Waitress “Opening Up” at Straz

I knew I was in for trouble when I sat down for the touring Broadway musical “Waitress” at the Straz Center’s Carol Morsani Hall and the place smelled like sugar. See, I have a sweet tooth. A theatre lobby selling pies in a jar with little wooden spoons and a wafting scent of sugar over the audience makes me hungry. Then the show started and all they talked about was pie.

OK, that’s not true. They talked about love, and loss, and trust and motherhood. Relationships were picked apart and kindled and stomped on. But there was a LOT of pie.

  • Deep Dish Blueberry Bacon Pie
  • Betrayed By My Eggs Pie
  • Everything’s Just Peachy Peachy Keen Pie
  • Marshmallow Mermaid Pie
  • In the Dark Dark Chocolate Pie
  • Pineapple Upside Down Pie
  • A Little Wild, Wild, Berry Pie
  • Lulu’s Strawberry Dream Pie
  • Sweet Victory Pie
  • Polka Dot Peach Pie

I’ve read books where women dissolve their feelings into shared baked goods, and it’s all a bit magical and mysterious. Then I saw the movie “Waitress” and thought it was kind of slow – even though I really like actress Keri Russell. But I gave the musical a shot.

This show is certainly not slow. It covers the same emotional rollercoaster with some sexy twists, lots of laughs, a few tears – and most of all AMAZING vocals! This cast can SING!

The show features original music and lyrics by 5 time Grammy nominee Sara Bareilles. The lead we saw, Desi Oakley as Jenna, made me feel like I was listening to Sara sing her own songs. Her voice had a similar tone. I liked how real Jenna seemed. She stood awkwardly, she second guessed her decisions, and she forgot to practice what she preached. I just wanted to hug her and go to the mall with her.

“Waitress” runs at the Straz through April 29. You can buy tickets here. (I also read but did not confirm that you can get 35% off tickets with promo code SUGAR.) I recommend this show for a ladies night out, not a date night. The show is very pro girls lifting each other up! And arrive hungry, so you can taste those little pies in the jars!

Learn recipes for some of the tempting pies mentioned in the show here. Remember to use ice cold water when making pie crust. Using ice water helps the fat of the butter remain solid, and the colder the fat when you put the pie into the oven, the greater the chance for flakiness. Also add one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to keep your pie dough from becoming tough.

I received two free tickets to the show via Tampa Bay Bloggers and the Straz Center in exchange for my honest review. But I paid for parking, and my husband bought two drinks. I did not buy the pie. 🙂

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Pour la Première Fois: 5 Takeaways from Cirque VOLTA

By guest blogger Rachel Barrett

It was Valentine’s Day under the big top, and my husband and I were offered the opportunity to attend Cirque du Soleil’s latest show, VOLTA, in Tampa. Heralded as acrobatics meets ballet meets action sports, VOLTA’s alignment with Olympic season is perhaps the perfect timing for such a show, when there is a collective, if passing, passion for celebrating feats of human athletic prowess.

Guest blogger Rachel (l) and RunningBetty (r)

The energetic two-hour show flew by in a glorious blur of haunting original music, incredible feats of athleticism, and thrilling daredevil stunts; all peppered with impeccably timed comic relief. For this first-time Cirque attendee, these were my 5 biggest takeaways.

1. Ignorance is Bliss: While I knew of the general Cirque brand, I didn’t know any specifics about #VOLTA, or any of the Cirque shows for that matter. Even after I knew I’d be attending, I did no research of the show, but instead walked into the big top completely oblivious. With no expectations, I couldn’t help but be impressed! The Europop aesthetic, the music, the sets, the lights, the skill of the performers, the fact that there is not a bad seat in the house! I was like a 5-year-old on her first trip to Disney World with each new scene more awe-inspiring than the last.

2. Nods to Pop-Culture: Perhaps it was my novice interpretation, but I found nods to pop-culture at every turn. When we first meet Waz, the main character, I was immediately reminded of Gob’s intro for his magic tricks (no, ILLUSIONS!) from Arrested Development. In the dynamic and commanding male vocalist, I saw similarities to Titus Andromedon, the scene-stealer from The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The whole game-show opening overall was very Hunger Games-esque. In addition to enjoying the show itself, my husband and I had fun playing a game of “that reminds me of…”

3. Cirque Crosses Audiences: Before seeing the show, I wasn’t sure at whom exactly Cirque shows were aimed. Is it sophisticated patrons of the arts? Or is it families with young children? Perhaps it’s a different target audience for each show? I can’t speak for all Cirque shows of course, but VOLTA most certainly appeals to all kinds of demographic and psychographic categories – almost everyone can find something to enjoy about this show. There is beautiful ballet, incredible gymnastics, BMX stunts, silly skits, incredible music – it really is like seeing seven different entertainment events at the same time!

4. I’m Out of Shape: The bodies and abilities of these performers were absolutely unreal. They made everything look effortless. Unicycling with a woman doing an arabesque on your shoulders? No big deal! Triple backhandspring-ing through a hip-width ring four feet off the ground? Cakewalk! The muscles and definition of their physiques are jaw-dropping. Instead of pitying myself by comparison, I felt proud to be of the same species!

5. A Word to the Wise: While I loved that I had no expectations of the show, I do wish I’d done some homework about logistics beforehand. The trip from our home in St. Pete to the Tampa Greyhound Track was a long one, particularly because of holiday traffic – if you’re traveling across the Tampa Bay Area (which is totally worth it), give yourself extra time so you can settle in, grab a drink, and take some photos beforehand. Also, the parking/venue area is massive, plus the stairs to your seating area are a bit precarious, at least in stilettos. Shoes that you can walk far in, and up grated stairs are a must. For heel-wearers like myself, a comfortable wedge is ideal.

Overall, Cirque VOLTA was a wonderful way to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Any shared novel experience is good for a relationship, but this one in particular is one that we will be talking about for while. I’m grateful to my friends at Tampa Bay Bloggers for the opportunity to attend.

VOLTA is under the Big Top at the Tampa Greyhound Track now through March 18, 2018. Visit cirquedusoleil.com/volta or call 1-877-9CIRQUE (1-877-924-7783) for tickets, starting at $37.  

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VOLTA Cirque du Soleil {giveaway closed}

For a long time, La Nouba was the closest Cirque du Soleil show to my home, at less than a 2 hour drive. La Nouba was in a theater custom-designed and built for Cirque du Soleil on December 23, 1998, at Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) at Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando. 

The first time I saw the show it was on a date with my husband and it was a total surprise. He splurged on tickets and a hotel – I think it was an anniversary gift. The second time I saw it, we brought the kids and we were all already Cirque fans by then. We’ve seen Cirque du Soleil shows in other Florida cities, New Orleans and Las Vegas.

cirque bmx bike actLa Nouba ended its 19-year run on New Years Eve 2017, and rumor has it the show will be replaced by a new Cirque show eventually. But don’t fret – if you are in the Tampa Bay area and miss the theatrical and athletic excitement, Cirque is bringing its 41st original production, a new touring show, under the big top at the TAMPA GREYHOUND TRACK STARTING FEBRUARY 14, 2018!

The new Cirque show is called VOLTA. In literature, volta refers to a point of dramatic change. VOLTA the show is a story of transformation. It is about being true to oneself, fulfilling one’s true potential, and the power of the group to make that possible. You know, finding your true self by finding your TRIBE.

The show has a modern, youthful feel with elements of rope skipping, roller skating, BMX, parkour, acrobatics and so much more. What I’ve heard so far about it is:

“Volta contained all of the signature elements I’ve grown to enjoy: elaborate costumes, interesting themes and storylines, creative choreography, dramatic lighting and music, and (of course) mesmerizing acts with elements of humor and surprise that keep you enchanted. I enjoyed the cast interacting with the audience and the creative props and stunts.

The passion shines through every single artist, so amazing!! The wardrobe was soooo cool too! Totally blown away! One of my favorite shows I’ve seen by them!

Exciting and creative acts with plenty of audio and visual stimulation for you to enjoy. Definitely worth seeing.

It was fast paced, exciting and the costumes were amazing! I’ve seen many Cirque du Soleil shows but this one was really special! Go!”

VOLTA will be presented under the Big Top at the Tampa Greyhound Track February 14 – March 18, 2018. I’ll be there on opening night and will be back to blog all about it.

Cirque Club members can purchase tickets for these performances online at www.cirquedusoleil.com/volta. General public tickets are also on sale now by visiting www.cirquedusoleil.com/volta or calling 1-877-9CIRQUE (1-877-924-7783). Tickets start at $37. Or you can enter to win free tickets below!!

Thanks to my relationship with Tampa Bay Bloggers and Cirque du Soleil, I have a wonderful giveaway to offer to my readers – a pack of 4 tickets to see VOLTA in Tampa! #sponsored #ad The tickets may be used any Tuesday through Thursday the weeks of February 20 or 27. 

To be entered for a chance to win, find the VOLTA photo on my instagram account @rafdarrow. Follow the account and leave a comment on the VOLTA photo (from last week) letting me know your favorite thing about Cirque du Soleil. The giveaway will end at 9pm EST Feb 12, 2018. One winner will be randomly chosen and announced/tagged in the comments on Instagram on Feb 13.

Good luck and enjoy the show!

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Embrace your Aha Moment

Have you had an “Aha” moment? Oprah talks about them all the time. A moment in time – or an experience – when insight or realization hits. It might be about a career or a relationship, but if you are really lucky it’s a moment of self-realization.

Learning something about yourself that changes your path may take strength of character. Often these moments of clarity lead to change – and people fear change. I have friends who have had aha moments about religion, sexual identity, gender identity, adoption – even keeping a vegan lifestyle. And a true AHA moment will give you the courage to maintain that sense of self even in the face of adversity.

I enjoy stories and shows with coming-of-age aha moments, when youngsters or tweenagers realize what they stand for and why. There’s a show at the “Straz Center” in Tampa, Florida, this week that I have been waiting to see called “Fun Home.” It the first Broadway musical with a lesbian protagonist – Alison Bechdel.

fun home straz tampa florida

Alison Bechdel is a real person. She is a cartoonist who had popular graphic novels and comics in the mid-80s and early 90s. In 2006, she published a graphic memoir of her life called “Fun Home”, which was subsequently adapted as a musical and won a Tony Award for Best Musical (among others) in 2015.

I first learned of Alison Bechdel when some college friends were talking about the Bechdel-Wallace Test. This tongue-in-cheek “test” analyzes portrayal of females in film and other popular media. A movie passes the Bechdel test if it has at least two female characters in it who both have names and who carry on a conversation about something other than a man.

I have been following the musical about her life, “Fun Home,” since its inception and I am thrilled that since its Broadway run has ended it will now be right next door to me in Tampa. I know too much already about the show and music, and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but it deals with a lot of sensitive family situations – some of which will make me cry a lot from my seat in the audience – and which have also been a part of my family’s recent narrative.

I’m curious to see how the show will be readapted for the Straz Center’s gorgeous stage, because it was performed in the round in NYC. I’m also excited to see the 3 Alisons – three different actresses portray Alison Bechdel at different ages during the show.

If you want a bit of a spoiler, here is an Alison Aha Moment; Small Alison performing Ring of Keys at the 2015 Tony Awards.

For you teenage thespian geeks, check out the “Teens Take Broadway” feature on Thurs., Nov. 30 and receive a deeply discounted ticket plus a free pre-show event with live entertainment, games, raffles, refreshments and a free post-show talk-back with the cast.

Fun Home runs at the Straz Nov 28 – Dec 3, 2017Regular seats start at $31. I hope you go and your sense of self grows, or your sense of the world grows. I hope it helps you sift through your own clutter and find clarity. And I hope tomorrow night when I see it, I do the same.

I was asked to post about Fun Home in exchange for 2 free tickets due to my relationship with the Tampa Bay Bloggers.

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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 feels 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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