Chicago the Musical at the Straz

As part of their Broadway series, the Straz Center in Tampa, Florida, is welcoming the razzle-dazzle smash “Chicago” this week.

Chicago is slinky and sexy, it’s funny and brutal, and it makes you think twice about what you hear and what you read. It’s actually all about SEX, CRIMINAL JUSTICE and FAKE NEWS. And I’m not kidding. It is intended for mature audiences, and they should wear their black fishnets. (That said, on Thursday, September 20, deeply discounted tickets are available for teens, plus a free pre-show event with live entertainment, games, raffles and refreshments.)

This jazz-era hit musical is the recipient of 6 Tony Awards®, 2 Olivier Awards, a Grammy®, and is now the No. 1 longest-running American musical in Broadway history. The 2002 film version of the musical won the Academy Award for Best Picture. It must be the hot dance moves from Bob Fosse!

So here’s the setting. Think back to the 1920’s. It was lewd and lascivious for a woman to roll her stockings down. Rouge was the devil. Booze and jazz music were corrupting people right and left. Suddenly there was a string of murders committed by women, and rumor had it that in the city of Chicago a pretty woman would not be convicted. The world was just too bamboozled by the right hair curls, the bat of an eyelash, and some cleavage.

There are real women and real cases the show is based on, and most of the events are very plausible. It makes consumers of journalism (us) think twice. And that’s all I will tell you.

However… there’s more to my story…

I hear only 5% of theatres who ask for the rights to perform Chicago receive those rights. And somehow a few years’ back my kids’ school managed to buy rights and perform Chicago. It is a little odd to see 17 year olds who babysit the little ones suddenly turning cartwheels and cha-cha’ing in fishnets and black lingerie. But it was so well done and very, very FOSSE.

Chicago at Shorecrest, 2014

My son auditioned and came home with his role on a piece of paper. It said, “one actor to play the jury.” We didn’t know what that meant. I said he probably had to sit in a jury box in a courtroom scene and do nothing. Boy was I wrong. He was ONE actor playing all 12 members of the jury! It was pure comic relief… He had little bits of costuming pieces in the jury box and would duck behind the box and pop up real fast as a cowboy, or an old lady, or someone crying into a tissue with a rosary. He played all 12 jury members in succession and the audience never knew what he’d pop up as next. (In addition he was a reporter and an ensemble singer/dancer.)

My favorite part of their production was the opening number, “All That Jazz.” It really sets the tone and shows off the singing and dancing. So when you go see Chicago at the Straz, don’t be late! It would be criminal to miss it! The show runs September 18, 2018 – September 23, 2018 and ticket prices start at $31/ea. (Except the teen special I told you about.)  The Thursday, September 20, 7:30pm performance will be American Sign Language interpreted.

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Thanks to my relationship with the Tampa Bay Bloggers I received 2 free tickets to see “Chicago” in Tampa, FL, in exchange for this post. All opinions are my own.

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Fantastic Ekphrastic – Art in St Pete

Last night I attended the last of four showings of Fantastic Ekphrastic, which ran February 19 and 20, 2016, at 5:30pm and 8pm. All proceeds from the event benefitted Keep St. Pete Lit.

(That’s Lit as in literature, not lit as in joints…)12734279_110751565923346004476956133_n

When I got invited to attend the event, I did 2 things before RSVPing. First I looked up the definition of Ekphrastic: a literary description of or a commentary on a visual work of art… Then I looked up a description of the event so I knew what I was getting myself into. I had heard of it when it was up for a Best of the Bay art event award, and knew it had sold out last year and was BELOVED – But I did not know what it WAS.

  • Audiences walk into a space with 16 visual artists’ pieces set up around the perimeter and chairs in the center.
  • Each art piece is interpreted by a local writer who has just seen the artwork for the first time and is compelled to write an accompanying piece – poem, play, short story, etc.
  • These writings are then presented in dramatic readings by captivating local performers.

Brian and I decided we hadn’t had an artsy night out for a while, so put our names down for the final show – Saturday night at 8pm. We started with dinner at Red Mesa Cantina (duck taco, empanada and grilled chicken quesadilla shared), dessert at Swah-Rey, and then headed to Soft Water Studios for Fantastic Ekphrastic. I was already enjoying looking at art just walking to our car and down the street to these local hangouts!

IMG_5916IMG_5920Although guests certainly arrived after us, I probably would have liked to have been there about 15 minutes earlier to view the art up close a bit longer before the readings began. (Which basically means we should have split one of the massive pieces of cake at Swah-Rey instead of ordering one for each of us. Brian’s tummy regretted that later. And to continue this aside, they do offer $1 tasters of the cake in mini-cupcake form and two of those are probably what I could have ordered for myself, but I had been avoiding artificial sugar for a while and wanted to treat myself to a real piece of cake.)

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We peeked at the art, then we took our seats and the real fun began. Pre-written pieces about the art were read aloud by local performers. Everyone also had a ballot, and we were asked to vote on our favorite collaboration.

12747439_10153362180849109_444692525208414989_o“I am in awe of the creative collaboration that makes St. Pete such a wonderful city,” said my friend Maureen McDole in her open remarks. The event is her brainchild. In the past it has been referred to as “a literary moshpit of creativity.”

One thing that was particularly interesting to me was that my favorite painting in the room did not get my vote because it was not my favorite collaboration. It was this painting of the moon:

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It’s “First Moon” by Carol Mickett and Robert Stackhouse. The writer of the corresponding piece was Matt Jackson. A bit from his piece that I jotted down was, “I tell it of its greatness, but it has no such thoughts of itself.”

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The striking image above, and on all of this year’s marketing for the event, is Saori Murphy’s “Identifiability,” one of the pieces featured in the show. Glòria Muñoz wrote about this piece, and a quote I scribbled down was, “We’re all on the verge of inventing something, aren’t we?”

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Artist Carrie Jadus wrote about her piece above, Doppelganger, (which she also photographed), “This painting is about my own worst enemy. One whom I have (hopefully) engaged in a friendly battle with this time. A beautiful ekphrastic piece was written about this by St Petersburg’s Literary Muse, Maureen McDole.” The quote I scribbled down from her piece was, “Nothing but light.”

12418924_10153362181394109_8200291652924444413_oBrian voted for Bikini Atoll Bombshell: Lance Rodgers, artist / Becca McCoy, actor (pictured) / Sheila Cowley, playwright. My little quip from this was, “I made $250 last week.” She was referencing the military men being so bored they were betting on lizards catching moths. It was the People’s Choice winner of best creative collaboration for the event.

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This piece got my ballot. The painting is “Daddy Wouldn’t Let Me Dance” by Judy Dazzio. The piece read was written by David Warner and performed by 4 people: Eugenie Bondurant, Paul Wilborn, Kylin Brady and Peyton Jones. Kylin Brady performed a few of the pieces throughout the evening, and I just adored her. She had a great presence and incorporated so many senses into her acting, actually moving me to tears. Poking through her Facebook later I see she’s actually a dancer and has tons of funky style. WCW for days…

Another piece she read was written by Sheree Greer and accompanied the painting “Beautiful” by Carolina Cleere (below.)

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That piece played off the premise of “The Best Advice We’d Give Our Younger Selves — In 3 Words.” The girl in the painting would go to yard sales and find ‘treasures’. Among them were a silver mirror with pearl-like handle and a blue-eyed, yellow haired, one-armed doll that smelled like strawberries. What would she tell her younger self? Fuck that doll… no, use the mirror. No. You are beautiful.

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This piece is “Sall & Son” by Cora Marshall. John Pendygraft wrote about it, and nailed the description of the mothers expression, calling her “tired, steadfast, worried, resolute, uncertain and determined.” I see all of that!

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This is “Unfamiliar Landscape” by Sharon Norwood. R. MonaLeza, famous locally for her open mic poetry, wrote of an African-American little girl starting a new, mostly-white school and getting bullied. The note I wrote down does not hold the emotion of the piece, but I liked the alliteration of it. She described the boys on the slide during recess as “shimmying down the shiny metal chute.” Say it out loud. Doesn’t that sound pretty?

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And the quote that I think wrapped up the whole night the best accompanied the piece of art I admired the least. “Miracle Down the Way,” a diptych by Carol Dameron, had a piece written about it by Barbara Riddle. I wrote down the emphatic,

“We live in the lives of others who have seen our work.”

Which is kind of the whole point of having actors read from writers written from visual art. B-I-N-G-O!

Brian and I are on the left

Brian and I are on the left

12771877_10153362180034109_934410147000006888_o 12771622_10153362181364109_6661142112674993412_o 12742638_10153892254362567_7879345507635605342_n 12734279_1107515659260225_3743346004476956133_n The artwork and writing from Fantastic Ekphrastic will be on display at Soft Water Studios until Sunday, March 13th, so you can drop by and check it out!

The event was Directed by Bob Devin Jones with Music and Sound by Matt Cowley. Sponsors included: Beth Morean, Soft Water Studios, Russell Property Group, Sylvia Rusche Insurance Agency, Inc, Creative Loafing Tampa, photoxo, Fisher & Sauls PA, Keep Saint Petersburg Local, The Studio@620, Kathleen McDole, The Hubbard Family, Doyle Wealth Management, The Amsterdam, and Many Happy Return$, Inc.

Keep St. Pete Lit has programs throughout St. Pete including free LitSpace writing classes at Morean Art Center for adults, the curated used book store called Bookspace inside Bloom Art Center and the LitSpace Writer’s Residency at Craftsman House Gallery. They also deliver books to children through the Bluebird Book Bus and host an adult book club at the MFA.

*Disclaimer: I didn’t take any of these photos. I stole them from Facebook. I have no intentions of discrediting someone’s work, rather I hoped to give my readers a sense of the evening the best way possible. Also, my tickets to the event were free because of friends involved with the show, but all opinions are my own and I was not asked to write this post.

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