Believe the hype! Straz dazzles with season preview

Tampa's ever-evolving performing arts mecca is poised for what may be its best run yet.

Rudetsky joked and mimicked and pointed out on-stage bloopers with humorous freeze frames throughout the night, providing bonus flair and preventing the event from degenerating into a canned infomercial. The crowd guffawed at Rudetsky's narration of a video montage capturing the many times thirsty Andrew Scott Rannells licked his lips during his performances in The Book of Mormon.

Speaking of the hotly anticipated, nine-time Tony-winning musical, which ushers in the 2013-14 Bank of America Best of Broadway Tampa Bay Series, Nov. 12-24, a Straz-created video promo began the Broadway video presentations of the two suited principals riding in on bikes with backpacks into the entrance of the Straz. Upon their supposed arrival, Rudetsky made the first doorbell-rung entrance (of many to follow), through a faux front door, dressed in the play's iconic black-and-white suit. The Book of Mormon, by the creators of South Park, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, is a comedic missionary adventure that The New York Times praises as “the best musical of this century.”

FALLING SLOWLY: Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti in the Tony-winner Once.
  • Joan Marcus
  • FALLING SLOWLY: Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti in the Tony-winner Once.
I myself am especially excited about Once (Feb. 11-16) — having seen the musical's motion-picture inspiration, and been rendered a speechless puddle by its stars, Swell Season's Glen Hansard and musician/vocalist Markéta Irglová, in concert. The 2012 Tony Award-winning Best Musical takes place in a bar/cafe that will be open for business to real-life patrons in the audience, providing a uniquely interactive experience.

The rest of the Broadway season is just about as impressive, most notably the 2012 Tony Award-winning Best Revival of a Musical The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess (Jan. 14-19), and the new musical stage version of Ghost (April 22-27) looks to be a visual spectacle with powerful ballads. Plus, there's the new Broadway revival of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita! (March 18-23) and Queen and Ben Elton’s We Will Rock You (May 13-18). Perennial faves return for limited engagements — the Tony winner/Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons bio-revue Jersey Boys (April 8-13) and Stomp (May 1-3).

One of the more surprising and unusual moments of the media preview belonged to a cute, alarmingly lifelike herbivore from Erth’s Dinosaur Petting Zoo (Feb. 28-March 2). Spencer Meyers performed a highly rocking rendition of "Great Balls of Fire" from Return to the Forbidden Planet (June 10-July 6), a cult classic set to the hits of The Animals, The Byrds, The Beach Boys and more, co-presented by Straz and Jobsite Theater.

Straz's preview also showcased regional theater stars Michelle Knight (Jersey Boys national tour) and Lulu Picart (American Stage's Rocky Horror and freeFall's The Man of La Mancha), who performed a number from the new, original musical comedy Disenchanted! (Jan. 28-April 13) — part of the 2013-2014 Bank of America Best of Broadway Tampa Bay Series. The play spoofs fairy-tale heroines Snow White, Cinderella and other heroines unhappy about how they've been exploited by films and theme parks.

The Nat Geo Live! series returns, bringing us more world-class writers, photographers, filmmakers, scientists, explorers and adventurers from the National Geographic media empire: Diving Pristine Seas with Enric Sala, marine ecologist (Oct. 8), Grizzlies, Piranhas and Man-eating Pigs with Joel Sartore, photographer and National Geographic fellow (Jan. 14) and The Search for Life Beyond Earth with Kevin Hand, planetary scientist/astrobiologist (April 1).

Alton Brown, the Iron Chef host and TV personality, hosts an evening of stand-up comedy, talk show antics, multimedia lecture, live music and food experimentation in Alton Brown Live! The Edible Inevitable Tour (March 1, 8 p.m.). The celeb will spray it and say it — we hear ponchos will be provided to patrons in the front rows. Billed as "a must-see extravaganza."

Two dancers of New York's famed Rockettes with bay area connections — Jeanne Logan Cargill and Deana Brinkley — kicked it onstage to promote their Christmas Spectacular. The following morning they promoted the show running Dec. 12-29 with a show-kick lesson for sports kickers/Tampa Bay Rowdies Jordan Gafa (6), Luke Mulholland (8), Georgi Hristov (10) and Amani Walker (16). The Tampa Bay Rowdies — the reigning North American Soccer League champs for all you who stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the world sport of futbol — are also celebrating having eliminated the three-time champion Seattle Sounders FC 1-0 at the 2013 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Third Round.

BROADWAY KICK IN THE GRASS: Rockettes perform with Rowdies to promote their Christmas Spectacular
  • Straz Center for the Performing Arts
  • BROADWAY KICK IN THE GRASS: Rockettes perform with Rowdies to promote their Christmas Spectacular

The Straz's 2013-14 season also includes the Scottish Ballet’s new take on A Streetcar Named Desire (Oct. 13). Tampa is just one of three U.S. cities to
host the production. Dance lovers can also travel east with Aparna Ramaswamy, who performs Sannidi (Sacred Space) (April 30).

Other highlights included a rundown of the 2013-2014 Club Jaeb season with Melissa Ferrick, Red Molly, Gretchen Peters, Amy Speace, Del Barber and Rose Cousins, and a live performance of the "Toreador" arias from Carmen (Fri., March 14, and Sun., March 16), introduced by cheerful Straz prez/Opera Tampa founder Judy Lisi in a bright red satin bolero. Lisi joked later that when presenting at Straz events she liked to wear clothing that can be seen "a mile away."

  • FROM UTAH WITH LOVE: Book of Mormon kicks off Straz's next Broadway series.

A large crowd filled the Straz Center's Ferguson Hall Thursday night for select live numbers and a video preview of next year's Broadway musicals — in addition to plays by Jobsite Theater and limited-engagement events — hosted by cheeky and charming Broadway celeb/guru Seth Rudetsky, who'll be headlining in his own event at the Straz, Seth Rudetsky’s My Big Fat Broadway Show, Nov. 9-10.

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