Best Of 2022

Arts & Entertainment

Arts & Entertainment
Illustrator Arnold relocated to St. Pete a little over 10 years ago, and we are lucky to have her. Her client list includes Tiffany & Co., Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Target, and kate spade, just to name a few. Her illustrations have a childlike joy; it’s the art that makes you feel good inside. She takes commissions for custom family and pet portraits when she’s not doing images for Tiffany’s. No one seems to capture folks, furry or otherwise, the way Arnold does. You’ll see her art across the city, St. Pete, and New York if you look for it, and it’s guaranteed to make you smile.
McGee has long been noted for his command of comedy over the years with many memorable performances on both sides of the Bay in concerts, plays and musicals. But he found new colors in his nuanced portrayal of the inimitable Hercule Poirot and embodied the mercurial American chef, James Beard in a one-man showcase—mining the text for every ounce of humor and pathos allowing Beard’s hurt and loneliness to show through in a fully alive, fleshed out performance. @thematthewmcgee on Instagram
It may be the tilt of her head or the way her jaw juts in a gender bent role. Or maybe just an unexpected inflection that causes your ear to hear a word in a new context. In a small space, you can see behind her eyes, where the wheels of character turn. There’s complete commitment even when a role that the audience identifies with turns out to be less than admirable. No matter what Ms. Smith tackles, she imbues every character with a spark of life, yet it seems effortless. You never, ever, feel that she’s performing.
In a spirited exchange between authors of ‘The Cuban Sandwich: A History in Layers,’ Tampa’s normally politically-charged Tampa Tiger Bay club tackled the most pressing matter for Tampeños, which is the truth behind the folklore surrounding the city’s signature sandwich. You had to be there to get all the flavor, but the bottom line is this: Tampa owns it, and makes the world’s best version of it, too. The book is a must-have for any self-respecting local.
The community lost a bright light recently. For years, Dirk Armstrong worked as the assistant curator at the Dalí museum. He brought my dad, Glenn Stevenson, in for art handling and framing over the years. Armstrong spent his life working in art curation, archives, conservation, installation and transportation of special works. He also gave one hell of a lecture on preparator work...not always the most riveting topic to the general public. When he wasn’t handling the surrealist masterworks, he was funny, smart, and super knowledgeable about music and books. I was lucky to work with Dirk as an art handler on his team in the last few years as well. As a handler, I learned so much. I wish I had gotten to learn more. He passed away unexpectedly in the spring.
Save for its puffy cover, A24’s new book about Florida would be perfect for smacking somebody upside the head. I’d only commit that kind of violence if said person refused to at least spend a weekend flipping through its nearly 600 pages of old and new photos, odd facts and quirky content ripe-for-an-alt-weekly. Edited by Gabrielle Calise who writes about offbeat Florida for the Tampa Bay Times, the guide traverses the entire Sunshine State, from the panhandle to the Keys, and makes a nice long stop in Tampa Bay where it not only visits mermaids, but gay commie skaters, nudists, The Castle, seedy dives and more. It’s my favorite mailbox delivery of the year, for sure.
Yes, there are probably more appropriate native birds to symbolize landing in Tampa (roosters, anyone?), but it’s a joy watching visitors and locals alike flock to Matthew Mazzotta’s 21-foot flamingo sculpture at Tampa International Airport central terminal. Set beneath ceiling panels that create the illusion of the bird—big beady eyes and beak included—being underwater. It’s an inviting, fun installation and the best big bird we’ve got.
The late Stephen Sondheim was a giant of musical theater with a career spanning seven decades since he first penned the lyrics to “West Side Story.” He wrote complex melodies with character-driven lyrics so specific that they don’t easily stand alone outside of their original context. During COVID, indie-folk singer Eleri Ward recorded her own idiosyncratic arrangements in her closet. These reworkings appeared on YouTube and her fame skyrocketed. freeFall’s prescient Michael Raabe booked her before she became a sensation opening for Josh Groban. Her haunting performance was a triumph featuring arrangements now available on two albums. 
When Side Splitters won Best Comedy Club last year, we mentioned that it expanded beyond the Tampa location to a venue in Wesley Chapel. Now Side Splitters has done it again, adding shows at Coastal Creative in St. Petersburg under its banner. The club is attracting top national talent, fostering a community for locals, hopefuls, and up-and-comers, plus adding stages throughout Tampa Bay. And to top it off, it’s a locally-owned business with a decades-long presence in the community. Sounds like a winner to us.