WORTH THE FARE: 'JITNEY'
In his 20s, trying to survive as actor in New York, Kim Sullivan did what any dedicated-to-a-fault artist would do: He drove a cab.
That experience and many others help Sullivan play the role of Turnbo in August Wilson's Jitney, which opens this weekend at American Stage.
"What gets anybody is the constant sitting behind the wheel," said Sullivan, 63. While a student at Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin High, Sullivan was discovered by Tony-winning director Lloyd Richards (who also mentored August Wilson) and awarded a scholarship to New York University.
Jitney is directed by L. Peter Callender, artistic director of the African-American Shakespeare Company in San Francisco. Set in the 1970s in Pittsburgh's gentrifying Hill District, the play delves into the lively world of gypsy cab drivers operating out of a shell of a building, and the men who make fares going where white drivers would not.
This is Sullivan's ninth production in the August Wilson Century Cycle. Turnbo, he said, is a "straight-up villain" who uses a gentlemanly front to work his purposes.
He decided long ago his career as a New York cabbie was never going to pan out.
"I lasted a year, tops," the actor said. "I figured out, 'I've got to get my life in order.' "
The show runs through Feb. 21 at 163 Third Street N, St. Petersburg. $29-$59, $20 students. (727) 823-7529. americanstage.org
STRAZ GOES ALL OUT: THE LION KING
Disney's The Lion King, a perpetual favorite on Broadway, is in town. The show's weekslong engagement at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts contrasts with more typical touring Broadway run of six days or so. The show features so many costumes and props it requires an additional two semi-trailers full to set up in advance at the next tour stop while this one is playing, stage manager Michael Morales told the Times. Directed by Tony winner Julie Taymor, the show features music by Elton John and lyrics by Oscar winner Tim Rice.
The show runs through Feb. 14 at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. $35-$195. (813) 229-7827. strazcenter.org.
THEM BONES: THIRD CONSTRUCTION
Mozart and More, the Masterworks concert this weekend by the Florida Orchestra, includes an unusual contemporary work that changes a little each time it is performed. Third Construction by John Cage allows the orchestra's four full-time percussionists to play a variety of instruments in what might be the most original drum solo you've ever heard.
Principal percussionist John Shaw, principal timpani artist John Bannon and percussionists Dave Coash and Kurt Grissom play snare drums, congas and cowbell, but after that the instruments look more like a garage sale. We're talking beer kegs, pill bottles, a "donkey's jawbone," paint cans and more.
Concerts are at 8 p.m. Friday at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, 8 p.m. Saturday at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. $15-$45. (727) 892-3337.
INCREASINGLY RARE: MARILYN KEISER
For every story about playing the pipe organ being a dying art, there are exceptions like Marilyn Keiser. An emerita professor at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, Keiser is one of those teachers who left lasting impressions on her students, including music director Dwight Thomas of the Cathedral of St. Peter. Keiser will perform at a downtown St. Petersburg church Sunday.
Her concert includes preludes by Johannes Bach and the work of legendary organist and composer Maurice Duruflé, as well as composers William Henry Harris and Dan Locklair. Keiser performs at 5 p.m. Sunday the Cathedral Church of St. Peter, 140 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg. Suggested donation $10.
LOCAL TALENT: BENJAMIN PILA
He has performed for presidents and the pope, and now classical guitarist and Tampa native Benjamin Pila is swinging through his hometown. A graduate of Florida State University, the Juilliard School and the University of Southern California, Pila was chosen to play at a 2015 interfaith meeting led by Pope Francis at New York's National September 11 Memorial and Museum. He has also played for presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. At Hillsborough Community College, he will play some of the same pieces he performed for the pope. Pila's concert starts at 8 p.m. Friday in the auditorium of the Brandon campus, 10414 E Columbus Drive, Brandon. $10, free to students with ID. benpila.com.
LIFE IS A CABARET:ALAN CUMMING
Want to hear Alan Cumming sing some sappy songs? That's up for interpretation. "In America, 'sappy' has a different meaning," the star of film, TV and stage told me recently. "To me, sappy means sentiment, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Where I come from, we feel things, we bring things to the surface. The way I do it is more aggressive than people realize." See Cumming perform at the Straz Center at 7 p.m. Sunday. $35.50-$55.50.