2009 is so five minutes ago. We're ready to move on to a new decade. Here are five reasons to be excited about the Tampa Bay arts and entertainment scene in the first part of the new year.
art | Tampa Museum of Art
The biggest anticipated art story in 2010 comes early in the new year — Feb. 6 — when the Tampa Museum of Art reopens in a new 66,000-square-foot building on the downtown waterfront. Its architecture, designed by San Francisco's Stanley Saitowitz with a sleek screen of metal sheathing its exterior, will be a big draw on its own. But so will the cachet of its major inaugural exhibit, a large group of paintings and drawings by 20th century master Henri Matisse. The Tampa Museum's quest for a new facility has been a 10-year saga but now, finally, Tampa will have an art museum that a city of its size and caliber needs. The museum represents the second in a Tampa Bay area art trifecta that began in 2008 with the expansion of the Museum of Fine Arts and will be complete in early 2011 with the inauguration of a new Salvador Dali Museum of Art, both in St. Petersburg.
Lennie Bennett, Times art critic
dining | Seasons 52
How can a restaurant where nothing on the menu is more than 475 calories be any good? Somehow, Seasons 52, set to open in Tampa's WestShore Plaza in the first quarter of 2010, pulls it off with its commitment to seasonal produce and health-conscious dishes. It's also the pioneer of the "mini indulgences" tiny-dessert trend (they offer 18 intensely flavorful, shot-glass-sized desserts for $2.50 each). I visited the chain's Orlando location recently to get a sense for what we have in store: in total, one of the most sophisticated dining experiences I had in 2009. There are no deep fryers, much of the food either wood-fire grilled or brick-oven roasted, with a focus on simply caramelized vegetables and farm-designated meats. Lots of fresh herbs, a minimum of oils or heavy sauces, and a wine list (and wine staff) that will knock your socks off. And it's all from Darden, the same company that brings us Olive Garden, Red Lobster and LongHorn Steakhouse.
Laura Reiley, Times food critic
music | Owl City
While the indie music world was busy waiting for the next Postal Service album, a shy Minnesotan named Adam Young decided to make it himself. Owl City, the name Young gave his bedroom synth-pop project, catapulted from blog and MySpace obscurity to mainstream success in 2009 thanks to the album Ocean Eyes — and particularly smash single Fireflies, a bleepity-bloopity pop gewgaw that shot from being offered as a free download on iTunes all the way to No. 1 on the Billboard pop chart. To this day, we bet you can't make it through the chorus without screaming "I'd like to make myself belieeeeeeeve!" When Owl City hits the Ritz Ybor on Feb. 3 — bringing with him Canadian singer/keytarist Lights, who won over American audiences with a too-cute-for-words performance on this year's Warped Tour — fans of Fireflies will get to examine Owl City in the flesh. Is the band destined for one-hit wonderdom, or will followup singles like Vanilla Twilight and Hello Seattle turn Young, 23, into an unlikely pop icon? Hey, at this time last year, everyone thought Lady Gaga was a novelty act, too. Maybe 2010 will be the year of Owl City.
Jay Cridlin, Times staff writer
stage | After Hours Cabaret at American Stage
The big shows that cycle through get a lot of attention, but sometimes it's the smaller shows that are unexpected gems. American Stage's After Hours series benefits from its venue: the lobby of the new theater, set up as a cabaret space around the piano, a well-stocked bar close at hand, with a striking view through the glass wall of downtown St. Petersburg at night. A pair of classy singers will liven up the joint in January.
• Soprano Lynne Locher celebrates Paris, the moon and other romantic inspirations in "Love and the Moon,'' her program of music from Fauré (Clair de Lune) to Neil Young (Harvest Moon). 7 and 9 p.m. Jan. 8 and 9.
• In "Jazz on Third: Classical Jazz for a New Era,'' Emilia Sargent (left) ranges from Peel Me a Grape to Bewitched to You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To. 7 and 9 p.m. Jan. 15 and 16 and 7 p.m. Jan. 17.
The After Hours series also includes improvisation by Gavin Hawk and Ricky Wayne, what the two call The Dumb Show, a monthly Sunday night session that has been drawing good crowds. They launch the new year by doing their thing at 8 p.m. Sunday.
All performances are pay what you can at the door or $10 in advance. (727) 823-7529; americanstage.org.
John Fleming, Times performing arts critic
theme parks | Sesame Street Safari of Fun at Busch Gardens
The countdown is on for Elmo, Big Bird and the gang to come play at Busch Gardens Africa in Tampa this spring. The new Sesame Street Safari of Fun will be way bigger than the old Land of the Dragons play area. Expect five new rides, including a roller coaster tamed down for kids roughly 3 to 8 years old. The splash area will quadruple in size as Oscar's Swamp Stomp and Bert & Ernie's Water Hole, which will get more serious with the addition of a bucket dump. Just like a certain other theme park, Busch will charge for a character breakfast or lunch with 10 costumed versions of Big Bird, Elmo and pals in an adjacent picnic facility. A live-action 3-D film, Sesame Street Presents Lights, Camera, Imagination, will replace Pirates in the park's special effects theater in Timbuktu. It will have timed water squirts, vibrating seat backs and a whirling plastic string that startles theatergoers when it spins briefly against their legs.
Mark Albright, Times staff writer