Sunday, March 31, 2013

Merritt, Dinnerstein perform at Tampa's Straz Center.

   The most intriguing new album in recent months is "Night," the gorgeous collaboration between alt-country star Tift Merritt and classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein. The very odd pairing yields glorious results that bridge classical and popular music in a fresh way.
Merritt and Dinnerstein
   Merritt and Dinnerstein will perform, together and separately, at  Ferguson Hall at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa on Saturday.
   Dinnerstein has been a rising star on the classical music scene since the release of her massively acclaimed recording of Bach's "Goldberg Variations" in 2007. Merritt is an introspective singer-songwriter who's been compared to Leonard Cohen and James Taylor (and she was a delight when she opened for Elvis Costello at Tampa Theatre some years back). Either would be worth driving to Tampa to see in a solo show. The two of them together might be phenomenal.
   It starts at 7:30 on Saturday, April 6. Tickets are $28.50 plus service charge. 813-229-7827 or

Friday, March 29, 2013

Manatee Players elevate the trite "Miss Saigon"

   If you've been following events leading up to Thursday's opening of "Miss Saigon," the Manatee Players' first show at their new Manatee Performing Arts Center, there are two things you're probably most curious about.
   The first is the theater itself, and it absolutely lives up to all the hype.
The Manatee Performing Arts Center
   It's a phenomenal place to see a show, with comfortable seats, perfect sight lines, good acoustics and sensational technical possibilities. Almost every regional professional theater company in the United States should be envious.
   The other thing you might be wondering about is the helicopter. The gimmick of "Miss Saigon," ever since its days on Broadway, has been a helicopter landing on stage in the second act. It's by far the most interesting thing that happens in the show, so it's almost impossible to do the show without the helicopter.
   In the Manatee Players' production, the illusion of a helicopter landing is quite credible. Director Rick Kerby promised it would look and feel like a helicopter, and it does.
   So then, onto the production itself. It's a wondrous thing to behold, with breathtaking lighting by Joseph P. Oshry, beautiful sets by Marc Lalosh and costumes by David Walker and Georgina Willmott. There's nothing in the look of this production that wouldn't be at home in a Broadway tour. (And in fact, a couple of people who had seen "Miss Saigon" on Broadway and on a Broadway tour said this production was better.)
   The only technically lacking aspect was the inconsistent sound. Some voices sounded muddled, body mics interfered with each other and in one ensemble scene, one singer's voice drowned out all the others. On a few occasions the very good six-piece orchestra -- which sounded much larger -- drowned out the cast.
   And that cast is generally terrific, especially considering most of them are very young and the show is extremely demanding, vocally and dramatically.
   "Miss Saigon" is, of course, a reworking of Puccini's "Madama Butterfly," transposed to the last days of the Vietnam War. A GI named Chris has an affair with a girl named Kim who has reluctantly become a prostitute. When he comes back to America, he still thinks about her, but he eventually marries. Then he learns Kim has had his child and goes back to Vietnam to find her. Kim has been waiting for him through the years and is devastated to find out Chris is married.
   Holly Rizzo is marvelous as Kim. She wields a beautiful voice and her singing is overflowing with emotion. The other standout performance -- though a much smaller one -- is Channing Weir as Chris's wife. (She will not be in the role in all performances.) Her one solo song, "Now That I've Seen Her," is one of the best musical moments in the show.
   Omar Montes is also very strong as the Engineer, the show's flashiest role.
   The cast as a whole sings well and the dancing, choreographed by Kerby, is especially impressive.
   One problem, though: "Miss Saigon" is not a good show. The melodies are haphazard, the lyrics are 12 pounds of cliches in a 10-pound bag. The same team that wrote "Les Miserables" wrote this show, but it feels as though they didn't put a lot of effort into it.
   Now that Manatee Players finally have a theater worthy of their talents, it's exciting to imagine what they'll be able to do when they tackle worthy material.
   Details: March 28 to April 14 at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave. West. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday. Most shows are already sold out; others have limited availability. Tickets: $26-$36. Information: or 941-748-5875.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Dick Hyman plays at Sarasota Opera House

Al Hirschfeld's caricature of Hyman
   Piano legend Dick Hyman and his trio will join with the Gloria Musicae Singers for a concert of familiar movie music that Hyman arranged by Hyman for several Woody Allen films, "Moonstruck" and others. Hyman will also premiere a new work called "Bottle It Up," which he composed specifically for Gloria Musicae, a professional Sarasota-based vocal ensemble.
   The concert's set for 7 p.m. April 7 at the Sarasota Opera House, 61 N. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota. Tickets are $35 for the concert and $75 for the concert and a post-performance cocktail reception in the Opera Club with Hyman and the other performers. Call 941-360-7399.

"Shakespeare in the Park-ing Lot" in Sarasota

   Here's a cool thing. Jobsite Theater, which is in residence at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, is bringing its current production of "Much Ado About Nothing" to Sarasota for one performance only, at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 3.
   The venue makes this show even cooler. It's in the parking lot of Home Resource, a furniture showroom at 741 Central Ave., Sarasota. Home Resource has offered theater before, but it's usually inside the showroom.
The cast of Jobsite Theater's "Much Ado"
   Jobsite is a solid professional company, and its production of "Much Ado," one of Shakespeare's best comedies, has garnered  positive buzz. Ned Averill-Snell plays Benedick, and he's one of the very best actors in Tampa.
   There's a $15 suggested donation for each ticket. The money goes to Jobsite. Reservations are required. Email
   If you can't make the Sarasota show,you can catch "Much Ado" on Jobsite's home turf, the Shimberg Playhouse at the Straz Center, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa, through April 7. Up there you'll have to pay $28 plus a service charge. Call 813-229-7827 or visit for details.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Piano Guys coming to Tampa's Straz Center

   Granted, just because a group is an "internet sensation" doesn't necessarily mean they're going to put on a good concert. But if you've watched the Piano Guys' extremely cool Youtube video of "What Makes You Beautiful," in which all five guys play one piano, plucking and damping strings to make the single instrument sound like a whole band, well, you just have to be at least a little curious about what they can do on stage.
   You can find out, but not until this fall. The Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa has just announced the guys will be performing there Nov. 8. Tickets start at just $29.50 plus service charge, which will be a really good deal if it turns out they're still internet sensation seven months from now.
   The Straz Center is at 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa. Call 813-229-7827 or go to

Monday, March 25, 2013

Phillip Phillips added to Tampa's Funshine Festival

   American Idol winner Phillip Phillips has been added to the already impressive lineup for the Funshine Music Festival at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa.
Phillip Phillips
   Phillips will play Friday, May 3. Train, Smashing Pumpkins and Cheap Trick will also perform that evening.
   The festival continues over the two following days, with such big-name acts as Styx, REO Speedwagon and the Wallflowers. There are more than 30 acts overall.
   Tickets are on sale now. They're $20 through April 26 and $25 after that. Three-day tickets are $49. Those tickets are good for general admission to all stages. You may have to sit on the grass for shows at the Live Nation Amphitheatre with those tickets, but you you can get reserved seats for single shows in the amphitheater for $40-$55.
   Check for tickets.

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Hymn for Her play in Sarasota Saturday

New CD, out April 23
   Lucy Tight and Wayne Waxing, a.k.a. Hymn for Her, have a new album coming out next month. That's great news for anyone who loves oddball cigar-box-guitar-blues-country-rock. But even better news is that you can get a taste of the new album when the peripatetic duo, who live and record on the road in their Airstream, play a CD release party Saturday. The album's called “Lucy and Wayne's Smokin Flames,” and they say they're going to start selling their own brand of hot sauce with that same name. The release party is set for 8 p.m. Saturday, March 30, at WSLR's Fogartyville, 525 Kumquat Court, Sarasota. It costs $5 to get in,

Friday, March 22, 2013

"Chicago" at Van Wezel in Sarasota postponed

   If you've been getting excited about seeing "Chicago: The Musical" at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in a couple of weeks... sorry.
   The show, which was scheduled for April 9-10, has been postponed. In fact, it's not going to be here for almost a full year -- not until March 4-5, 2014.
   If you have tickets, you should be getting new ones from Van Wezel within a month. You'll have the same seats. If you already have other plans for March 4 and 5 of next year, you have to return your tickets to the box office. 
   The officially stated reason for the postponement is that the tour route has been rescheduled.
    Call  941-953-3368 for more details.  

Uncle Kracker headlines Bradenton's DeSoto SeaFood Fest

Uncle Kracker

  Uncle Kracker, the Kid Rock protégé who became a rocker before he became a country star, will headline this year’s DeSoto Heritage Festival SeaFood Fest, festival officials announced today.
   The seafood fest, the biggest and one of the most popular elements of the 10-day DeSoto Heritage Festival, is slated for April 5-7, on the waterfront in downtown Bradenton between 10th and 12th streets.
   The seafood festival has always been free in the past, but not this year. There’s a $2 admission charge for everyone age 12 and older. (Kids under 12 can still get in free.)
   Gary Kortzendorf, the chairman of this year’s seafood festival, said some of the money from the admission price will be donated to two local charities: Manasota Operation Troop Support (MOTS), which provides a variety of services for military personnel and Feeding Empty Little Tummies (FELT). 
   Uncle Kracker, who’s known for such hits as “Follow Me,” and “Drift Away,” will perform Saturday, April 6, at about 8 p.m. But he's only the biggest name in a three-day lineup of acts that will perform on two stages throughout the festival.
   Besides the live music acts, the festival also features all sorts of food – not just seafood, but everything from barbecue to ice cream – and a children’s area with bounce houses and other activities.
   For information, go to or call 941-747-1998.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Heart, Bonham play in Tampa June 18

   Heart and Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience are starting their national "Heartbreaker" tour in West Palm Beach June 17. The second stop on the tour is at Tampa's Live Nation Amphitheatre on June 18.
   The Wilson sisters and Bonham's Zeppelin tribute band teamed up at the Kennedy Center in December, and did a memorable rendition of "Stairway to Heaven." On the tour, Bonham's band and Heart will each play a set, and then they'll finish the show together with a half-hour "Zep-a-thon."
   Tickets go on sale Saturday, March 23. Prices haven't been announced yet. We'll let you know when they are, but you can also check

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Parsons Dance gives peek at Sarasota show

  Modern dance fans who have tickets to tonight’s Parsons Dance performance at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall are in for a profound treat.

   The company, arguably the finest modern dance company in the world right now, performed at the Palladium in St. Petersburg Tuesday, with much the same program audiences will see this evening (Wednesday, March 20) in Sarasota.

   Included in tonight’s program are “Caught,” Parsons’ trademark work of dance magic that has a solo dancer appearing to float above the stage for several minutes, and “Hand Dance,” a highly clever and amusing older work with only the dancers’ hands visible.

   Both were wonderful on Tuesday; “Caught” never gets old, no matter how many times you see it. But the newest  piece on tonight’s program, the multi-part “Round My World” from 2012 is just as enthralling.

  The concept is simple – it's just an artistic exploration of the circle – but it’s a joyous celebration of dance, music, geometry and the human form. The fact that all the dancers in the company are just about perfect-looking helps a lot.

   The Palladium is a treasure in St. Petersburg, but it isn’t a great theater for dance. Lighting is integral to Parsons – lighting designer Howell Binkley co-founded the company – and the Palladium has some technical limitations.

  Still, Tuesday’s concert was fulfilling and invigorating. Wednesday's show in Van Wezel, where the company can control the stage environment more fully, promises be even better.

   It starts at 8 p.m. at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Tickets are $10-$45.For information, call 941-953-3368 or go to

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Motley Crue's Vince Neil at Manatee's Ribfest

   So, last week, when the people from Gulfcoast Rhythm & Ribfest announced the headliners for this year's event, they talked about Fantasia, the Lee Boys and Foghat (with only the drummer remaining from the original lineup). Now all of a sudden their website is touting Vince Neil of Motley Crue. Vince Neil definitely trumps faux Foghat in the classic rock department, so it's surprising that they didn't make a bigger deal out his addition to the lineup.
Vince Neil will perform at Ribfest April 13
   Other acts new to the lineup since last week's announcement are locals Boss Hawg Band, blues players Doug Deming & Dennis Gruenling with the Jewel Tones, bluesy rockers the Mitch Clark Band, reggae band Trinity 7, the cast of Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe's "Soul Crooners 2," and soul singer Urban Mystic.
  Ribfest is set for April 12-14 at the Manatee County Fairgrounds. Neil performs at 8:30 p.m. April 13. Fantasia winds up Ribfest at 7 p.m. April 14.
 The complete schedule is here:
  You can read more here:

Leonard Cohen's Tampa concert was absolutely sublime

   No matter how high your expectations were, you could not have been disappointed.
   Leonard Cohen and company treated a nearly full house at Tampa's Morsani Hall to an emotionally powerful and musically impeccable three-and-a-half hour concert Monday night.
   It's hard to know where to begin praising this show. Cohen performed beautiful renditions of songs from all stages of his 46-year recording career, from "Suzanne" and "So Long, Marianne" through "The Future" and on to ""Anyhow" from his current album, "Old Ideas." His beautiful gravelly voice was still intact, and still full of music, and he looked so fit and moved so spryly that it rendered all the talk of his age irrelevant.
    He was also utterly charming, reverentially introducing each member of his nine-piece band several times, and even naming the lighting designer and technicians and the guy running the sound board. (The lighting and the sound were, in fact, phenomenal, but not many musicians would have bothered to acknowledge them from stage.)
Leonard Cohen at the Straz on Monday
   His band, including former Sarasotan Neil Larsen on keyboards, was sublime. Some of the most moving moments of the evening came from three backing singers. Longtime Cohen collaborator Sharon Robinson performed a gorgeous version of "Alexandra Leaving" and the Webb Sisters took up instruments -- Hattie on harp and Charley on guitar -- and treated the audience to some chillingly beautiful two-part harmonies.
   I could on and on, but I'll just say it was as close to perfect as a concert could get, and leave it at that.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Asolo Rep's "Clybourne Park" is a triumph

  A complete review will be coming soon, but meanwhile we don't want to delay in very, very strongly recommending that you go see "Clybourne Park" at Asolo Rep. See it soon because you might want to it often.
  It's hard to praise this play and this production enough. The script is clever, hilarious in a very unconventional (and sometimes very uncomfortable) way, the acting's is sublime and natural and the sets are stunning.
  The story is in two sections, 50 years apart. In the first, it's 1959 and an all-white neighborhood gets nervous at the news that an African-American family is moving in. In the second, that same area has become predominantly African-American and residents are nervous because a white family wants to buy a house and start gentrifying the neighborhood.

   It runs through May 2 at Asolo Repertory Theatre’s Mertz Theatre, 5555 Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. 7:00 p.m. Tuesday, 2 p.m. matinees April 3, 6, 10, 13, 18, 21, 25, 27 and 28; evening show 8 p.m. Tickets are $57-$73. For information go to, or call 941- 351-8000. There's some pretty harsh language.

Friday, March 15, 2013

"Anything Goes" at the Tampa's Straz delights

   Russel Crouse once said that Cole Porter’s songs filled him with such warmth and satisfaction that he felt as though he had just dined on sunbeams covered in chocolate sauce. Head to the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa to see “Anything Goes” and you’ll understand exactly what Crouse meant.
   The show – with Porter’s songs, an original book by P.G. Wodehouse, Guy Bolton Howard Lindsey and Crouse, and a new book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman -- is wonderfully old-fashioned and an absolute delight.
   The jokes are corny but still funny, the dancing is wonderful and Porter’s songs still sound clever and fresh, even almost 80 years after the show premiered. There are plenty of familiar tunes – “I Get a Kick out of You,” “You’re the Top,” and of course the title song – but even the lesser-known numbers are packed with delicious rhymes and catchy melodies.
   The plot’s totally silly, basically just a means of stringing Porter’s songs together, and the acting is intentionally broad, almost to the point of being vaudevillian. It’s all fluff but it works.
  Rachel York, whom you may recognize from TV appearances (including a guest roll as a stripper on “Frasier” and a movie in which she played Lucille Ball) is not great in the primary role of Reno Sweeney – on opening night her smile seemed artificial and she kept forgetting to use the faux-Mae West vocal delivery she started out with – but the rest of the cast is a hoot.
   It runs through Sunday, March 17. 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets start at $46.50 plus service charge. 813-229-7827 or

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Sarasota Film Festival tickets on sale Friday

   Tickets go on sale Friday for the 2013 edition of the Sarasota Film Festival.
   This year’s festival includes more than 220 films, including at least three world premieres, plus personal appearances by actors Mariel Hemingway, Griffin Dunne and Cheryl Hines and Oscar-winning director Barbara Kopple.
   The festival’s lineup of films opens April 5 with a screening of Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary “Blackfish,” about a captive killer whale in Orlando that killed its trainer, and ends April 15 with Noah Baumbach's “Frances Ha,” an acclaimed comedy about a would-be dancer whose dreams clash with reality.
   The festival’s box office opens at 11 a.m. Friday, March 15 at the Regal Hollywood 20, 1993 Main St., Sarasota. Tickets and the complete schedule of films and events are available at

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Good seats available for Cohen's Tampa concert

   Leonard Cohen's concert at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa is less than a week away, but it's not sold out yet. In fact, because some tickets only recently became available, there are still some really good seats left.
   Straz officials definitely expect the show to sell out, though, so it'd be wise to get tickets as soon as you can. It's not cheap -- the least-expensive tickets are over $100 -- but if you saw Cohen's glorious concert in 2009 at the Straz you'll know it'll be worth the price. His current "Old Ideas" world tour has been getting phenomenal reviews.
   The concert is at 8 p.m. March 18 at the Straz Center, 1010 N. MacInnes Place. Tampa. (813) 229-7827 or

Sunday, March 10, 2013

"Whipping Man" highlights season for Sarasota's WBTT

   The season is titled "Rhythms of Change," and it's designed to take audiences on a journey through American culture from 1865 to 1965.
   Lopez's 2011 drama has been widely produced all over the country in its short life, including a memorable production by Tampa's erstwhile Gorilla Theater last year.
    "The Whipping Man" is the second show of the season, opening Jan. 2 and running one month. It's the only non-musical of the season. The season opener is "Purlie," the Jim Crow-era musical co-written by Ossie Davis, Philip Rose and Peter Udell, with music by Gary Geld. It runs Nov. 13-Dec. 15.
Lena Horne
   Next up is "Harry and Lena," Feb. 19-March 23. It's a tribute to Harry Belafonte and Lena Horne.
   "Bubbling Brown Sugar" closes out the season, April 9-May 11. It's a revue that celebrates the music set in the Harlem Renaissance, including exuberant tunes by Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Fats Waller.
Details: 1646 10th Way, Sarasota. Tickets: $80 for season tickets; tickets for individual shows on sale Sept. 1. Information: 941-366-1505,

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