Best Of 2016

Helen Hansen French in BEACON's inaugural performance.
Helen Hansen French in BEACON's inaugural performance.

The new contemporary dance series, BEACON, which debuted last fall at St. Pete’s Palladium Theatre, was the best news in years for local dance fans, particularly those on the Pinellas side of the bay. Co-founders French and Slone — savvy marketers and exquisite movers both — deserve our thanks. Even better news: There’s another BEACON program planned for January 13, which we’re told will include “the world premiere of a dance film created by Helen, in collaboration with more than 25 local artists from across all disciplines.” Palladium’s success in attracting audiences to its popular chamber music series bodes well for establishment of this new beacon for Tampa Bay dance. mypalladium.org. —David Warner

Arts & Entertainment: All singing! All dancing! All expressing for your cultural edification!

Arts & Entertainment

All singing! All dancing! All expressing for your cultural edification!

Best "that time of the month"
Sallie Hackett Brown

Since opening its new gallery space just a few doors down from ARTicles last fall, Leslie Curran Gallery has been curating consistently strong monthly shows that conveniently align with the Second Saturday Art Walks. Not only do they feature local artists like James Oleson and Jules Cozine, but they’ve been striving to bring contemporary art from international artists as well. With works ranging from photography to sculpture to painting, this is one “that time of the month” to look forward to. articlesstpete.com. —Caitlin Albritton

Best (new) tribute band

The 12-piece Steely Dan tribute band composed of venerated local musicians and helmed by keysman Phil Magallanes unleashed a few sets of material at their Ringside Café debut this past June. Each rendering proved damn near impeccable and was delivered with no shortage of reverence and musicality; Todd Plant channeled Donald Fagan with ease, Kirsten Joyer and Denise Moore backed him (and occasionally took over lead) with soulful harmonies, and the four-member horn section delivered the classy arrangements that brought the fine production qualities to life. We’re pleased to see Show Biz Kids has become a permanent project. steelydantributeband.com.  —Leilani Polk

Hugh Timoney and Nicole Jeannine Smith in "The Underpants."
Jobsite
Hugh Timoney and Nicole Jeannine Smith in "The Underpants."

I’m jumping the gun here because awards for the professional theater season aren’t usually handed out this early. But I couldn’t resist, because these two productions, opening within days of each other, were as exhilarating a start to a season as I can remember — Jobsite finding both the hilarity and the heart in Steve Martin’s stylish farce, with a terrific ensemble under the direction of moonlighting Stageworks AD Karla Hartley, and Stephanie Gularte launching her first all-chosen-by-her season at American Stage with a riveting rendition of an important, funny and moving play by a Pulitzer Prize winner. Granted, the critics for the Times and CL did not agree with me about Underpants, but I had a helluva good time. —David Warner

Best actor
Nick Lerew

In freeFall Theatre’s sensationally silly The Pirates of Penzance, Lerew was Frederic, a decent, well-meaning young man who’d been apprenticed to a pirate because his nursemaid misunderstood the word “pilot,” and whose years of indenture were just about over… except for a 40-year technicality. As played by Lerew, Frederic was honest, sincere and profoundly committed to justice, truth, and the love of a certain Mabel. He won our sympathy within moments, and was our ready entrée into the futuristic world of Eric Davis’s comic space-age adaptation. Lerew was equally as good as a sincere Italian Romeo in The Light in the Piazza and as a Britisher with a secret in The Importance of Being Earnest With Zombies. Clearly, St. Petersburg has found its Romantic Lead — and even though, with his tenure up as a member of freeFall’s resident company, Lerew is moving to NYC with equally talented fiançee Maya Handa Naff — see below — we suspect local theaters will be bringing him back often. —Mark Leib

Best actress

As mother Kate in the Stageworks production of Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound, Rosemary Orlando offered an emotionally complex performance that stood out for its surface likability and subterranean sadness. Orlando gave us a Kate who was battered by an unsuccessful marriage, resigned to an uncertain future, and still responsible enough to quietly demand right behavior from the world around her, including her two sons. The serious climax of the play, in which Kate told her boy Eugene about the day she danced with film actor George Raft, was so poignant, it made the comedy that preceded it seem almost unnecessary. Acting this potent is rare — and magical. stageworkstheatre.org. —Mark Leib

Best album

This year’s sophomore outing from Soapbox Soliloquy – the project of multi-instrumental powerhouse Jasmine Deja – is a perfect amalgam of headiness: trippy rock, garage psychedelia and experimental dosed with just the right amount of eye-crossed haze and whirling washes of sound. The result is weird, catchy and mesmerizing all at once, its overall consistent quality of DIY production and expansive creativity making for acid-washed perfection. soapboxsoliloquy.bandcamp.com. —Leilani Polk

Best all-grrrl power trio
Alastair St. Hill

We sure do dig this kinda new all-grrl trio that came bubbling up from the grimy depths of the St. Pete underground pushing coarse, pithy garage-punk and dropping a few recordings of cheeky-snotty odes (“fuck yer queso (the customer is always right)” and “i’ll fix yr fucking face” are particular gems). Susan Dickson (of Permanent Make-Up pedigree) keeps the beats with her typical tight ferocity, while Laura Sienkiewicz and Keeli Ayn strum and thrash guitar and bass, respectively, as they trade brashly worded-droned-shouted vocals. pissghost.bandcamp.com. —Leilani Polk

Marks Made at the MFA
Joan Mitchell
Marks Made at the MFA

In a print show spanning works made over five decades, the MFA featured works from high-profile women artists as well as local favorites. Making a mark, both literally and symbolically, has previously been gender-coded as a male endeavor, but the women here showed how they have made their impact on the art world through various approaches to printmaking. A small etching from Nicole Eisenman, a woodcut from Janet Fish, a Louise Bourgeois lithograph, and a limited edition print from local artist Elisabeth Condon are some samples of what the audience was treated to in a museum filled with top-notch work. mfastpete.org. —Caitlin Albritton

Stranger Things party at The Bends in St. Petersburg, Florida on September 16, 2016.
Brian Mahar
Stranger Things party at The Bends in St. Petersburg, Florida on September 16, 2016.

Being old enough for preschool never looked (or felt) so good. The Bends rang in another year with yet another party packed to the gills (a regular occurrence there, actually) where regulars all convened on the First Avenue dive to get their earholes blasted and livers tickled alongside all of their closest friends, plus the strangers they might be linking up with later. facebook.com/thebendsbar. —Ray Roa