Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Theatre Odyssey's play festival returns to Sarasota

   Ten-minute play festivals have been popping up all across the country in recent years. They're popular with playwrights, theater companies and audiences.
   Playwrights appreciate the chance to be produced and get some money, theater companies like them because they can help develop new work and up-and-coming writers, and audiences like them because they generally make for really edifying and entertaining evenings of theater. And since the plays are short, audiences don't risk the boredom of a full-length show that they don't like. If you don't like one 10-minute play, you'll probably like the next one, and it's right around the corner.
"As Long as the Moon Shines"
Photo by Cliff Roles
 Locally, Theatre Odyssey's annual Ten-Minute Play Festival has become one of the most respected.The 10th annual festival is coming up this weekend. It runs today through Sunday at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts in Sarasota.
   This year's plays are "The Coward" by Dylan Jones, "Dancing Lessons" by Connie Schindewolf, "Dream On, Merry Mae" by Bernard Yanelli, "High School Reunion" by Arthur Keyser, "It's Time to Move On" by Ron Pantello, "The Locket" by Mark Leib, "Nimby" by Robert Kinast and "Why" by Marvin Albert.
   The plays get full productions from local theater professionals, and they're judged by a panel of theater experts. There's a cash prize for the winner. (Full disclosure: I am among the judges this year. The others are Summer Wallace, head of the theater department at Riverview High School and an adjunct professor of theater at New College of Florida, and Jim Sorensen, a prominent local actor who recently joined the staff of Florida Studio Theatre. The judges all volunteer their time.)
   The plays this year are about divided between comedies and dramas. There's also a bonus play. Theatre Odyssey hosts a student festival every year, and this year's winner, "As Long as the Moon Shines" by Julien Freij, a junior at St. Stephen's Episcopal School in Bradenton will be staged again this weekend. It won't be judged and it won't be eligible for the prize money, though.
   This year's festival has a couple of new elements. The opening night performance will be interpreted into American Sign Language, and 12-year-old violin prodigy Jenny Armor will perform during the intervals between plays between plays. 

   Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Cook Theatre at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Tickets are $20. Call 941-799-7224, or go to

Friday, April 24, 2015

2Cellos cancel U.S. tour, including Tampa date

   If you you were planning on spending the evening of May 9 watching two young Croatian cellists rock out, well ... sorry.
Stjepan Hauser (left) in happier times
   2Cellos were supposed to perform at Ferguson Hall at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa that night, but on Friday the show was canceled. Apparently Stjepan Hauser -- one of the 2Cellos -- has injured his neck. It's not a serious injury, 2Cellos' p.r. people say, but still the duo has canceled its US tour. The people at the Straz say a new date will be announced soon.
   Meanwhile, if you already have tickets, you got some money coming back to you. If you bought them with credit card you'll get an automatic refund. If you paid with cash or a check, you'll get a check in the mail in a week or two.
   For more information, call 813-229-7827 or go to

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Kevin Nealon to perform in St. Petersburg

   If you missed Kevin Nealon's appearance at McCurdy's Comedy Theatre in Sarasota in November -- or if you caught that show and you're dying to see him again -- fret not. He has just scheduled another show in the area.
   Nealon, one of the funniest people who's been on "Saturday Night Live" over the past several decades, will be at the Palladium in St. Petersburg on Oct. 17.
Kevin Nealon
   He's best known for his sketch work on "SNL" and for his role on the Showtime series "Weeds," but he started as a stand-up comedian and he said that's still his first love.
   "Stand-up is what I started doing," Nealon said in an interview with the Herald. "It's all I ever wanted to do."
   The Palladium is at 253 Fifth Ave. N., on the outskirts of downtown St. Petersburg, Tickets go on sale at noon Friday, May 1, and they cost $37.50, $45.50 and $52.50. Call 727-893-7832 or go to for tickets. If you want more information about the show or the venue, go

Friday, April 17, 2015

"Pippin" scores in Tampa despite off-key Pippin

   It was opening night for the national tour of “Pippin’ at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa. The house lights came on for intermission during the opening. In the audience, two friends compared their observations.
   “The guy who plays Pippin cannot sing at all.”
   “SO bad!”
   “But he’s really hot.”
   “SO hot!”

Sasha Allen and "Pippin" castmates
   How good is this new production of the classic musical?
   Despite an actor in the title role who regularly hits notes as sour as month-old milk, it turns out to be one of the best Broadway shows that has come our way in years.

   Sam Lips is the guy who plays Pippin in this very fictionalized story about Charlemagne’s son, and it's only fair to note that his acting is adequate and his dancing and acrobatic work are quite good.
   And, fortunately, he’s surrounded by an amazing cast without any other weak links.
   Sasha Allen, who lists “The Voice” first among her credits in the program, is ferocious as the Leading Player, a role most often associated with male actors. Allen has the vocal chops, the confidence and the charisma the role demands. She sometimes makes you think of Tina Turner in “Beyond Thunderdome.”

   John Rubinstein, the original Pippin on Broadway, is a lot of fun here as Charles, and Adrienne Barbeau is a revelation as Pippin’s grandmother Berthe.

   The 70-ish Barbeau swings from a trapeze, performing stunts, singing well while she’s hanging upside-down and looking quite good in her somewhat revealing form-fitting costume.
    Director Diane Paulus’ circus motif for the production, created by Gypsy Snider with a luscious big-top set by Scott Pask, is wondrous, packed with impressive illusions and Cirque du Solieil-style aerial stunts. Dominique Lemieux’ costumes, Kenneth Posner’s lights and Chet Walker’s choreography are all lovely and flavorful. And there’s killer a four-piece pit orchestra that sounds much larger than it is.

And, of course, “Pippin” is packed with great Stephen Schwartz songs and a clever book by Roger O. Hirson.
   It’s a show that’s almost flawless.
   Unfortunately, its one flaw is huge. 
   It runs through April 19 at the Straz Center, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa. The remaining shows are at 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets will run you $61.50-$85.50 plus service charge. call 813-229-7827 or go to

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Comedian Chris Tucker comes to Straz in Tampa June 12

Chris Tucker
   Chris Tucker is one of those rare entertainers who equally adept at both acting and stand-up comedy.
   It's easy to find him on screen, because every movie he does seems to turn into a huge ht, from the "Rush Hour" series with Jackie Chan to "Silver Linings Playbook" with Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro.
   Soon it'll be easy to catch his stand-up act, too. He'll be at the Straz Center for Performing Arts in Tampa on June 12.

   If you know Tucker from his movies, you might not know that he was a favorite on Russell Simmons' "Def Comedy Jam" in the '90s. He also has a stand-up special coming out on Netflix in July.
   Tickets for the Tampa performance are $45.75-$65.75 plus service charge. They'll go on sale at 10 a.m. Friday, April 17. Call 813-229-7827 or go to

Chaka Khan to perform in St. Petersburg

   If you like any kind of popular music, chances are you like Chaka Khan.
   Since her teenage years back in the 1970s fronting the funk-pop outfit Rufus, who hit it big with  Stevie Wonder's "Tell Me Something Good," through solo career that included such hits as “I Feel For You” and “I’m Every Woman,” Chaka Khan has proven she can handle
Chaka Khan
R&B, jazz, pop, rock, gospel, funk and even country music. She has 10 Grammy Awards and 22 Grammy nominations, 10 No. 1 singles and 11 gold or platinum albums to prove it.
   She has a new CD coming out later this year, and you'll no doubt be able to hear some of the new material when she comes to the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg on Nov. 13.
   Tickets for the just-announced show go on sale at noon Friday, April 24. Prices are $42.50, $52.50, $65.50 and $75.50. Call 727-893-7832 or go to,