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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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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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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Find Neverland in Tampa

I was thrilled to see that the musical “Finding Neverland” opens with Tinker Bell. Not the blonde flying on a wire you may find most evenings at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, but rather the tinkling, twinkling light version of the stage musical “Peter Pan.” Most of the other “Peter Pan” references you might hope to find are present in the show as well. The familiar can be heartwarming.

“Finding Neverland” is a behind-the-scenes peek at Peter Pan’s creator and playwright J.M. Barrie. As a fan of the book (I named one of my children after one of the characters, after all), it was fun to see events in Barrie’s life inspiring the classic story. Children jumping on a bed made him think of the Darling children flying, the top of his producer’s cane is curved like a pirate’s hook… a little imagination turned the ordinary into plot points.

Based on the 2004 Miramax movie by David Magee which starred Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet, and the play “The Man Who Was Peter Pan” by Allan Knee, the focus is on Barrie’s romance – or rather possible affair – with Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, and his closeness with her four sons. A lot of the illicitness of their relationship is toned down and the emotional workout the audience may go through thinking of these adorable children being orphaned is replaced with charming moments and songs.

There were some moments of the show I could do without. Some of the digital projections and effects seemed unnecessary. Some of the songs were too pop-rock for the time period. And I really wish the song “We’re all Made of Stars” was longer because of the message it sends and the fun the boys have. Some of the songs in the show are repetitive and long, but this one is unfortunately a quick 2 minutes.

My favorite part was phenomenal child actor Ben Krieger as Peter Llewelyn Davies and the period costumes by Suttirat Anne Larlarb, especially the blue dress Mary Barrie wears for her dinner party. My husband said his favorite part was – believe it or not – the use of glittering pixie dust in Act 2.

You don’t have to travel to Kensington Gardens to get a taste of Peter Pan. Just follow the second star to the right to Finding Neverland the Straz Theatre in Tampa, Florida, now through June 4, 2017. TODAY, TICKETS START AT $31.

Disclaimer: I received 2 free tickets to the show in exchange for this honest review as a member of the Tampa Bay Bloggers

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Musical “The King and I” is Touring Again

“The King and I” is a large-scale musical by one of my favorite teams: composer Richard Rodgers and dramatist Oscar Hammerstein II. If you’ve seen the Broadway version of “Cinderella” on stage or screen, that’s thanks to Rodgers and Hammerstein too. AND it’s topped with choreography by Jerome Robbins (“West Side Story,” “Peter Pan.”) The Broadway production is based on the novel “Anna and the King of Siam” which was based on the real-life memoirs of Anna Leonowens, governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam.

Set in 1860’s Bangkok, the musical tells the story of the unconventional relationship that develops between the King of Siam and Anna Leonowens, a widowed schoolteacher whom the King hires to teach his many wives and even more children.

The King and I deals with huge issues through its drama and song, among them sexism, racism, slavery, polygamy, death and human trafficking; making the show timely and thought provoking – while still family-friendly and optimistic. (If you plan to take little ones to the show, there is an educational guide you can prep or follow up with.) This revival production of the show is directed by Tony Award winner Bartlett Sher and won four 2015 Tony Awards. The U.S. national tour of “The King and I” began in November 2016 and is currently in Tampa, Florida, at the Straz Center.

In this version the costumes are more period appropriate and simpler, all adopted from actual images of nineteenth century Siam. But don’t worry, Anna still floats about the stage in one of the largest ball gowns Broadway has ever seen in the musical number “Shall we Dance?” The acting and singing of the extraordinary cast captivates audiences. The set, though sparse, is interesting and innovative.

Though I remember my mom singing “Getting To Know You” and “Shall We Dance” when I was little, I never saw the stage production and only saw small clips of the movie. I was excited to be offered 2 complimentary tickets by Tampa Bay Bloggers for a date night to finally view the show in its entirety in exchange for this review. I enjoyed the pro-female sentiments and far-Eastern critique of the West trying to change their culture to better them, while both cultures saw each other as a bit backwards. My husband likened the show to “The Sound of Music,” another Rodgers and Hammerstein masterpiece, due to the many cute, singing children a woman is brought in to care for while having an increasingly confusing relationship with their father.

The show does make one wonder, however, how long we’ll continue viewing classic scripts full of prejudice before they are retired for tales with more modern themes. It is unfortunate that this show is still so relatable in 2017.

“The King and I” is in Tampa through May 7 and tickets start at $58. 

View more photos at https://www.instagram.com/kingandimusical/. 

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