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Stagework's 'Biloxi Blues' doesn't pass muster

I am puzzled by the track record this season of Stageworks Theatre. Last August, the company finally moved into a home of its own, a fine new space in the Channel District in Tampa, but for the most part, it's still operating like a scruffy, hand-to-mouth operation.

To be sure, Anna Brennen, founder and producing artistic director of the 30-year-old theater, long a vagabond, performing in rented spaces all over town, has staged some decent shows in its new black-box theater. Listen to My Heart: The Songs of David Friedman, the season-opening revue, was surprisingly effective, and I also enjoyed 'Night Mother, another unlikely success, given how out of fashion the Marsha Norman play is nowadays. Three other productions, Gruesome Playground Injuries, The Blue Room and To Kill a Mockingbird, also had their merits.

But now Stageworks is putting on a production of Biloxi Blues, the Neil Simon comedy about life in an Army boot camp during World War II, that feels like a community theater or high school show. With an amateurish cast (not a single member of Actors' Equity among the nine actors), and a drab set, it came across like theater being done on the cheap when I was there a week ago.

There's nothing wrong with inexpensive, simple theater — Brennen herself likes to say you can do great work on the street — but a commercial property like a Simon play is no place to cut corners. What this production suggests to me is that Stageworks has fallen into a classic trap of moving into a new facility without the financial and organizational wherewithal to do it justice.

Biloxi Blues continues through May 27 at the theater, 1120 E Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. Run time: 2 hours, 30 minutes, including intermission. $24.50. (813) 251-8984; stageworkstheatre.org.

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Stageworks has announced its 2012-13 season, which opens with The Colored Museum by George C. Wolfe in October. The rest of the lineup: Holiday Cabaret in November and December; MOMologues 2: Off to School by Lisa Rafferty in January and February; Circle Mirror Transformation by Annie Baker in March; Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck in May; and How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Karen Zacarias, adapted from the Julia Alvarez novel, in June and July.

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Ballots for the Norton Awards are handed out at many Tampa Bay theaters. The annual awards for excellence in theater are named for Jeff Norton, the actor who was a murder victim in St. Petersburg in July 2010. Thomas J. Lafoe, accused of murdering Norton, is scheduled to go on trial June 12 in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court. The trial will be held in the Division T courtroom at the Pinellas Criminal Justice Center, 14250 49th St. N, near Largo. Jury selection is to begin at 8:30 a.m., with opening statements likely in the afternoon.

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Judy Lisi, president of the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, was presented with the Distinguished Lifetime Service Award during the Broadway League's Spring Road Conference, held in New York this week to honor achievement in the Broadway tour business.

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Thomas Wilkins, the former resident conductor of the Florida Orchestra who has gone on to national stardom, will be guest conductor with the Sarasota Orchestra next season. Wilkins has been music director of the Omaha Symphony since 2005, and also is principal conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and youth and family concerts conductor for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He conducts Holst's The Planets in Bradenton and Sarasota Nov. 30-Dec. 2.

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8716.

Stagework's 'Biloxi Blues' doesn't pass muster 05/16/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 16, 2012 6:05pm]
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