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Let us help you: The biggest Tampa Bay arts and entertainment stories to watch in 2016

Everyone has a hobby, an area of interest, a weekend fancy. But not everyone is really good at it.

Maybe you just dabbled in arts and entertainment in 2015. Maybe you could have become an art aficionado, located all the coolest music venues in town, started making a dent in your theme park bucket list.

Enough looking back. It's time to move forward with renewed vigor.

Our critics and writers, always here to guide your choices, have the inside track on the most noteworthy, exciting and otherwise interesting things coming your way in six different fields of entertainment in 2016 — movies, music, art, stage, attractions and restaurants.

If you want to get good — and we mean really good — in any one area, read on and start marking up your calendar now. And if you just want to sample a little of everything this year, this should help you pick and choose.

Stephanie Hayes, Times arts and entertainment editor

MOVIES

Steve Persall, Times movie critic

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice March 25

In a year packed with Marvel superheroes, Pixar fish and Ghostbusters, this DC Comics showdown looms largest of all. Ben Affleck dons the cape and cowl as a weathered Gotham City crusader, pulled out of retirement by collateral damage caused by Henry Cavill in Man of Steel. Their feud gets set aside when Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) show up.

Sophia Loren at Ruth Eckerd Hall April 1

One of cinema's iconic beauties, Loren will appear on stage to discuss her Academy Award-winning career, plus sharing tales of her storied leading men including Cary Grant, Marcello Mastroianni and Marlon Brando. I will moderate the evening with an Inside the Actors Studio-style format and a fast-beating heart.

Infiltrator Aug. 31

Yes, Broad Green Pictures apparently dropped the "the" from the title of Tampa resident Robert Mazur's undercover memoir, filmed locally last spring. Bryan Cranston (Trumbo) stars as Mazur, taking down Pablo Escobar's money laundering network. Always fun when Tampa Bay gets a Hollywood close-up.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children Dec. 25

Director Tim Burton filmed early portions of this fantasy around Tampa Bay last spring, and the rest on soundstages in England. Eva Green stars as headmistress of a school for paranormal kids, including a naively gifted new student (Asa Butterfield, Hugo). Enjoy, since this looks like the last highest-profile local production for a while.

ATTRACTIONS

Florida's theme parks continue to up the ante (and the prices) to pull in tourists and locals alike with their fast rides and movie-quality set designs. Here are some of the big ones coming in 2016.

Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Times staff writer

Cobra's Curse at Busch Gardens

This new family coaster coming to Tampa sounds like one of those kiddie rides that end up being scarier than you expected. Not just a coaster, individual cars on the train will spin freely, and depending on the weight of the people on board, the ride experience can vary.

King Kong at Universal's Islands of Adventure

Called Skull Island: Reign of Kong, this monkey's huge crib already looms over the park. The mammoth attraction opening in the summer promises to be a new tram-style ride that will combine 3D screens with movie-quality jungle sets.

Mako at SeaWorld

Orlando's first hypercoaster will top out at 200 feet tall. Touted as the tallest, longest and fastest roller coaster in the Orlando theme-park market, Mako is scheduled to open in the summer. It will be set in a new shark-themed area of the park with special lighting at night.

Frozen Ever After at Epcot

Get ready to have "that song" stuck in your head again because Frozen fever doesn't seem to be waning. Disney has replaced Maelstrom in the Norway pavilion of Epcot with this new boat ride attraction opening in the spring. Disney has said the new ride will have the very latest animatronic and projection mapping technology.

Upgrades to look for

• Two of Walt Disney World's most popular rides (with brutal lines) will expand to accommodate crowds: Toy Story Midway Mania at Hollywood Studios and Soarin' at Epcot. The expansions will involve a third theater for Soarin' — a ride that combines an IMAX screen and an up-and-away ride — and another track at Midway Mania, a 3D shooting gallery.

Universal's Incredible Hulk Coaster at Islands of Adventure has been torn apart this year to get ready for an upgrade to be unveiled in the summer. This high-speed coaster had a powerful launch, huge drops and speedy turns. Here's hoping the refurb involves the slicker Avengers-style theme while keeping the powerful "Hulk smash" experience of the coaster.

RESTAURANTS

Laura Reiley, Times food critic

The year that just ended saw the densest concentration of new restaurants in downtown St. Petersburg, with dozens of heralded newcomers filling in Central Avenue in the westward direction. There will be more of the same in 2016, but in the first quarter of the year the most excitement will emanate from Hyde Park Village in Tampa. Richard Gonzmart's resurrection of the historic Goody Goody goes in on the corner of west Swann Avenue and S Dakota Avenue; Chris Ponte's long-awaited second venture, On Swann, takes over the Wells Fargo space on the corner of West Swann and South Oregon avenues; and Buddy Brew coffee will slide in among retailers. The Boston-based company WS Development, which recently acquired the open-air mall, also aims to open Meat Market in 2017, a contemporary, high-end steakhouse with locations in Miami Beach, Palm Beach and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

In the new year we will also see the arrival of a number of chain concepts from elsewhere. Portillo's, an iconic restaurant chain in the Chicago area, will open in March on the northwest corner of State Road 60 and Lakewood Drive in Brandon. A Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen is under construction on Dale Mabry Highway and is slated to open in February, and Newk's Eatery out of Jackson, Miss., which opened Dec. 21 in the Clearwater Mall, has plans to open 10 more locations in the Tampa Bay area in the next couple years.

And in terms of interesting independents, I'm most eagerly awaiting Fat Beet Farm, nine acres at the intersection of Tampa and Racetrack Roads, which, when it's up and running, will include a farm, a farm commissary and two farm-to-table restaurants.

MUSIC

Jay Cridlin, Times pop music/culture critic

Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival

Can Florida support an eclectic, Bonnaroo-style music festival? There's a good argument to be made that it can't — just see the late Langerado Music Festival, which was canceled in 2011 and hasn't returned since. But there are some big names attached to the inaugural Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival at a new campsite near Okeechobee, about 2 ½ hours southeast of Tampa — including a few longtime Bonnaroo organizers. Okeechobee has unveiled a jaw-dropping lineup — Mumford and Sons, Kendrick Lamar, Robert Plant, Skrillex, Bassnectar, Avett Brothers, Miguel, Future, Ween — and promise Bonnaroo-style extras like late-night jam sessions, all-night raves and more. Plenty of Tampa Bay music fans will pack a tent and head south for this one. $269.50 and up, with RV parking extra. okeechobeefest.com.

The Dixie Chicks

There's no shortage of amazing concerts coming to Tampa Bay in 2016: Billy Joel, Rihanna, Carly Rae Jepsen, Gary Clark Jr., Duran Duran and Ellie Goulding, for starters. But let's shine the spotlight on a show more than a decade in the making: The Dixie Chicks, who are reuniting for their first summer tour in years, at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on Aug. 19. The group hasn't played Tampa Bay since 2004, two years before their multiple Grammy-winning album Taking the Long Way, and plenty of pop-country faithful have been waiting for the chance to catch them live ever since. The group's influence on artists like Miranda Lambert, Taylor Swift and the Band Perry has made it feel like they never really left. Nevertheless, we're glad they're on their way back. $35 and up at livenation.com.

The Attic

Start with a 120-year-old former hardware store in Ybor City. Add a full-scale brewery offering cool craft beer you can't get anywhere else. Add a bar with a menu created by some of the area's top mixological minds. Top it all off with a unique performance space that's already in talks to host some big-time national acts. That's what we're looking at with the Attic, the future home of Rock Brothers Brewing in Ybor City. Rock Brothers produces signature beers in conjunction with Cigar City Brewing and artists like 311, Hootie and the Blowfish, Umphrey's McGee and JJ Grey, with more big names on the horizon. And when the Attic is up and running, organizers promise, some of those artists — and many others — will come to the brewery for extremely intimate concerts. Ybor City doesn't have anything like it. Come to think of it, no city has anything like it. The Attic could open at 1901 15th St. N by March or April, but even if it gets pushed back, it should be worth the wait. rockbrothersbrewing.com.

ART

New construction is the biggest art story I'm looking forward to in 2016. Even though some of them won't be open until 2017, new museums are expected to break ground in St. Petersburg and a new museum addition opens in Sarasota in the coming year.

Lennie Bennett, Times art critic

The Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement will probably begin construction soon now that an adjacent garage is almost complete. The $70 million project at Fourth Avenue N between Third and Fourth streets will occupy the former parking lot of Synovus Bank. With the land purchase, the bank required a parking garage for its customers and employees first. It will also serve museum staff and visitors. The five-story museum will have 110,000 square feet of space that will include an auditorium, library, restaurant and gift store. The star will be the galleries housing philanthropist and connoisseur Rudy Ciccarello's world-class collection of art, furniture and objects from the early 20th century design movement. It's expected to open in summer 2017.

Few details are yet known about Tom James announcement that he has purchased the first two floors of a building at 100 Central Ave. in St. Petersburg to create a museum to house part of his vast collection of Western and American Indian art. James hopes for a 2017 opening, too.

And opening probably in fall 2016 will be the new space for the Chihuly Collection. The gorgeous group of objects and installations by the world-famous glass artist Dale Chihuly relocates from its Beach Drive location to one at 700 Central Ave., across the street from the Morean Arts Center, which owns the collection.

If you have visited the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art during recent years, you have seen a big, boxy building rising as an appendage to its stately Italianate architecture. It's the new Helga Wall-Apelt Center for Asian Art and the 3,000 green ceramic tiles now on the exterior emulate the tiles found on many ancient temple roofs in China. It will be home to the museum's ever-growing collection of Asian art. It's scheduled to open early in 2016 with an exhibition from that collection.

STAGE

Andrew Meacham, Times performing arts critic

Our Town, Freefall Theatre Jan. 16-Feb. 24

With its bare set and sense of immediacy (the setting is the theater itself), the Thornton Wilder classic was groundbreaking in 1938. Edward Albee called Our Town the "finest play ever written by an American."

Expect Freefall to add another layer or three — but you won't appreciate just how they have done it until you go, says producing artistic director Eric Davis. "People should expect the unexpected," he said in an interview before the start of the season. "They should expect to be surprised."

The theater might just plant little symbols of some kind well beyond its boundaries, which would be a very Freefall thing to do. Just what that is, we don't know yet. Davis hinted that anyone walking or driving around St. Petersburg "may experience things around town after they've seen the piece," or even if they haven't seen it. Either way, the show looks enticing. freefalltheatre.com.

Spamalot April 13-May 8, Jitney JaN. 20-Feb. 21, American Stage

This Monty Python parody of the legend of King Arthur is this year's in-the-park production at St. Petersburg's Demens Landing. Audiences are encouraged to let their cellphones ring away, but are warned that some sword-bearing knights might not be as forgiving. Though given a golden boost by the Monty Python name, Spamalot is pretty much a solo piece by Python alum Eric Idle. It's irredeemably silly, with flying cows and medieval battle centering on a "Trojan rabbit," but that's part of its charm. Coming up soon (Jan. 20-Feb. 21): Jitney by August Wilson explores an unlicensed taxi business in a Pittsburgh African-American community in the 1970s. americanstage.org.

Classical music and opera

The St. Petersburg Opera Company gives us Mozart's The Abduction from the Seraglio (Feb. 5, 7 and 9 at the Palladium), which is light and lively despite being full of good, old-fashioned sex and violence. stpeteopera.org. Then Opera Tampa, the resident company at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, presents Cosi Fan Tutte (Feb. 19 and 21). You can see it come together at open rehearsals with maestro Daniel Lipton Feb. 2, 4, 9 or 11. strazcenter.org. In the meantime, the Florida Orchestra's Masterworks concerts celebrate Mozart (Jan. 22-24), Beethoven (Feb. 19 and 21) and Brahms (March 11-13). floridaorchestra.org.

Or watch it on the big screen

On three Sundays in 2016, catch broadcasts from London to more than 1,100 venues around the world, including the Straz Center. The first two, Skylight (Jan. 17) and The Audience (March 20), look plenty good. But I'm most looking forward to seeing Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role of Hamlet on May 15. Check out similar experiences through the Metropolitan Opera, with links to participating local theaters at metopera.org/season/in-cinemas.

Let us help you: The biggest Tampa Bay arts and entertainment stories to watch in 2016 12/29/15 [Last modified: Thursday, December 31, 2015 3:00pm]
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