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.  


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.


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!


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!


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