Best Of 2007

More than one sufficiently blown-away listener has compared Carried Away to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. We understand that this borders on heresy, so let us explain: It’s not that Carried Away is destined to be a classic — chances are, not enough people will hear it — and it’s not groundbreaking in the manner of Pepper. But the CD does combine an array of pop and rock elements — different styles, ambitious arrangements, revealing lyrics and a general sense of possibility — that calls to mind the Beatles landmark. The CD came about as a serendipitous meeting of two old friends, who began with a minor collaboration that flowered into a major one. The songs are hooky, intelligent, adult and spiced by the sublime vocals (and tandem harmonies) of Ditchflowers Brian Merrill and Ed Woltil. The two enlisted some confederates and took their time writing and recording Carried Away at Merrill’s home studio. The results are close to perfection.

theditchflowers.com.

Arts & Entertainment

Arts & Entertainment

Arts & Entertainment 2011

BEST NEW KID ON THE BLOCK: Beach Theaters Michael France
Alex Pickett
BEST NEW KID ON THE BLOCK: Beach Theaters Michael France

It’s a historic landmark that’s been around for nearly 70 years, but St. Pete’s Beach Theater got a new lease on life this year when the place was purchased by local-boy-made-good, screenwriter Michael France (Fantastic Four, The Hulk). France clearly loves the movies as much as he loves this grand old movie palace and has reconfigured The Beach with utmost respect, care and creativity. Over the past year, we’ve been treated to shark sandwiches during a screening of Jaws, a family-oriented “1939 Day” (honoring the year the theater was built), complete with free showings of The Wizard of Oz and 1939 prices on concessions and some fantastic theme-based programming that has included music projects such as Monterey Pop and the wonderful, rarely seen Wattstax (both copromoted by WMNF). The Beach mixes things up to fine effect, offering us Pirates of the Caribbean-style popcorn flicks along with sophisticated indie projects like La Vie en Rose and Sicko, and, just for good measure, spicing things up with revivals of cult curiosities like The Big Lebowski and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Can’t wait to see what’s next.

315 Corey Ave, St Pete Beach, 727-360-6697, beachtheater.com.

Garland seemed to have been everywhere last season — in plays as diverse as The Pillowman at Jobsite, Bug at Gorilla Theatre, Grace at [email protected] and Woman in Mind again at Jobsite. Although he shone in each play, he was most memorable in Pillowman, where he was Keturian, a struggling writer whose violent stories were being enacted for real by a mysterious figure who just might be his own brother. As Keturian, Garland was frightened, baffled and skittishly deferential to the two cops who were interrogating him but passionate when he felt that his brother was being harmed. He was utterly different as the smarmy, menacing Dr. Sweet of Bug and the perfectly compassionate husband of Woman in Mind. Garland may be the Everyman that local theaters have been looking for since Jeff Norton stopped appearing in plays. Watch for him on every stage in town.

Corley first showed that she had become an actress of real power a couple of years ago in Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune, but she put a lock on local audiences’ attentions with her superb performance last season in Alan Ayckbourn’s Woman In Mind at Jobsite Theater. Corley played Susan, a mentally deteriorating heroine torn between her wretched real life and a fantasy existence that provided her everything she could hope for. Corley’s Susan was funny, frightening, emotionally convincing, unpredictable, pathetic and remarkably charming. She won our hearts in mere minutes, and left us almost wishing her more madness, since it was only when she was off her head that she thought herself surrounded by a caring world.

Credit Jack Spatafora/Aestheticized Presents for making sure the Modern Skirts perform as frequently as possible at preferred local indie bars like New World Brewery in Ybor City. The quartet’s album Catalogue of Generous Men is an elegant and emotive creation fit for myriad tastes — yes, we’re talking to you, the guy who listens to nothing but the classic-rock station. The Skirts’ sunny-but-never-saccharine vocals, memorable lyrics about matters of the heart and smile-inducing melodies make for timeless listening. In concert, the band’s big ol’ rock ’n’ heart pushes the musicians to make lasting impressions with performances that place more importance on crowd connection than reproducing their recorded material note-for-note. This M.O. leads to bold, sinewy guitar solos and an abundance of infectious energy that circulates through the crowd like joints at a Widespread Panic show. Granted, the Skirts don’t have far to travel from their home base in Athens, Ga., but with their schedule growing increasingly more hectic, each visit becomes that much more appreciated.

modernskirts.com.

Ever wanted to learn the ins and outs of Web design or jewelry-making but just didn’t know where to turn for help? St. Pete’s The Arts Center remains the place to pick up a paintbrush or throw a pot with the guidance of patient, friendly and expert instructors. With classes in everything from glassblowing to digital photography at relatively affordable rates — from just over $100 for members (nonmembers pay more) for a five-week series of classes to several hundred dollars for high-demand workshops with visiting artists — the Arts Center is a dependable venue for folks looking to acquire mad skills without taking a college-level class. As a bonus, members are eligible to take part in an annual exhibit held in September.

719 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-822-7872, theartscenter.org.

BEST ARTFUL PROTEST: Project: Home
Michael Conway, Tectao Studios
BEST ARTFUL PROTEST: Project: Home

Two of the year’s most artful protests took place in downtown parks: Kiley Gardens in Tampa and Williams Park in St. Petersburg. At Urban Charrette’s Conceptual Kiley Gardens Project, a display and auction of “trees,” handmade from found and recycled materials, called attention to the disrepair of gardens designed by noted landscape architect Dan Kiley. In St. Petersburg, a coalition of artists called Project: Home built artistic interpretations of “home” — from a portable camp in camouflage to a shrine made of repurposed food containers — to draw attention to homelessness. Since both issues remain unresolved, we hope to see and hear more from both groups in the future.

As president of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Judith Lisi has made an immeasurable contribution to the local arts world. Even when the now-precious Jobsite Theater was still developing its personality, she saw its promise and made it the resident company in the Shimberg Playhouse. Last season she brought such important Broadway plays as The Light in the Piazza, Spamalot and Doubt to the Morsani Hall and brought back Rent, Hairspray and Wicked. Her love of opera meant that local audiences had a chance to see Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Verdi’s Il Trovatore, and she tried — nobly, if unsuccessfully — to make Tampa history into a work of art with the musical Cigar City Chronicles. Whatever your pleasure — dance or cabaret, Broadway spectacular or one-woman performance art — Lisi made a place for it in her nationally celebrated theater complex.

“That place sucks.” Such recriminations roll off the tongue when music aficionados speak of amphitheatres. Ford Amp gets more than its share of scorn. Here’s news: Not all acts can perform in hipster clubs or tasteful theaters. Some acts need bigger spaces, and as far as we’re concerned, the Ford Amp is a first-rate venue at which to see a major show. It’s flexible enough to house crowds from 5,000 to 20,000. A portion of it is covered with assigned seats; the back section is a lawn under the stars. The sound dissolves into open air, making it easy on the ears. And the video screens provide good views for those not close to the stage. In all, a very effective setting for a concert. We think the slagging that the Ford Amp takes is simply knee-jerk nonsense.