On-stage seating is not new. Plays have offered it over the years, often as an interactive part of the production.
But "joining" the cast of the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee feels very different from sitting side-by-side with the Florida Orchestra, which for the first time ever is offering limited on-stage seating this week for Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 concert.
For one thing, the guy sitting next to you will be impeccably dressed in white tie and tails performing a classical masterpiece. And what will you wear, tucked next to the brass section?
Not jeans. Just in case, the orchestra will issue etiquette guidelines along with your ticket. The dress code is business formal, with no open-toed shoes. And don't expect to slide in at the last minute, because you must be escorted on stage.
You'll also want to think twice about rummaging in your purse for a mint. No chitchatting with the piccolo player. And if the music soothes you into dreamland? Awkward. People are watching.
That includes the conductor, which is what makes it so cool, right? You'll be face-to-face with the baton, and so close to the violins you could practically touch the music (uh, don't). The sound may not be quite the same, but you'll feel the vibration of the double basses or, this week, the piano. Priceless for a music lover.
There are six on-stage seats (sold out) this week for Straz and Mahaffey shows, but none at Ruth Eckerd Hall because of the smaller stage. More seats at $75 each are available for five other concerts: Elgar's Cello Concerto (Nov. 22-24), Bravo Beethoven! (Jan. 10-12), Bartok & Brahms (Jan. 24), Mozart, Diamond & Brahms (April 11-12) and Tchaikovsky's Pathetique (May 16-17). On-stage seating is available at only two Ruth Eckerd Hall concerts. The number of seats will vary by concert, but it can go up to about 20, depending on how many musicians are required.
The guest pianist for the Tchaikovsky concerto is Stephen Hough, an accomplished pianist, writer and composer who also won a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship or "genius grant." Also on the program are Rossini's Overture to La Gazza Ladra and Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra showcasing the virtuosic talents in each section of the orchestra. Teddy Abrams returns to guest conduct.
Concerts are at 8 p.m. Friday at the Straz Center in Tampa, 8 p.m. Saturday at the Mahaffey in St. Petersburg and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. $15-$75. (727) 892-3337 or toll-free 1-800-662-7286.
Kelly Smith, Times staff writer