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Stage planner: Cirque with assist from James Cameron, '4,000 Miles' at American Stage

CIRQUE DU SOLEIL: TORUK

Cirque du Soleil is billing its latest show as a ground breaker, and it's not hard to imagine why. Toruk — The First Flight got a creative assist from James Cameron, who directed Avatar; Toruk is a prequel to that movie. The director met with Cirque directors and cast over several months, impressing all behind the scenes with his gentle style and clarity of vision.

"I've been around the block," said Cirque artistic director Fabrice Lemire, who has also directed ballet and opera, "and when you meet such a master in his field, you believe this person's got a big ego, it's going to be my way or no way. I found out he is the opposite of all that. The gentleman is extremely charismatic. … He never tried to force something down our throat. He would always give us feedback and just let us move forward with our ideas."

The story set in Pandora starts thousands of years before the events in Avatar. Two humanlike boys, Ralu and Entu, must climb the floating mountains and overcome a mighty predator in order to save the Tree of Souls. The entire arena becomes part of the set, with 40 projectors creating starry skies, massive waves and deep jungles.

"When you are getting close to a blockbuster, we could have missed," Lemire said. "We had to really completely align ourselves with the world and the universe that James Cameron created."

Toruk starts at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and runs through Sunday at Amalie Arena, 401 Channelside Drive, Tampa. Tickets start at $40. (813) 301-6500. amaliearena.com.

FOR THE AGES: 4,000 MILES

In the show opening this weekend at American Stage, a crisis brings a young bicyclist to his grandmother's Greenwich Village apartment, and newly formed relationships help keep him there for a month. Amy Herzog's 4,000 Miles was a Pulitzer finalist, exploring contrasts between age and wisdom without venturing into sentimentality.

"The central conflict is coexisting, understanding, listening," said Casey Worthington, who plays Leo, the young man. Though Leo and his grandmother, Vera (played by Janis Stevens), are related, he added, "How do you find that relationship that is just two people together?"

The 90-minute play takes place in the apartment, so the "space" and the relationship affect and mirror one another.

The two other cast members, Maya Neff and Dani Faitelson, magnify the age theme.

"I think it's just a universal theme for young people," Neff said. "We're all between 19 and 21. It's that idea that as you're coming into adulthood, you've spent your childhood observing these roles. You see father, mother, grandmother, adult. They have these titles. You have a relationship, but you don't have any sort of meaningful connection. There's no humanity."

The show runs Friday through April 10 at American Stage Theatre Company, 163 Third St. N, St. Petersburg. $39-$59. (727) 823-7529. americanstage.org.

Bike ride: With cycling as a theme in the show, American Stage is partnering with ABC Bicycles to put on a 20-mile "community fun ride" Sunday through St. Petersburg. Ride with actors and creative staff starting at 10 a.m. Sunday from ABC Bicycles, 6633 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. A strategically placed stop at Green Bench Brewing arrives just in time to quench your thirst and enjoy a beer tasting event.

SARASOTA OPERA:

HISTORIC VERDI RUN ENDS

The Sarasota Opera wraps up a stunning achievement this weekend with Verdi Festival Week. After this week, artistic director Victor DeRenzi and the Sarasota Opera will have staged "fully staged productions of every opera written by the prolific Italian composer, including the many revisions he made over his lifespan of 87 years," according to the Associated Press. This weekend features performances of The Battle of Legnano (7:30 p.m. Friday) and Aida (Saturday) as well as a series of concerts and presentations leading up to the Verdi Grand Finale Concert (7 p.m. Sunday) at the Sarsaota Opera House, 61 N Pineapple Ave. The project took 27 years to complete. "To my knowledge, no other company in Europe or America has done what Victor has done in Sarasota," musicologist Philip Gossett told the Associated Press. For a full schedule of events and prices, contact the box office at (941) 328-1300 or see sarasotaopera.org.

LOCAL TALENT: CARISSA FIORILLO

On one of her last swings through town, New Port Richey native Carissa Fiorillo was dancing with the Rockettes at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. She has been dancing since age 3 and was a dance captain at River Ridge High.

In 2007, her mother entered an essay contest sponsored by the Rockettes, about the closure of her daughter's dance studio. The prize: a dance lesson with a Rockette. Fiorillo, 24, parlayed that opportunity into a career, first with the Rockettes and then in the touring Broadway show of Guys and Dolls. She will be part of the ensemble in Bullets Over Broadway this weekend at Ruth Eckerd Hall. Set in 1928, Bullets Over Broadway pits a young playwright against a gangster, who agrees to finance a new play in exchange for casting his untalented girlfriend in the lead role.

"It's such a hilarious comedy," Fiorillo said. "The show will literally have you laughing all the way through."

Fun fact: Former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Michael Clayton has a walk-on role in the show.

Bullets Over Broadway starts at 4 p.m. Sunday at Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 N McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater. Tickets start at $35. (727) 791-7400. rutheckerdhall.com.

Stage planner: Cirque with assist from James Cameron, '4,000 Miles' at American Stage 03/16/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 16, 2016 11:21am]
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