching version of this great Guy Clark song:

Monday, November 21, 2011

TONIGHT: Blues supergroup Southern Hospitality makes Bradenton debut at Aces Live

From left: Damon Fowler, Victor Wainwright and JP Soars of Southern Hospitality. Publicity photo.

As first reported here, Blind Pig recording artist and Bradenton Beach resident Damon Fowler joined forces with fellow Florida guitarist/singer JP Soars and Memphis-based piano man/singer Victor Wainwright for the blues super group Southern Hospitality, which also includes Fowler's forever bassist Chuck Riley and Soars' drummer Chris Peet.

Southern Hospitality makes its Bradenton debut tonight at Aces Live as part of Damon Fowler's Sugar Shack Mondays.

It's going to be a special night. See ya there or watch below. Both options are free.

Damon Fowler's Sugar Shack Mondays
Showcasing the best in touring talent
8:30 p.m. Mon., Nov. 21
and special guest
Southern Hospitality
No cover

Click to watchat
8:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 21

Watch live streaming video from sugarshackmonday at livestream.com

Friday, November 11, 2011

TONIGHT: Dangerous Dan Toler's VIP Kick Off Party in Lakewood Ranch

Dan Toler  honoring his brother on June 25, 2011. Photo by Wade Tatangelo

Guitar great Dangerous Dan Toler's VIP Kick Off Party starts at 6 p.m. today at Ed's Tavern on Rodeo Drive in Lakewood Ranch.

The former Allman Brothers Band member will be playing with his Toler/Tucci Band and there will also be a performance by the Matthew Facciolla Band. Both acts are highly recommended.

The live music will take place on the patio.

The event is a fundraiser for Toler, who is battling ALS/Lou Gehrig's disease.

There will be drink specials, food specials, raffles and prizes.

It's a pre-party for this weekend's Dan Toler ALS Support Benefit Concert Festival, which I wrote about here: "Betts, Bramlett, more to play Toler benefit"

Click for more of my stories/interviews with Toler, whose many credits include playing with the Allman Brothers Band, Dickey Betts &Great Southern as well as the Gregg Allman Band.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

TONIGHT: Cork's Cigar Bar throwing reopening bash on Old Main St. in Bradenton

A significant player in the downtown Bradenton nightlife scene just announced a move that has been in the works for months.

"Cork's Cigar Bar will be open at 5 p.m. today!" reads the Facebook message posted by bartender Meagan Miller about two hours ago. "Come on in and see our new beautiful building (across street from old)."

A call to her father, Cork Miller, confirmed the relocation of his family's establishment from 425 Old Main St. to 424 Old Main St.

"The downstairs bar is all ready to go," he said. "But the upstairs won't be open yet."

A grand opening is planned for the near future to coincide with completion of second story lounge.

As for tonight, RJ Howson (guitar/vocals), Devin Neel (drums/vocals) and Gerry Neel (bass) will be hosting an open, blues-based jam starting at 9:30 p.m.

Trivia with Pennijo Beaucamp starts at 7:30pm

I first broke the news about Cork's changing locations in March and reported about it again, among other Old Main St. developments, in June.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

REVIEW: FST’s ‘Next to Normal’ is crazy good

From left Ashley Picciallo, Leo Daignault, Stacia Fernandez, Mike Backes in FST's winning production of 'Next to Normal.'

Its finger right on the pulse of the real modern family, the one with madness always bubbling near the placid surface, “Next to Normal” works tremendously well on an abnormal number of levels.

Featuring music by Tom Kitt with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama recipient and winner of three Tony Awards is a rock musical that manages to deftly make the most of melancholy, with sharp satire, smart observations, provocative questions and endearing humor.

Credit Florida Studio Theatre for not just doing an excellent job with an intricate show of often cleverly matched vocals performed from a tight stage and three risers over the rousing sonics of an accomplished live band but taking a chance:

The subject matter is heavy and the characters sing or say just about every dirty word George Carlin ever rifffed on.
But this cussing isn’t without purpose.
Just like nothing in the potent production isn’t without purpose.

Even if at the end audience members are forced to find his or her own definition of “normal” — or decide if it’s OK to just be “next to normal.”
Or maybe conclude “normal” is a silly, way-too subjective and hurtful word, one that deserves banished from the lexicon.

The mother Diana (Stacia Fernandez) grapples with bipolar disorder that manifests itself in a most frightening way at times. Namely in the form of her son Gabe (Mike Backes), resulting in a jolting surprise to anyone not paying close attention.

Natalie (Ashley Picciallo) plays the neglected, good girl daughter who begins to stray from her high school studies after meeting pot-smoking boyfriend Henry (James LaRosa). She quickly leapfrogs his occasional bong blasts for drugs-n-clubs benders largely fueled by Mom’s powerful, prescription stash.

Dan (Leo Daignault) is the father forced to make tough decisions regarding his wife’s well being. Scott Guthrie plays both doctors charged with treating Diana.

The show is sans flat characters — save for the doctor, who makes the most of his relatively perfunctory but often hilarious role — and the other actors shine in their juicy, largely unprecedented parts. The songs interweave wonderfully with just enough spoken lines salted throughout to create an even stronger ebb and flow.

“Next to Normal” might not be for everybody but it’s must-see performance art for anyone interested in what the exciting possibilities are in musical theater.

Details: Nov. 2-Jan. 1, FST’s Keating Theatre, 1241 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota. Tickets: $29-$39. Information: 941-366-9000 or www.florida studiotheatre.org.

Radiohead to play Tampa

Radiohead performs to a cheering crowd during Lollapalooza 's first day at Grand Park in 2008, in Chicago, Illinois. (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune/MCT)

Radiohead will play Tampa during its upcoming 2012 U.S. tour.

The initial 10 date dates of the art rock band's first extensive string of U.S. shows since 2008 will begin Feb.  27 at the American Airlines Arena in Miami with dates currently running through March 15 at the Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Ariz.

Other Lives will support on these dates.

Radiohead performs at the St. Pete Times Forum Feb. 29.

General on-sales for these shows will begin November 12, with the exception of the February 29 Tampa, FL date, which will go on sale November 19.

There will be a four ticket per person limit.

For further information on ticketing, go to http://radiohead.com/tourdates/

Monday, November 7, 2011

REVIEW/PHOTOS: Sarasota Blues Fest

Ryan Shaw at Blues Fest. Photo by Caroline Sansone.
Thousands attended the Sarasota Blues Fest Saturday for a beautiful day of diverse, movingly performed roots music.

Los Lobos closed the evening with a set that ranged from Mexican-flavored originals off their latest great record "Tin Can Trust" to a terrific Allman Brothers Band-style rendition of "On Way Out."

Ryan Shaw, who performed just before Los Lobos, proved my personal favorite. He's a 30-year-old with two Garmmy nomination to his credit who  brilliantly updates vintage soul. His set opened with a stirring rendition of Jimmy Cliff's reggae classic "Many Rivers to Cross" and never lost momentum.

Shaw completely reworked The Beatles' "Yesterday" into R&B gold and honored Michael Jackson with an emotive rendition of "Man in the Mirror." The most special moment of the night, though, came when Shaw performed the soul standard "Try a Little Tenderness" famously recorded by Otis Redding with backing by Booker T. & the MG's featuring the legendary Donald "Duck" Dunn on bass.

Donal "Duck" Dunn with Ryan Shaw. Photo by Wade Tatangelo.

Dunn, who lives in Sarasota, and Shaw met backstage prior to the performance. Shaw gave a warm dedication to Dunn before bringing chills by channeling the spirit of Redding without aping him. Dunn grinned in approval.

Former Little Feat singer and longtime member of Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet band Shaun Murphy also elated the crowd with her powerhouse vocals when she performed around 4 p.m.

Friday, November 4, 2011

REVIEW: 'Brothers Karamazov' a struggle on stage

From left: Jacob Cooper (Alyosha),
Brendan Ragan (Dmitry) and Jesse Dornan (Ivan) 
Many books make for great plays. Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s more-lauded-than-read masterpiece “The Brothers Karamazov” isn’t one of them. At least not judging by the FSU/Asolo Conservatory’s staging Wednesday of Roland Reed’s script directed by Andrei Malaev-Babel, a Conservatory faculty member.

The epic novel about a dirty old man and his three disparate sons has never been considered an easy read. Dostoyevsky’s obsession with religious faith and how doubt influences one’s morality permeates the book and play, which reportedly uses only text penned by the original author.

These heavy themes loom large over the small Cook Theatre stage, crushing any momentum that might be generated by the convoluted plot.

The acting by the entire, 12-person class of second year students can’t be faulted. It ranges from solid to superb. If the play weren’t so long — three hours including a single 15-minute intermission — I would recommend attending solely to watch Kelly Campbell’s gripping performance as the play’s Jezebel, Grushenka Agrafena.

Brendan Ragan (Dmitry) Jacob Cooper (Alyosha) and Jesse Dornan (Ivan) are also commendable as the Karamazov brothers, as is Francisco Rodriguez, who plays their drunk dad as well as a police captain.

But the 150 minutes of stage time is too full of characters trading monologues rather than dialogue to engage. The conflicts feel forced because the characters are made to come across as vessels for Dostoyevsky’s musings rather than persons in dire positions.

The costumes by Maxey Whitehead and Kristen Lynne Blossom are excellent but the sparse staging did each scene a disservice. There’s essentially no stage scenery. Props basically consisted of black stools, wine bottles and glasses.

That’s a lot to ask of a theatergoer but it might have worked if 14 audience members were not seated in a semi-circle around where the action took place. One couldn’t help but watch several squirm as a dream sequence dragged or notice that three of the chairs were empty after intermission. Incidentally, the two people seated next to me also didn’t return for the second and final act.

After already investing 80 minutes (and price of admission) they should’ve stayed. The second act flows much better than the first with a strong court scene conclusion. But it was not enough to overcome the many obstacles presented by the play, which has moments of brilliance too often undermined by a snake-like story line and tiresome pontificating.

What: Asolo Conservatory presents “The Brothers Karamazov”
When: Nov. 1-20
Where: Cook Theatre in the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota
Tickets: $28/$27 matinees/students receive 50 percent off with advance ticket purchase
Information: 941-351-8000 or www.asolorep.org

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Willie Nelson returns to Sarasota to play Van Wezel; info on new album

Willie Nelson is returning to Sarasota.

After last season's quick sell-out, American music icon Willie Nelson and Family return to the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall for another evening of brilliant country influenced by blues, jazz, folk and classic pop.

Tickets for the Feb. 3 show go on sale at 10 a.m. Sat., Nov. 12.

Nelson is scheduled to release the covers album "Remember Me, Vol. 1" on Nov. 21. Here's the track list, courtesy of TheBoot.com:

1. "Remember Me" (Ernest Tubb)
2. "Sixteen Tons'"(Tennessee Ernie Ford)
3. "Why Baby Why" (George Jones)
4. "Today I Started Loving You Again" (Merle Haggard)
5. "I'm Movin' On" (Hank Snow)
6. "That Just About Does It" (Vern Gosdin)
7. "This Old House" (Rosemary Clooney)
8. "Sunday Morning Coming Down" (Kris Kristofferson)
9. "Smoke That Cigarette" (Tex Williams)
10. "Slowly" (Webb Pierce)
11. "A Satisfied Mind" (Porter Wagoner)
12. "Roly Poly" (Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys)
13. "Release Me" (Ray Price)
14. "Ramblin' Fever'"(Merle Haggard)
15. "More and More" (Webb Pierce) *iTunes exclusive

Earlier this year I interviewed Willie's son/band mate, singer/songwriter/guitarist Lukas Nelson:

Details: 8 p.m. Feb. 3, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Tickets (on sale 10 a.m. Nov. 12): $30-$75. Info: (941) 953-3368 or log onto www.vanwezel.org.

—Photo at top provided by Van Wezel

SATURDAY (NOV. 5): Sarasota Blues Fest keeps it fresh with Los Lobos, Ryan Shaw and much more

Here's my story on this year's awesomely eclectic lineup:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

UPDATED 11/10: Bonnie Bramlett joins Dickey Betts, others for Dan Toler benefit in Sarasota

UPDATED 11/10: Here's story with quotes from Betts and Bramlett:

Bonnie Bramlett publicity photo
Esteemed blue-eyed soul singer Bonnie Bramlett, formerly of the famed duo Delaney & Bonnie, has been added to the Dan Toler ALS Support Benefit Festival.

Dickey Betts & Great Southern headline the Nov. 12-13 event in Sarasota first reported about here.

Bramlett performed with the Allman Brothers Band during the Toler era of the late 1970s (see clip below). She can be heard on the ABB albums "Enlightened Rogues" (1979) as well as "Reach for the Sky" (1980). She also performed with Toler on the acclaimed 1978 Dickey Betts & Great Southern album "Atlanta's Burning Down."

As a member of Delaney & Bonnie, she performed with Duane Allman, Eric Clapton, George Harrison and Dave Mason

Bramlett's songwriting credits include the classic "Superstar" (with Leon Russell and Delaney Bramlett), which was a hit in 1971 for The Carpenters and subsequently covered by everyone from Luther Vandross to Sonic Youth; the latter's version heard on the soundtrack for the hit film "Juno."

Bramlett is perhaps best known, though, for playing Bonnie Watkins on the hit TV show "Roseanne" in the early 1990s.

The Allman Brothers Band with Bonnie Bramlett and Dan Toler live at the Volunteer Jam in Nashville Tennessee