#Winning

FAME Academy at River Ridge High School won its first ever Critic’s Choice for One Act after students studied with touring Broadway actors from FUN HOME at The Straz.

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River Ridge High School students with cast members from FUN HOME after the post-show talk-back at The Straz.

SETTING: An Army hospital

CHARACTERS: Three Vietnam veterans

SYNOPSIS: The war survivors befriend each other while recuperating from tours in Vietnam. They tease, torment and often console each other as they face the uncertainties of returning to civilian life.

This play, PVT Wars, comes to the TECO Theater March 14 at 10 a.m. as part of the annual State Thespians Festival held next week on The Straz campus and elsewhere downtown. The actors, two seniors and one junior from FAME Academy (Fine Arts and Musical Entertainment) at River Ridge High School won the school’s first-ever Critic’s Choice for One Act for PVT Wars, a distinction that gave them a direct shot at the state level Thespian competition and is a huge deal to be won at the district level.

The young men—Shaun Memmel, Zachary Schumacher and Christopher Cavazza—had been working on PVT Wars when they attended a talk-back with FUN HOME actors at The Straz. Coaching the young actors on the “power of the pause” and using silence to dramatic and comedic effect, the Broadway touring stars made a craft-changing impression on the young men.

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Post-show talk-back with FUN HOME in Morsani Hall.

The RRHS students took this advice to heart and put it to work. Back in the acting lab at FAME Academy, the guys honed their one act and gave a jaw-dropping performance at the district festival, earning the coveted Critic’s Choice nod. “We were able to take what we were taught at and work on the timing,” says Taylor LaRoue, the technical theater teacher for FAME Academy at RRHS. “It was an invaluable experience. My students were able to dive into deeper conversations with professionals in the business and learn from adults outside of the classroom. Our actors were able to go back and focus on more detailed aspects like timing. I fully believe this coaching pushed us to the top.”

The Community Programs Coordinator at the Patel Conservatory at The Straz, Heather Clark, facilitated RHHS’s participation after inviting the group to Teens Take Broadway, a special pre-show party for Straz patrons in their teenage years. This exposure to the welcoming attitude of The Straz and its commitment to encouraging young people to pursue a love of the arts further encouraged the RHHS students to take advantage of what The Straz offers.

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Teens Take Broadway event at The Straz.

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River Ridge High School representing at Teens Take Broadway!

“When I first met the drama students of River Ridge High School this past fall, it was refreshing to see high school students hungry for knowledge and for real-life theater experience,” Clark says. “Because they live in Pasco County, I’m sure a lot of them don’t get the opportunity to come to The Straz as much as they would like. We offered them a fun-filled evening with our Teens Take Broadway event, along with a discounted ticket to that evening’s performance of FUN HOME. Having these opportunities for student actors truly embodies the mission of our community programs department here at the Patel Conservatory. The students were attentive, eager and appreciative of the opportunity. It doesn’t surprise me at all to hear that those young men received a Critic’s Choice for the scene at districts.”

For one whole week, almost 8,000 Thespians—a drama honors society—descend on The Straz and downtown Tampa to compete, meet each other, make friends and enjoy the opportunity to perform in one of The Straz’s gorgeous, state-of-the-art theaters.

We wish the actors of PVT Wars well as they compete in the state festival, as we do for all the talented students coming here for another hectic, exhilarating, fun-filled, madcap week that is Thespians at The Straz.

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If I Can Make It There, I Can Make It Anywhere

Musicians and actors who make the leap to Broadway

Kill Bill super-assassin Uma Thurman skillfully executed a Broadway debut in The Parisian Woman in November 2017, as did rock ‘n’ roll superstar Bruce Springsteen in September, when he broke box office records and added Boss of Broadway to his long list of artistic credentials with his show Springsteen on Broadway. Michael Moore, political provocateur and filmmaker, took to Broadway in August with The Terms of My Surrender, his one-man limited engagement.

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Fania Borach, known professionally as Fanny Brice, circa 1920. (Photo: George Grantham Bain collection at the Library of Congress)

Local lore has it that the American crossover star phenomenon started around 1910 with Fanny Brice (the “Funny Girl” later played by Barbra Streisand), who made it on Broadway then took to Hollywood and radio. Brice set many precedents in her career, and this notion that performing artists launched a career in one field and conquered the next challenge as they gained success laid the foundation for stars to take the Broadway Challenge: they might be good singers or actors, but can they handle the greatest test of all, the demands of performing live at the epicenter of theater?

Take, for example, multi-platinum crooner Josh Groban, who debuted in the 2017 surprise hit Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 and walked away with a Tony nomination for Best Lead Actor in a Musical. Carly “Call Me Maybe” Rae Jepsen donned the glass slippers for Cinderella, and teeny-bopper heartthrob Nick Jonas took over for Daniel Radcliffe (of Harry Potter fame) as the lead in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Probably one of the best musical vehicles for pop singers is Chicago, and that cast has welcomed Ashlee Simpson, Sofia Vergara, Backstreet Boy Kevin Richardson and R&B superstars Brandy and Usher, among others.

In March, Deborah Cox, the Grammy-winning and multi-platinum recording artist, takes on the role of Rachel Marron in the musical adaptation of the Whitney Houston from diva-to-screen-siren crossover Hollywood hit The Bodyguard. Cox, who made her Broadway debut in Aida, started her career as a backup singer for Celine Dion and eventually made a place for herself on Broadway. She also starred in Jekyll & Hyde on Broadway and at The Straz in 2013.

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Deborah Cox as Rachel Marron, with Jaquez André Sims, Brendon Chan, Willie Dee and Benjamin Rivera in The Bodyguard. (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Cox, who proved her versatility on screen, stage and in the recording studio, continues to join the rising ranks of performers blurring the lines between “what kind” of star they want to be. With Springsteen’s success on Broadway in basically a troubadour stint and Kinky Boots inking Panic at the Disco! frontman Brandon Urie and Scissor Sisters rocker Jake Shears to rack up ticket sales, there’s certainly a safe bet for a box office draw of known names and faces in new territory. For Cox, of course, there’s the added pressure of stepping into some mighty big Whitney Houston-sized shoes. “I want to make sure that [Houston is] represented right. I know what the expectations are. …That’s pretty much what I’m going in there to do – give it my all, really make this show a huge success because the show deserves it. She deserves it. Her legacy deserves it,” Cox said in a 2016 interview with app.com.

To catch Cox* as Rachel Marron, get tickets for The Bodyguard playing in Morsani Hall March 20-25 here.

*Deborah Cox is not scheduled to perform at the Saturday matinee or Sunday evening performances.

Feel the Love Tonight

Hot onstage kisses from the land of Broadway in honor of Valentine’s Day

Love is often a many-splendored thing on Broadway. Equally often, it is a non-splendored thing (oh, Alexander Hamilton … but we’ll endure that moment next season). And, not quite as often, love is turned inside-out, upside-down and simultaneously ridiculed and held to lofty heights (anyone seen Edward Albee’s The Goat recently?).

In honor of Cupid’s busy day, we’re looking at the Broadway love scenes to look forward to for the rest of this season.

Alert: spoilers ahead for those of you who haven’t already seen the shows.

If you read The Color Purple or saw the Whoopi Goldberg film, you know there’s a delicate, daring and sweet little kiss between Shug and Celie as the women embark upon an exploration of their relationship. In the show, it inspires Celie to start the touching duet, “What About Love?”

There’s hardly a 40-something alive who saw Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner in the movie The Bodyguard who doesn’t remember the scarf-and-sword scene. The sexual tension, well, you could cut with a knife. *Ahem, sword.* So, there’s plenty of tension to spread throughout a musical featuring Deborah Cox as Rachel Marron, who, as you and her bodyguard Frank Carter must discover, has an irresistible charm.

Ahhhhhh … the hills are alive with the sound of Captain Von Trapp finally kissing Maria in The Sound of Music and Carole King’s romantic encounters in Beautiful—the Carole King Musical.

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Some of our other favorite onstage smooches from shows that have played The Straz before include Cinderella

CinderellaTour3135r_Hayden Stanes and Tatyana Lubov in Rodgers + Hammerstein_s CINDERELLA. © Carol Rosegg

Hayden Stanes and Tatyana Lubov in Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella. (Photo: Carol Rosegg)

…and, of course, what’s more romantic than The Book of Mormon’s duet “Baptize Me”?

Oh, and we can’t forget Elphaba.

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After all, nothing says “I love you” like a tendency to get a little wicked.

Stage Magic

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child opens on Broadway on April 22, 2018. But if you want tickets, you must register first (here’s why). Online registration opens this Sunday, Oct. 1.

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The cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. (Photo: Charlie Gray)

One of the most enduring cultural phenomena of our time is the wizarding world conjured up by British author J.K. Rowling. From the best-selling novels to the blockbuster movies to the beloved theme park attraction, Hogwarts, Hogsmeade and the delightful crew of quirky Quidditch-loving characters have captured our hearts, minds and pocketbooks.

As fine purveyors of the performing arts, we are happy to see the eighth installment of the Harry Potter series apparates not on the pages of a book but on the stages of London and New York (and, accio!, on stages all over the world like, say, here—keep the summoning spells happening, Potterfans.) In 2016, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child premiered on London’s West End, transporting audiences to Rowling’s magic world where Harry has a desk job, Hermione is Minister of Magic, Ron owns a shop on Diagon Alley and their children carry the legacy of the fateful turn of events that culminated in the Battle of Hogwarts. But the story isn’t about our favorite trio—not this time. This time, we’re taken on an adventure with Harry and Ginny’s second son, Albus Potter, and his best friend, Scorpius Malfoy. Yes: Malfoy.

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Harry’s son, Albus, and his new friend, Scorpius Malfoy. (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

What’s it going to be like seeing the Potters, Weasleys and company playing out this epic tale of Albus Severus Potter in real time? Well, if the nine 2017 Olivier Awards the show won after its London premier are any indication, we’re gonna go with bloody brilliant, mate. The Lyric Theater in New York, where the show opens this spring, invested in a complete remodeling to accommodate the specifics of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. If that’s not confidence in the return-on-investment, we don’t know what is.

Rowling conceived of the story with John Tiffany and Jack Thorne. Thorne wrote the manuscript, and when all was said and done, the tale—like the books—wove in and out of an epic battle of cause-and-effect so tremendous that the whole show is broken into two parts, à la The Deathly Hallows. Both parts run more than two hours with patrons buying consecutive shows, either seeing both parts on the same day or on two consecutive nights.

Without giving too much away, the story takes place 19 years after the final scene in The Deathly Hallows, with Harry and Ginny sending their son Albus Severus off to Hogwarts as a first year. Albus meets one Scorpius Malfoy, and they become buds after the surprise sorting of Albus into Slytherin. To boot, something funky is afoot as Harry’s lightning scar starts a-tingling again after almost 20 years of stillness since the Battle of Hogwarts. The events surrounding the untimely death of Cedric Diggory are involved, as is a Time Turner and the rather realistic, humdrum adult lives of Harry, Hermione and Ron. The father-son tension between Harry and Albus sparks Albus’s rash decision to send their lives into another (unknown at the time, of course) headlong plunge into the plans of He Who Must Not Be Named.

Here is an excerpt from an interview with Emma Watson as she described seeing the show and how she felt watching another actor portray Hermione as a full-grown adult:

Since we’re more likely to get tickets to Hamilton than the Cursed Child, we’re happy that the first installment of the Potter empire, The Sorcerer’s Stone, arrives in movie-with-live-music form this weekend at The Straz. The Florida Orchestra plays the score live as we watch the movie, which should be a most wonderful experience in honor of the Potter tales morphing from page to stage.

Predictably, The Sorcerer’s Stone shows are almost sold out, but if you want to see Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone during the Saturday matinee, there are a few seats available.

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Come Sit By Me

September is Women’s Friendship Month. So, how does that play out on Broadway? Let’s take a look.

The Sisterhood is real.

So is Women’s Friendship Month, which happens to be September.

In honor of the totally rad relationships women create, maintain and sustain, we decided to take a look at the way women’s friendships are portrayed in three blockbuster Broadway hits.

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I. The Color Purple
The unbreakable bond between sisters, women’s intimacy, loyalty against abusive men and the encouragement to rise up in the face of dangerous odds, the dynamics between the women in this story represent many facets of women’s friendships. The Color Purple, in its examination of the connection between sisters Celie and Nettie and the arrival of dynamos Shug and Sofia, circles around and through the nuances of the critical nature of women loving and standing up for each other. The musical tracks how each woman influences Celie, the star of the show, who struggles to come into her own identity as an African-American woman in the early 1900s. Based on Alice Walker’s award-winning novel, this story specifically reclaims the most righteous awesomeness of women looking each other square in the eye and saying, “I’m with you, sister.”

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II. Waitress
Thematically, it’s like The Color Purple but with pies. This story follows Jenna, a supremely talented pie-maker, as she relies on her waitress buddies to inspire the inner strength that propels her to an independent life doing what she loves. Based on Adrienne Shelley’s film—which she wrote in just two weeks while pregnant with her daughter—this story looks at the necessity of a network of female friends, no matter how small, to be both the safety net and the springboard for a woman with the ambition to see where her talent can take her. In an interesting real-life side note, the creative team behind Waitress the musical is all women, including hit maker Sara Bareilles who wrote all the songs and lyrics.

Of course, one of the most notorious female friendships in the Broadway canon belongs to Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, which brings us to

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III. Chicago
We dunno how much this show reflects women’s friendships as much as it illuminates humanity’s tendency to make advantageous alliances for self-preservation. However, one thing is certain: Velma and Roxie (and the rest of “Mama”’s incarcerated crew of insanely attractive murderers) make a great team for an epic battle of frenemies vying for the limelight. Chicago, which is based on reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins’s play (which was inspired by her work covering women on trial for murder in Chicago), disrupts the “sugar and spice and everything nice” notion about women and women’s relationships. In this story of literal femme fatales, women get a delightful romp in the predatory role where an uneasy truce is the closest anyone is going to get to a real relationship. Though Velma and Roxie bury the hatchet to become business partners by the end of the show, Chicago purposefully challenges gender stereotypes and assumptions about why women need each other.

However, like The Color Purple and Waitress, Chicago ultimately proves that life is so much better when you’ve got a pack of like-minded women with whom to take over the world.

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Ten Million Five Hundred Twelve Thousand Minutes

The original cast of RENT twenty years later … where are they now?

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The original Broadway cast of RENT. (Photo: Joan Marcus)

The raw yet elegantly composed story of young people scrabbling to make their dreams come true in an AIDS-rattled New York City shadowed by a growing moral hypocrisy from the political establishment, RENT resonated with Generation X. A young composer, a young cast, a new style of musical designed to capture a new disillusionment about the American Dream re-energized the Broadway musical scene.

The Hamilton of its time, RENT spurred an obsessed fandom of “RENTers” or “RENT-heads” to camp overnight for a shot at $20 tickets to the original Broadway show. The original cast, then comprised of young, unknown talents who toiled in rehearsals uncertain of whether the show was any good, became overnight sensations once RENT became the toast of the town in 1996.

Original cast members included Idina Menzel, Taye Diggs, Anthony Rapp and Jesse L. Martin at the start of their careers. Now that RENT enters its 20th anniversary tour and stops by The Straz Sept. 19-24, we thought we’d look at where the original cast is now.

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Adam Pascal as Shakespeare in Something Rotten! (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Adam Pascal (Roger)
Life after RENT: starred in Cabaret, Chicago, Memphis, Aida, Disaster! and more.
Now: Cast as William Shakespeare in 2016’s Something Rotten!, Pascal teamed up with RENT co-star Anthony Rapp in 2017 for a series of concerts about the musical.

 

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Anthony Rapp & Jackie Burns in IF/THEN. (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Anthony Rapp (Mark)
Life after RENT: starred in the musical You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and several films including A Beautiful Mind.
Now: Rapp appeared at the Straz Center last year in If/Then, a musical he also starred in on Broadway with his RENT co-star Idina Menzel.

 

Idina Menzel (Maureen)
Life after RENT: Well, Elphaba in Wicked and belter of “Let It Go” as Elsa in Frozen.
Now: Menzel just wrapped up a world tour and continues to work with A Broader Way, an organization to support arts education for girl in urban communities, which she founded with her RENT co-star Taye Diggs.

 

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Taye Diggs on Empire. (Photo: Instagram @tayediggsinsta)

Taye Diggs (Benny)
Life after RENT: became a household name after starring in How Stella Got Her Groove Back, appearing frequently on television shows (Will & Grace, Grey’s Anatomy, Rosewood, Murder in the First).
Now: Diggs just wrapped three films in 2017 and is most recognized for his role as Angelo Dubois on Empire.

 

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Jesse L. Martin is known for playing detectives on TV. (Photo: Diyah Pera/The CW)

Jesse L. Martin (Tom)
Life after RENT: maintained a very successful career in television, most notably for his role as Ed Green on Law & Order.
Now: Martin portrays Detective Joe West on the television series The Flash. He has been cast as Marvin Gaye in the film Sexual Healing though the film is currently stalled.

 

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Fredi Walker (Joanne)
Life after RENT: appeared in musicals including The Lion King (Rafiki) and The Buddy Holly Story.
Now: Walker teaches voice at Long Island University and New York University.

 

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Wilson Jermaine Heredia performing at the 23rd Annual ROCKERS ON BROADWAY concert in 2016. (Photo: BroadwayWorld.com)

Wilson Jermaine Heredia (Angel)
Life after RENT: took a short hiatus from the limelight before staying under the radar in a series of titillating B movies.
Now: Heredia just wrapped the comedy feature film The Rainbow Bridge Motel.

 

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Daphne Rubin-Vega (Mimi)
Life after RENT: continued a Broadway and music career, appearing in Les Miserables, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the Tampa-based drama Anna in the Tropics while writing and recording albums.
Now: Rubin-Vega lives in Panama with her husband and child and occasionally performs in public art shows.

So, Who is this Tony Person?

The 71st annual Tony Awards air June 11, 2017 from Radio City Music Hall in New York City. The ceremony honors achievement on Broadway for the 2016-17 season, and we’ll certainly be tuned-in and on-edge as they announce the big winners. Like us, perhaps you’ve wondered “why are they called the Tonys?” We did some research, and the answer uncovered a rather fascinating story.

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Actress and director Antoinette Perry, c. 1910. (CSU Archives—Everett Collection)

Let’s start here, at the American Theatre Wing.

Actually, that’s not the beginning.

Let’s start here: 1917, and America is about to enter World War 1.

Somewhere in New York, seven established women in theater meet to discuss how they could provide war relief. If they could provide aid, what would they do? What did they have to give?

They form the Stage Women’s War Relief, an organization that raises more than seven million dollars for the troops and sews countless articles of clothing for soldiers. They become one of the most significant relief organizations in the world.

The war ends, life goes on, yet here comes World War II looming on the historical horizon. By 1940, the Stage Women’s War Relief revamps with an extra personality in tow: Antoinette Perry.

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Stage women’s war relief poster by James Montgomery Flagg, 1918. Depicts a woman on stage, throwing off her cloak to reveal a white volunteer’s uniform.

You can see where we are going, yes?

They regroup and form the American Theatre Wing, which sponsors Stage Door Canteens throughout the United States and in London and Paris. Theater stars work the canteens as wait staff and dishwashers, also putting on shows and other entertainment to keep up the troops’ morale. Money from a movie made about the canteens funds the production of touring hit shows for the troops. On the home front, the Wing’s Victory Players inspire civilians and their “Lunchtime Follies” entertain defense plant workers.

By the end of that war, Antoinette Perry is the driving force of the American Theatre Wing and spearheads the American Theatre Wing Professional School, a rigorous veterans’ art program to train anyone who served in the Allied Powers stagecraft and theater performance. Students include Charlton Heston, George Burns, Geraldine Page, Pat Hingle, James Earl Jones, Angela Lansbury, Tony Randall, Bob Fosse and many, many more notable notables of stage and screen.

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On June 28, 1946, just a few days before her 58th birthday, Antoinette Perry suffers a devastating heart attack and dies. She and others had decided that American theater needed a set of awards dedicated to honoring excellence. For Antoinette’s service to her country, to Broadway and to the theater community as a whole, the new award was named after her.

The night of the first award ceremony, a small dinner banquet at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, a presenter handed out an award, calling it a “Tony.”

The name stuck, and that’s why they’re called the Tony Awards.

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During the first two years, there was no official Tony Award. In 1949 the designers’ union sponsored a contest for the award. The winning entry, a disk-shaped medallion designed by Herman Rosse, depicted the masks of comedy and tragedy on one side and the profile of Antoinette Perry on the other. It continues to be the official Tony Award.

Want to know what Antoinette Perry was doing before World War II? Trust us, you’ll want to know. Get the scoop from a Playbill interview with her daughter, Margaret, in 1998. For the Tony Awards’ history of Perry, check out their bio by Ellis Nassour.