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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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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Planning My Day at the Fair

Although I live minutes from Tampa, Florida, I have never been to the Florida State Fair. My kids have gone when invited by different friends over the years, and in fact DD2 went this year already, but I plan to go this Sunday for the first time. I’ve been looking at friends photos and social media posts, as well as the Florida State Fair website, and I’ve begun planning my day.

Photo by Rachel Barrett

What’s funny is I have a blogger friend who shared all there is to share about the food at the fair. Meanwhile my daughter has photos of animals, and my boss had photos of rides. My friend Carter said not to miss Cracker Country. I guess everyone has their reason for going and their favorite part of the day and Fairgrounds. Some moms of littles will probably wait in line for Peppa Pig or meeting the Shopkins! I’m curious to see what my favorite part will be. I think it will be taking photos of rides and lights at night.

Littles can get washable glitter tattoos at the Fair. (Really big kids can too!)

I already know one friend I am going with will totally be food-focused. While another said she can NOT miss the giraffes.

Giraffes??

Yep, every day at the fair you can join Twigs the Giraffe and other amazing exotic animals up close in the Giraffic Park Exotic Menagerie. (Ha!) Feed a giraffe and get a close-up look at a llama. When I think about animals at a fair, my mind goes to Charlotte’s Web – and the cows and pigs – and Templeton singing “A Fair is a Veritable Schmorgasboard-orgasboard-orgasboard.” Don’t worry, you can see those at the Fair too!

Friends of mine making furry friends at the Fair

DD2 tested her bravery at the Fair

You know what sounds cool to me? India Fest. I really enjoy music and dance with Indian influences, and I wonder if a couple of the kids I know from school will be performing. I haven’t heard about that from anyone yet.

The Florida State Fair is packed with rides — it’s the largest Midway in America and includes the famous Mighty Mouse. I guess it really does belong only an hour from Walt Disney World… If you love to spin around while being spun around, I hear the Zipper is the way to go.

Photo by Rachel Barrett

Because I’m a little tardy to the State Fair party, the people have already voted on the best food at the fair. The People’s Choice Award goes to The Best Around for their Fried Cheesy Enchilada Funnel Cake created by Kevin McGrath and team (not pictured here). It’s a corn meal funnel cake batter mixed with enchilada spices, poured through a funnel and deep fried. it’s then topped with queso and ground chorizo. I’m not sure I’ll be trying that. My daughter said the hamburger that has 2 heart-shaped donuts as the bun was tasty (shown). My boss tried – but later regretted – the fried Oreos.

Thanks to Outdoorsy Diva for her Fair tips and sharing some photos. Thanks to Tampa Bay Bloggers for helping me get tickets. I’m looking forward to my day at the Florida State Fair with Tia. I hope to see y’all a the fair!

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Fiasco’s Into the Woods at the Straz Center, Tampa

into-the-woodsbroadwayIn 1989, the full original Broadway cast of Stephen Sondheim’s and James Lapine’s “Into the Woods” (with the exception of Cindy Robinson as Snow White instead of Jean Kelly) reunited for 3 performances for the taping of the musical in its entirety for the Season 10 premiere episode of PBS’s “American Playhouse”. When it aired on March 15, 1991, I popped a worn tape in the VCR and made a horrible copy. This is the version of “Into the Woods” my daughters grew up with. The professional video has since been released, remastered and re-released. It is considered to be the original Into The Woods. (You can watch it here.)

In 2014, a film version was released, which I’m guessing most of you saw. I mean – Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Johnny Depp, Tracey Ullman and a Christmas Day release date could be the perfect fairy tale. I actually much preferred the original version, but by now my tape is pretty hard to watch. Luckily someone gave me a DVD version of the PBS special!

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Shorecrest dress rehearsal photo by Leslie Ellen Photography

Then, this fall, the school I work at, known for lavish musical productions, performed “Into the Woods” much like the original version. The sets were gorgeous, the costumes were perfect, the teens gave it their all! This was no school auditorium make-shift production. This was a professional theatre production that happened to have high-school-aged actors.

Now Fiasco Theater has reimagined “Into the Woods.” If you’ve seen the show before, like me, you’ve most likely not seen anything similar to this! It’s completely stripped down. It’s only a 10-person cast, and there is no orchestra. The instruments are strewn around the edges of the stage and the actors occasionally pick them up and play them. The set is also stripped down, using a few tables and boxes and a ladder to get the point across. It’s low-tech and very accessible, and made me think back to making up skits in my grandmother’s basement with my cousins.

It’s hard to not get caught up in the differences every time you see a beloved show reimagined by a new Director, costume artist, stage manager, etc. (No narrator, a cow’s death sequence, actors as musicians?) And this is truly a whole new production – with a focus on pantomime and reacting. But what remains the same are the clever, tongue-twisting, fast-talking lyrics and the highly personal themes.

My favorite of these comes from the simple lyric, “Into the woods to get the thing that makes it worth the journeying.”

So much thought caught up in a seemingly unassuming sentence! What makes it all worth it? What makes you get up every day? What makes you face fear and uncertainty? What makes you put yourself out there around new people and experiences?

And this is the genius of Sondheim, wrapping itself around your brain. You can grab at the surface alone and enjoy the fairy tale, or you can realize that every song is giving you a lesson or a warning.

screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-8-21-33-amThink I’m nuts? That I’m reading too much into it? Consider for a moment that Little Red Riding Hood is not meeting a wolf, but a first teenage romance, and then listen to the lyrics:

“He made me feel excited, well, excited and scared. Though scary is exciting, nice is different than good.

Isn’t it nice to know a lot? …and a little bit not.”

If you haven’t seen the show, you may have gathered from the names I’ve mentioned that the show follows fairy tale characters, both familiar and new, as their stories intersect in pursuit of their dreams in the mysterious woods surrounding their kingdom. The show is a fascinating musical tapestry about hopes and dreams, triumphs and failures, as it explores the question, “Is there really a happily ever after?”

itwbloggersAs I walked into the Straz Center’s Morsani Hall for their production running through Dec 4, with 2 complementary tickets courtesy of Tampa Bay Bloggers, I was warned that the first act is 90 minutes long. (In other words, visit the ladies’ room and unwrap your candy now.) And Act 1 is almost like 2 acts blended together. Just as the cast sits comfortably and you think the lights will come up, Jack (of giant and beanstalk fame) suddenly proclaims “There are giants in the sky!” and a new storyline unfolds.

When we marketed the performance at work, a school including ages 3-18, we gave parents a warning. “The production is split into two acts, the first of which highlights popular fairy tale personalities like Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Prince Charming portrayed as normal, flawed people. There’s a witch, a wolf and a giant, but the scares are mild for young viewers. Intermission may be a good time to leave with little ones, however. As the play progresses into Act 2, plot twists become more mature and at times dark, reminding the audience, ‘be careful what you wish for’. Characters tackle moral dilemmas in ways that will resonate with viewers aged 15 and up.” So that’s my note for you if you are taking little-littles to the show. You can almost get away with ducking out at intermission if they are sleepy enough. The songs even come back around to the popular “Into the Woods” refrain where everything started.

The themes of family relationships, facing your fears, helicopter parenting and creating unity are also very prevalent. The Baker and his Wife may even make you ponder the American Dream. The show is truly timely and relatable for all ages. And we’re lucky that this new production is hitting Tampa very early in it’s US Tour! Grab your tickets here ASAP!

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