Rent at the Straz Center, Tampa

The most popular rock musical of the ’90s, Rent, is on its 2nd tour of its 20th anniversary, and is currently at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, Florida. Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer and Tony Award winning musical is one of the longest running shows on Broadway. I received two tickets to the show through a connection with Tampa Bay Bloggers and in exchange for my honest review. And I will tell you honestly, I absolutely loved this show!!

I relate a bit to the story of Rent because it takes place in NYC in the mid-to-late 90s, which was when I lived in NYC. The characters are mainly artists living a bohemian lifestyle, and I certainly bordered on granola with dreams of being a writer while studying at NYU. I also have a father who listens to opera and classical music almost exclusively, and the story line of Rent follows Puccini’s opera La Boheme.

If you have never seen the show before, or if it has been a while, you may think it seems dated. The music, the clothes, and all the fear of people dying of AIDS. Aren’t we lucky that we live in a time and place now that – on average in the USA – being HIV+ is not an immediate, undignified death sentence?!!

The show certainly shows some evils of humanity, but it shows the upside too – finding solace in love, friendship, group therapy, and being true to yourself – and/or your art.

The songs contain powerful messages – ranging from sexy to angsty – and this cast does them justice with powerful voices that really wowed me! It’s rare that I find the male voices even stronger than the female ones in a show, and I did with Rent, particularly Kaleb Wells who plays Roger.

The set is sparse, as it should be to help develop the feel of the characters being penniless.

The program includes a cheat sheet. It might help explain the show to someone who has never seen the musical or movie before, but it seems highly unnecessary to me. It is expected that an audience learns about characters and plot as a show unfolds onstage. Plus they used the actor’s headshots instead of character photos, so it’s hard to relate it back to the stage anyway. I didn’t need a cheat sheet the first time I saw Rent, neither did my daughter the first time she popped in the DVD…

Regardless – the show is charged emotionally and you’d either have to be homophobic or hate art to not be moved by the performance and the script. And if you are like me, and you LIVE for this kind of stuff, you’ll laugh, cry, clap, moo and leave with a greater connection to the plight of strangers around you; squeezing your loved ones a little tighter.

If the show sounds awesome but your wallet feel light, check out their rush tickets! Visit the box office 2 hours before showtime for a chance to sit in the first 2 rows for only $25!! Cash only. First come first served. Or act quickly TODAY for Straz’s first Teens Take Broadway night. Show a student ID at the Ticket Sales Office window to get a discounted ticket to Rent On Tour on Thursday, Sept 21. Arrive at 6pm on the night of the show for free entertainment, refreshments, contests and more on the Jaeb patio. Teens only. If you have a group of 10 or more students, call the Group Sales team at (813) 222-1047. If you do want to share this with a class you teach, there is an education guide here.

For a little taste of RENT, watch the movie trailer here. You’ll see familiar faces like Idina Menzel, Rosario Dawson, Taye Diggs, Jesse L. MartinAnthony Rapp – and it was directed by Chris Columbus. Or if you are very familiar, check out this fun version of “Take me or Leave me” by a couple of Glee cast members.

While we were at opening night, the cast announced they would match any donations that evening to help Hurricane Irma victims in Tampa through Metropolitan Ministries.

Rent has won six Drama Desk Awards, five Obie Awards, four Tony Awards, and the Pulitzer Prize. Go find out why this week at the Straz Center!

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Packing for Hurricane Irma

hurricane irma floridaWhen Hurricane Irma took a turn towards Tampa Bay on September 9, 2017, she was tracking right over my house. Eventually the area I live in was under a mandatory evacuation, meaning if we were in trouble emergency responders would not come help. Brian was worried about storm surge (high waters flooding into the house) and I was worried about wind damage, so we left. Here’s what I brought with me:

  • Food – A rolling cooler and 2 zip-up coolers filled with food and water from my fridge and freezer. I dumped ice in the cooler and turned off my ice maker. I also bought non-perishables that were not complete junk food (except for two dark chocolate bars), like canned chicken, boxed coconut milk, granola, nuts, raisins, peanut butter and cans of soup.
  • Clothes – I took a large, rolling duffle bag and dumped most of my socks and underwear into it. Then I added a bunch of casual clothes, one cuter outfit, warm PJs, barely there PJs, an old pair of sneakers in case I came home to a mess, a pair of flip flops, and a swim suit because I am a weirdo. I brought one long sleeve tech shirt in case it was steaming hot (it was) and bugs were biting (they weren’t.) Then I took a second suitcase and put a bunch of work clothes in it and put it up high in closet in case water went everywhere in my house. I also took my shoes off the floor of my closet and threw them in a shopping bag and put them up high in a closet.
  • Toiletries from my bathroom in full sizes in case we were gone a long time. Shampoo, hair product, face wash, deodorant, a razor, perfume, sunscreen, bug repellent, eyeliner and lipstick. Then stuff to do my nails because I knew we’d be sitting around bored at some point.
  • Eye care: Glasses, sunglasses, contacts, eye drops.
  • First aid kit + extra ibuprofen
  • A foam roller and yoga mat
  • Keys to everything around my house
  • Laptops, chargers, iPad, phone, little backup battery packs
  • Medical paperwork my kids need to have on hand, passports, birth certificates
  • Journal and pen
  • 2 books
  • Headlamps
  • Rubber gloves for post-storm cleanup
  • Alaska: along with cat food, litter, litter box, treats, toys, leash, cat carrier & id tag
  • Zip drive of family photos and DVDs of my kids when they were little and my wedding. I took 2 actual photos – one my kids when they were little and one from my honeymoon.I also put our photo albums in a large Rubbermaid tub but I left that in our safe room at home. (The guest room has no window.)
  • A special heart necklace Brian gave me years ago that I didn’t remove for days so I knew for sure it was not lost. I also packed some of my good jewelry and threw that in my suitcase
  • My alarm clock that has a sound machine on it
  • A battery powered radio
  • Our pillows to sleep better
  • Some sentimental stuff my kids asked me to grab, like baby blankies and favorite stuffed animals
  • Raincoat and umbrella
  • Homeowners insurance policy
  • Sports bottles full of cold water for the road
  • $500 cash

I put bikes in the shed, tarped a sofa by an old window that I was worried about, and sandbagged our outside doors. I took some favorite paintings off the wall and some breakable lamps and put them all in the safe room on the bed. I did not store anything in my washing machine or dishwasher. I left a cup of ice with a penny on top in both freezers (that way if I came home and the penny had sunk I would know at some point the freezer defrosted. That turned out to be fruitless because my power was off for a few days anyway.) I filled both car tanks with gas.

All of this, along with Brian’s gear didn’t fill my minivan, and we were safe with friends for about 48 hours. We came home to find our house and roof in one piece, our fence in three pieces (oops), and no electricity for about 60 hours. All in all, we were blessed and lucky! #Floridastrong

raffi in a headlamp

Wearing a headlamp to finish reading “The Nightingale”

friends during hurricane irma

Hiding in a closet under the stairs during a tornado that Irma brought

Disney joke

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Motown The Musical in Tampa

The record label umbrella company Motown Record Corporation was founded by Berry Gordy, who produced an iconic genre of soul and pop sound. Through Gordy’s hard work, drive, supportive team and talents, he defined a generation of stars. “Motown the Musical” is a Broadway touring jukebox musical recalling Gordy’s personal story and many of the megahits that were produced on the Motown record label. The songs also represented Detroit, Michigan’s culture and African-American culture of the ’60s and ’70s.

Motown the Musical” tells this story and shows Gordy’s ingenuity, personal and financial struggles and his desire for music to entertain a generation of people regardless of race.

The names and songs in this musical will be all too familiar:
Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Dancing in the Street,” You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” “Stop in the Name of Love,” and many many more bits of hits.

I was particularly delighted by Raymond Davis Jr. as young Michael Jackson and would have loved to have seen more of ‘the Jackson’s’ performing. I also was fascinated by the period fashions recreated for the stage, particularly Diana Ross’ dresses.

The show at the Straz is long and fun, and even from the 4th to the last row of the whole theatre – way up high in the balcony, I was dancing in my seat! I think I could enjoy this show with my eyes closed, the songs and singing are amazing – but then I would have missed out on the matching suits and synchronized choreography that groups like the Temptations and the Four Tops were known for.

“Motown the Musical” depicts how music shaped an important period in our history and also recounts how major historical moments carved out a new place for music to be expressive. This takes the show from simply entertaining to a level up – thought provoking and meaningful.

To be a part of the musical magic of Motown, get to the Straz Center this week or have your tickets signed, sealed, delivered to Will Call at the Straz Center. The show is running now through Aug 13 in the beautiful Carol Morsani Hall. Tickets start at $28.50. Get all the details here: http://www.strazcenter.org/Events/Straz/Shows/1617_Broadway_Encores/Motown.

I received 2 free tickets to the show in exchange for my review due to my relationship with the Tampa Bay Bloggers.

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Wordless Wednesday: Hike from Vernazza to Monterosso

Photos from our 2-hour, sweaty hike from the harbor of Vernazza to the small town of Monterosso al Mare in Cique Terre, a string of five fishing villages high on the Italian Riviera that are a National Park and Protected Marine Area. (More about Cique Terre coming soon!)

Beautiful, panoramic views of a wild coastline in Italy, with terraces growing grapes and olives bordering the open water of the Mediterranean Sea.

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The Little Mermaid is at The Straz Center

Raffi and Brian at Little Mermaid Tampa“Disney’s The Little Mermaid,” the touring Broadway musical, is currently playing at the Straz Center’s Carol Morsani Hall through July 16. With music by eight-time Academy Award winner Alan Menken, this beautiful Broadway hit brings a favorite Disney film to life!

Thanks to a partnership with Tampa Bay Bloggers and the Straz Center, I received two tickets to see the show in exchange for an honest review. I enjoyed the show earlier this week with my husband, excited because I have always loved the movie. I remember first seeing the animated film “The Little Mermaid” at 15 years old, in fact it was at my own surprise birthday party, and it was playing on my TV when I walked into a living room filled with my giddy friends.

Much of the stage production is the movie brought to life. If you are familiar with the movie, you will know much of the musical’s soundtrack. There are a few more songs added – and the songs that were added 10 years ago are not necessarily the same ones touring with the show today. The Broadway musical got a bit of a facelift after it closed in NYC, before its national tour.

Without too many spoilers, there are also a few plot differences that empower Ariel and alter Ursula’s entanglement – when compared to the animated Disney classic.

Come sing and dance along in the audience, and bring your kids – I think it would be great for ages 6-13! The vocals and costumes will seriously entertain you even if you don’t like the deviations from the story you may be most familiar with. And the romance between Arial and Eric is still just as drool-worthy. Also, the Thursday, July 13 performance will be sign language interpreted. Get your tickets on the Straz Center website today before this magical musical swims away!

Make mermaids a part of your world and spend the next day at Weeki Wachee for the mermaid show. Diana Huey, who stars as Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, did!

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