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Stage Planner: Florida Orchestra opens with Rachmaninoff, Amy Schumer at Oddball, zombies at Freefall


The Florida Orchestra starts its 2015-16 season this weekend. The performance of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 is about more than the Russian composer, or even the piece considered so demanding it drove Australian pianist David Helfgott crazy in the biographical movie, Shine, starring Geoffrey Rush.

The round of concerts, which starts Friday, marks the debut of music director Michael Francis.

Francis, 39, joins the orchestra three years after the departure of Stefan Sanderling. In a recent interview, he told me what he thinks about Rachmaninoff's 3rd concerto.

"It is a mountainous and momentous piece, but equally it's also one the integrative and intimate, a true epic in its scale and nature," Francis said.

Francis has great respect for pianist Valentina Lisitsa, left, who will play the concerto. Lisitsa, 41, drew attention to her ability several years ago by uploading videos of her playing on YouTube. She met Francis when he was with the London Symphony Orchestra, and has performed Rachmaninoff with him in London, Cincinnati and elsewhere. She has also come under fire for some of her incendiary political tweets (read more at

She plays the concerto a little faster than many other pianists so, Francis said, a result of listening to Sergei Rachmaninoff playing it himself.

"She listened to how he does it," said Francis. "She thought, 'We have a perfect document of how he wanted it to be played.' She really tried to appreciate his life, his style, his music."

See the Florida Orchestra perform the concerto on a program that also includes Aaron Copland's Symphony No. 3 at 8 p.m. Friday at the Straz Center, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa; 8 p.m. Saturday at the Mahaffey Theater, 400 First St. S, St. Petersburg; or 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 N McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater. $15-$45.


Freefall Theatre opens its season Friday with The Importance of Being Earnest with Zombies, an adaptation by artistic director Eric Davis of the Oscar Wilde play.

In turning a play about staid Victorian society into horror, Davis follows a pair of 2009 novels, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. In the former, sea creatures have aligned against mankind and a wealthy man is fatally attacked by a hammerhead shark.

Davis told me recently that he adapted the play for fun but saw even greater possibilities in developing it.

"We are excited about the way zombies really heighten the situation," said Davis. The show opens in Algernon Moncrieff's flat, the same way The Importance of Being Earnest begins. But zombies hijack the characters, as well as the direction of the play.

"A diseased zombie plague is slowly taking over," Davis said.

See it Friday through Nov. 1 at 6099 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. $21-$48. (727) 498-5205.


More than 20 comedians, including Amy Schumer and Aziz Ansari, will appear Saturday at the Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival in Tampa. The Oddball fest, presented by Funny or Die, is in its third year, this time hosted by Ansari of NBC's Parks and Recreation. Schumer's envelope-pushing career has never been hotter, with a fresh Emmy for Inside Amy Schumer on Comedy Central, a mutlimillion-dollar book deal and the box office success of the movie Trainwreck. Other comics to appear Saturday include Anthony Jeselnik, Ashley Barnhill, Bridget Everett, Dave Attell, Donnell Rawlings, Jay Pharoah, Jeff Ross, Jim Norton, John Mulaney, Michael Che, Nick Kroll, Nick Thune, Nikki Glaser, Rachel Feinstein, Rory Scovel, Sebastian Maniscalco, Tim Minchin, T.J. Miller and Todd Barr. Catch the Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival starting at 5:15 p.m. at the MidFlorida Credit Union Ampitheatre, 4802 N U.S. 301, Tampa. Tickets start at $59.


The pianist and composer Hiromi Uehara, an eclectic artist who blends classical, progressive rock, jazz fusion and other styles into her compositions, performs Tuesday at the Largo Cultural Center. The Japanese-born pianist combines original works with adaptations of classical music, such as a jazzy rendition of Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 8, Pathetique. This time Hiromi will appear as part of the Trio Project she formed with bassist Anthony Jackson, who has played with Paul Simon, The O'Jays, Steely Dan and Chick Corea) and drummer Simon Phillips (Toto, The Who, Judas Priest, David Gilmour and Jack Bruce).

Hiromi released a 2011 album called Voice — a statement, she says on her website, about instrumental music: "I called this album Voice because I believe that people's real voices are expressed in their emotions. It's not something that you really say. It's more something that you have in your heart. Maybe it's something you haven't said yet. Maybe you're never going to say it. But it's your true voice."

See Hiromi: The Trio Project at 7:30 p.m. 105 Central Park Drive, Largo. $34.50-$49.50. (727) 587-6793.

Stage Planner: Florida Orchestra opens with Rachmaninoff, Amy Schumer at Oddball, zombies at Freefall 09/30/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 30, 2015 11:42am]
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