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Stage Planner: Graphic novel come to the stage, orchestra fetes U2 and Feinstein


Actor, writer and director Jason Neulander was out of work in 2009, trying to stay afloat in Austin, Texas. He had founded an avant-garde theater company there and left it years later. Things looked bleak.

"The economy had collapsed," said Neulander, 46. "I was begging for a job."

The struggling artist had one last card to play. Years earlier, Neulander and his group of friends had concocted a radio play about a daring reporter and her assistant who were uncovering menacing aliens about to take over the planet.

"It was a lark," he said. "We never thought anything would come of it."

Neulander had since adapted Intergalactic Nemesis: Target Earth for the stage. Three actors voiced dozens of parts in a campy comic book romp straight out of pulp novels of the 1940s. The show was a hit at local coffeehouses but wasn't putting much cash in his pocket.

Then a performing arts center in Austin took an interest in the show. The hall's 2,400 seats seemed way too many, though. How could he put on this coffeehouse-sized play without being dwarfed by the venue?

"In a flash, within half a second, I had a vision of creating a visual dimension by projecting comic book art the size of the proscenium," Neulander said. Huge panels would illustrate what the actors are talking about, minus the word balloons.

"The executive director serendipitously said, 'That's funny, we just bought an expensive projection device and we were thinking of ways to use it.' That's how the live-action format got born."

You can experience the result Thursday, when Intergalactic Nemesis: Target Earth comes to the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. The show — a mashup of pulp science fiction, theater, radio drama and comic books — has taken off since Neulander's epiphany.

A pianist supplies a cinematic score. A Foley artist re-creates scores of sound effects with household objects. And over the heads of the radio actors, more than 1,250 color panels by artist Tim Doyle illustrate the action. It's a family-friendly show, Neulander said, with nothing more salacious than monsters that are acid to the touch and want to kill us all.

"The coolest part of the show is the broad demographic range," he said. "People come with their kids, but you also get a newcomer culture of comic book fans, singles and millennials coming out, and people who remember radio plays growing up. It's an amazing swath of human beings." The show starts at 8 p.m. Thursday at Ferguson Hall, the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. $30-$45. (813) 229-7827.


The Florida Orchestra pays tribute Friday to U2, the rock band that has won a record 22 Grammys. Brent Havens conducts as the orchestra performs hits including One, Beautiful Day, So Cruel, Pride, and Sunday, Bloody Sunday. On vocals, the concert features cover artist Brody Dolyniuk, who has led tribute bands to Elton John, Queen, the Who and the Rolling Stones. The concert starts at 8 p.m. at the Mahaffey Theater, 400 First St. S, St. Petersburg. $35-$65. (727) 892-5798.

On Saturday, the orchestra hosts its second annual fundraising gala (last year's showstopper featured Yo-Yo Ma). After a champagne reception, the evening kicks into full swing with multiplatinum singer and pianist Michael Feinstein with the orchestra directed by Michael Francis. Festivities conclude with a post-concert dinner. The gala starts at 7 p.m. at the Mahaffey Theater, 400 First St. S, St. Petersburg. Last year's gala sold out, but there are still tickets available for this year's. $50-$150. (727) 892-3337.

Feinstein, whose venues have included Carnegie Hall, the Sydney Opera House and the White House, returns to the area Feb. 18, bringing his Swing Me a Love Song concert to Sarasota's Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. That show starts at 8 p.m. at the hall, 777 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. $35-$75. (941) 953-3368.

The orchestra continues a proactive style of outreach under Francis, who is midway through his first season as the new music director. From 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Francis and the orchestra lead a pay-what-you-can presentation on Beethoven's Symphony No. 5. The event is open to the public and includes elements of lecture, question and answer and a complete performance of the symphony at the University of South Florida School of Music, 4202 E Fowler Ave., Tampa.


They sing like angels and look like movie stars. The Tenors, a crossover Canadian quartet with popular appeal and operatic chops, have opened for Paul McCartney, Andrea Bocelli and Sheryl Crow, among many others. They've performed for Oprah, the White House and Queen Elizabeth.

On Sunday, the Tenors stop by Clearwater, part of their Under One Sky tour. "Our goal is longevity, to be doing this in 15 to 20 years' time," said Clifton Murray, one of the four singers. "The only way to do this is to create memorable music that people cherish."

The show starts at 7 p.m. Sunday at Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 N McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater. $33.75 to $125. (727) 791-7400.

Stage Planner: Graphic novel come to the stage, orchestra fetes U2 and Feinstein 01/27/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 27, 2016 11:22am]
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