Seal literally embraces Florida Orchestra fans at Mahaffey Theater gala

St. Petersburg enjoyed a serene and sparkling evening.

click to enlarge Seal and the Florida Orchestra play Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, Florida on February 9, 2019. - Marlo Miller
Marlo Miller
Seal and the Florida Orchestra play Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, Florida on February 9, 2019.

Seal looked into audience at Mahaffey Theater on Saturday night, and felt a little unprepared for the occasion.

“You all look very nice,” he told a sold-out room gathered to celebrate the Florida Orchestra’s annual concert. “Had I know, I would’ve work something more sparkling."

The 55-year-old, four-time Grammy winner was only joking, we assume, since he probably planned on dressing the occasion down with a 17-song set of shimmery standards, a few originals and a couple of rocking covers to boot. The gala is the orchestra’s premiere fundraising event. Last year, a almost-tuxedoed Sting helped the organization raise $1.5 million for the nonprofit, which uses the funds to provide free opportunities for the community — including the Bay area’s most underprivileged and underserved residents — a chance to engage with the arts. Seal — dressed in black slacks, shirt and a comfy, long sleeve pullover — continually expressed how grateful he was to be backed by orchestra director Michael Francis and an ensemble he described as a hybrid between a Rolls Royce and Ferrari.

He wasn’t wrong.

The orchestra, per usual, was in top form, and first chair trumpet Robert Smith was allowed to shine early (Jalacy Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You”). Harpist Anna Kate Mackle added drama to Ervin Drake’s “It Was A Very Good Year,”and concert goers will probably never see a more plush performance of Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose” in their lifetimes. Seal mentioned how he used to be a bit embarrassed by “Kiss,” and made note of how fortunate he was to have seen the 1995 single turn into a triple Grammy-winning hit.

Still, the singer spent the evening heavily enjoying everyone else in attendance. He played air bass during a dance-floor ready run through Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up” and walked offstage and into the crowd during an ovation-earning performance of Seal II highlight “Prayer For the Dying.” It’s not uncommon to see a pop star break down walls by wading into the audience during theater shows, but it is unusual to see musicians literally embracing patrons during the show.

Seal did it often, too, and his audience interaction was a quick and easy way to bring a more casual feel to the gala event. The show was a celebration after all. It was reminder that the existence of a regional orchestra is a privilege only made possible by the generous support of its patrons. And while the well-heeled are often the ones in the seats getting to enjoy the ensemble’s interpretations of history’s greatest composers, there are almost always high-school students in the crowd enjoying free tickets to the concerts. The orchestra seems to always be out and about, providing free shows that give the general public an opportunity to enjoy the works of not just masters long gone, but that of modern composers, too. Seal inadvertently drove this point home during a serene horn solo during “My Funny Valentine."

A spotlighted Smith sounded more than fine, but the orchestra’s distinguished guest slowly walked towards the soloist to get a closer view. At one point, Seal took his own microphone and held it up to the bell of Smith’s cornet, amplifying the solo. The increased volume almost had a hair-raising effect. The Florida Orchestra’s good works are obvious to casual observers of the Bay area’s music scene, but it never hurts to get a closer look at all that organization does. Even if you think you understand, do yourself a favor by turning the sound up of everything the Florida Orchestra does in this community. You don’t need to be at a gala to realize how beautiful the orchestra’s song really is.

See more of Marlo’s photos from the show via, and visit Spotify to listen to a playlist of songs from the concert.


Luck Be A Lady (Frank Loesser; Sinatra)
I Put A Spell On You (Jalacy Hawkins)
They Can't Take That Away From Me (George Gershwin,)
Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Irma Thomas)
I've Got You Under My Skin (Cole Porter)
My Funny Valentine (Richard Rodgers)
It Was a Very Good Year (Ervin Drake)
That’s Life (Dean Kay and Kelly Gordon)
Prayer For The Dying
Killer (Adamski)
Fly Like an Eagle (Steve Miller)
Move On Up (Curtis Mayfield)
Rebel Rebel (David Bowie)
Kiss from a Rose
Smile (Charlie Chaplin)


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Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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