“Come From Away” now in Tampa, Florida

Thanks to a wonderful partnership between the Tampa Bay Bloggers and the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, I receive two free tickets to see “Come From Away.” All opinions are my own.

Raffi and Brian at Straz Center

Last night my husband and I enjoyed watching the opening night of “Come From Away” in Tampa, Florida. The show opened on Broadway in March 2017 and has been performing to standing-room-only audiences. The North American tour of Broadway’s Come From Away started in October 2018. The heartwarming production is full of true stories and human emotion.

“Come From Away” is a musical about events immediately following 9/11. Many planes in flight were diverted for safety purposes to a small town in the province of Newfoundland, Canada. Thousands of people nearly doubled the population of the town, and while scared and confused needed places to eat, sleep, mourn, etc.

Map of USA and Newfoundland

I first heard of the show last year when the Straz Center had a preview night of their upcoming Broadway season. We were lucky enough to be treated to a song from the show sung from the perspective of Beverly Bass, an American Airlines Pilot who really lived through these moments. Beverly was the third female pilot hired by a major commercial airline in American history. She was the captain of the first all-female crew in aviation history. Not only did we witness a spectacular Broadway rendition of the song, but Beverly Bass actually came on stage and introduced herself and the show. When she was asked to divert her landing to Gander, Newfoundland – she didn’t know why. She wasn’t watching TV footage of the Twin Towers like many of us, she was busy flying a plane full of people from Paris to Texas.

Come from away cast singing

The show focuses on stories like these – the people who were stranded and the compassion (and sometimes lack thereof) shown to them. It has simple sets of mis-matched chairs and tables you might find in a thrift store, fast-paced music with some Irish rock influences, and a cast of average, middle-aged people who might live right next door to you.

I love that the show started with the number “Welcome to the Rock.” (The rock being their island.) It was upbeat and catchy and apropos to greet audiences with the actual word WELCOME. I liked the particular verbiage, such as calling the thousands of passengers “plane people” and the locals “islanders.” I laughed and cried and danced in my seat (and on my feet during the curtain call.)

This show is 100 minutes with no intermission. It is recommended for ages 10 and older. At the 71st Tony Awards, it was nominated for 7 awards including Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Book of a Musical and Best Featured Actress in a Musical, ultimately winning for Best Direction of a Musical for Christopher Ashley. 

It is only showing in Tampa through June 9, 2019! Get your tickets here. Watch a quick montage here.

View more photos on the show’s Facebook page here.

Anastasia at the Straz Center

Thanks to a wonderful partnership between the Tampa Bay Bloggers and the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, I receive two free tickets to see “Anastasia.” All opinions are my own.

anastasia musical in tampa florida straz center

Last night I thoroughly enjoyed the opening night of “Anastasia” in Tampa, Florida! The North American tour of Broadway’s Anastasia started on October 9, 2018, and is playing in 30 cities in its first season. The magnificent production completely drew me in – I laughed, I cried, and I loved it!

ANASTASIA is a true fairy tale production that transports audiences from the Russian Empire to Paris in the 1920s. A brave young woman – Anya – sets out to discover the mystery of her past. She teams up with a dashing conman and a lovable ex-aristocrat to find home, love, and family; all while being pursued by a Soviet officer determined to silence her. History and myth intertwine, in a show reminiscent of both ANNIE and MY FAIR LADY.

The show is carried by opulent and innovative sets, dazzling costumes (yes, there is a blue dress), and a soaring score. The show features an original score by Tony winners Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics), who also wrote the songs for the 1997 animated film on which the stage musical is based. The stage production does include the songs “Once Upon a December” and “Journey to the Past.” The songs were plentiful and performed beautifully, and the audience gave the applause to show it!

“I think that right now, seeing a young woman take charge of her future is so current and relevant.”

Lila Coogan, playing Anya in the current touring production

Anastasia is approximately 2 hours and 25 minutes, including one intermission. It is only showing in Tampa through May 12, 2019! The May 9, 7:30pm performance will be sign language interpreted. Get your tickets here.

View more photos on the show’s Facebook page here.

Remembering Shannon

With Shannon at One Step Closer to the Cure

I recently lost my friend Shannon. We met 17 years ago when our children were placed in the same 3 year old classroom. We didn’t seem to have much in common. Shannon towered over me in height, and there was a big age gap between us too. She lived in a large, beautiful home with her husband and young son. My house was about 1/4th the size of hers, and I had (at least we thought at the time) 2 daughters. But we both loved motherhood, Disney, girl talk – and found more similarities the more we got to know each other. At the end of that school year, our children shared a 4-year-old birthday party at Toy Story 2 on ice. They were tight friends for many years after that.

Shannon first told me she had cancer in a round-about way. We were both picking up our kids from school at the same time, later than most, from the aftercare room. They were in sixth grade. We hadn’t gotten together for a few months – I thought because our kids were starting to hang out with other people. Turns out it was for more terrible reasons. That evening the kids were at their lockers getting ready to leave, and Shannon whispered that she thought she shocked my child because she was wearing a wig. I didn’t even realize her new, bobbed haircut was a wig. I had no idea she was ill. Shannon assumed her cancer was part of the parent gossip and everyone knew, but our family had no idea.

We reconnected that day – tossing our tweenagers’ drama aside and getting together without them, often to walk along the water early in the morning after dropping the kids off at school. We talked about anything and everything, both of us being very chatty people! And when the kids started high school, they ended up tight again.

Shannon had ovarian cancer, and fought ovarian cancer for ten years. And by “fight” I don’t mean she went to chemo treatments. Shannon was determined for her illness to be part of the cure for ovarian cancer. She saw top notch doctors around the country, had multiple surgeries, became part of numerous studies – and repeated over and over that someday she would be part of the cure.

A large group gathered every year in her honor at the local ovarian cancer 5k. It would take us about 90 minutes to walk the measly three miles because Shannon would stop and talk to everyone along the course – people she recognized, people she was neighbors with, volunteer teens handing out water – everyone. And I would come as the team photographer / videographer to try to document some of her spirit and the support of her family, friends and teammates.

Hopefully, when you know someone for 17 years and see them at some of their worst (heaving) moments and perhaps at some of their best moments (child’s high school graduation), you learn from them.

I learned that Shannon loved her son. This isn’t so extraordinary. Mothers tend to love their children. But Shannon also respected her son in a way I rarely heard mothers talk about. She respected his decision making, his opinion, his privacy, his space, his relationships… She was very thoughtful in what she would and would not say to him, when she would and would not butt in, when she trusted him to handle something 100% independently or when she reminded him to bring his sunscreen.

Shannon enjoyed learning from everyone. Although she had a learning difference in the classroom, she shifted her approach to learning from everyone around her. She asked tons of questions – and the good questions at that. She would ask me details about what it meant to eat kosher, and might ask me again 4 years later to be sure she still understood. She questioned my son about how it felt to be transgender and what he loved about himself and what he wanted to change about himself. She learned from doctor after doctor, and some health practitioners who were more holistic as well.

And she learned from nature. A dolphin, manatee or hummingbird sighting truly excited her. She could grow a plant from a pit, and knew when to take cactus outside or bring them inside. She took it as sign when the lakehouse her family wanted to spend time at was on a street named for a bird. I think winged creatures were her favorites – birds and butterflies – aside from her own beloved puppies at home.

Shannon had old, southern values — sometimes. She would whisper words like “fart” or “vomit” and would say “stomach issues” instead of diarrhea. (Don’t you wish everyone did??!) She believed in respecting all people unless someone really, really pissed her off by being outride rude to someone else for no good reason.

She liked a great manicure. She liked a comfortable wig. She liked a supportive bra. She liked when her sisters got together. She liked giving gifts – and she gave me one of the most generous gifts of all simply by being my girlfriend for so long.

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