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In the Wings | John Fleming

Will 'Cats' land on its feet?

You have to wonder how Cats will do at Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, where it opens tonight and runs through Sunday. Sure, Andrew Lloyd Webber's kitty cantata is one of the all-time favorite musicals, but it has been around forever, playing the Tampa Bay area more than 15 times.

Plus, for many people, buying tickets to a show on the heels of the holidays, in the middle of a recession, may not be possible.

"This is not an easy time for touring theater," spokeswoman Amanda Norvell said. "And we don't have a huge season ticket base at Mahaffey. But Cats is doing better than any show we've done there yet. So while the advance sale is not amazing, it is getting better."

Last season, the Broadway series included two new shows, The Wedding Singer and an acclaimed revival of Sweeney Todd. Attendance was woeful. Broadway Across America has a 10-year agreement with St. Petersburg for the series but can opt out after three years. The odds the series will stick around after next year don't look good.

Tickets to Cats range from $30 to $69. However, the show is offering a "Family Four Pack" of tickets for $99 for all performances, except Saturday, on selected seats. There is also a $20 discount on single tickets for selected seats to the shows tonight, Wednesday and Thursday. For information, call (727) 898-2100.

Meet 'Tommy J and Sally'

Mark Medoff will be in St. Petersburg this week for a production of his play Tommy J and Sally at the Studio@620. Medoff, 67, won the Tony Award for best play with Children of a Lesser God, which opened on Broadway in 1980 and was later adapted by the playwright for a movie starring William Hurt and Marlee Matlin. He teaches at New Mexico State University.

Tommy J and Sally, inspired by the relationship of Thomas Jefferson and his black mistress, Sally Hemings, is about a contemporary couple. Directed by Craig Wallace, it stars Reginald Robinson and Magali Nass. Wallace, an actor making his directing debut, created the role of Tommy J at Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington. That production was directed by Bob Devin Jones, artistic director of the Studio@620.

Medoff will conduct a talk-back after Friday's opening night performance as well as hold a free playwriting workshop from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the gallery, 620 First Ave. S, St Petersburg. Tommy J and Sally runs through Jan. 18. $10-$25. There is a preview Thursday night, with tickets at $10. (727) 895-6620; studio620.org.

Best season ever at American Stage

American Stage set a record with A Tuna Christmas, which closed last week. The St. Petersburg theater sold 4,453 tickets to 34 performances, topping the previous best seller, Dinner with Friends, which sold 4,327 tickets in 2006.

"Since the recession has been declared, it seems like every week, somewhere in the country, another professional theater has closed its doors. Somehow we are having the best fall we have had in our 30 years," Todd Olson, American Stage's producing artistic director, said in a press release. The company's next play is King Hedley II by August Wilson Jan. 21-Feb. 15.

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

Will 'Cats' land on its feet? 01/05/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 6, 2009 10:02am]

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