BROADWAY BOUND: GOTTA DO NEIL
Sometime last fall, Stageworks Theatre producing artistic director Karla Hartley announced the season's lineup before a performance and mentioned Broadway Bound. I can't remember exactly how she introduced the play that opens this weekend, sandwiched between Inherit the Wind and 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche, but it sounded something like, "We're doing Neil Simon, because why not? It's Neil Simon." Which got a chuckle from the crowd.
Broadway Bound is the third of a semiautobiographical "Eugene trilogy" by Simon, so named for the lead character Eugene Jerome. Within the last several years, Stageworks has already produced the other two, Brighton Beach Memoirs and Biloxi Blues. Broadway Bound follows his beginnings as a comedy writer.
Ricky Cona played Eugene in each of the previous shows, and returns to the role this weekend.
Cona, 30, was most recently seen at Stageworks playing three roles in the comedy Sylvia. A Tampa native (he graduated from Gaither High), he now lives in Orlando and performs at Universal Studios. Something about Simon's inside humor and depictions of family life have made him feel at home.
"I totally relate to his type of humor," Cona said. "I grew up in an Italian and Spanish family, and we are always joking and playing around with each other. Something about the way the jokes hit reminds me of my family."
The cast also includes Paul Finocchiaro, Rosemary Orlando, Heather Krueger, Greg Thompson and Spencer Meyers. The show starts at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday. It runs through May 15 at 1120 E Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. $30-$40. (813) 374-2416. stageworkstheatre.org.
TAMPA REPERTORY: SILENT SKY
Tampa Repertory Theatre is opening its next-to-last play of the season, a new work by Lauren Gunderson, one of the hottest emerging playwrights on the national scene.
Silent Sky, which traces the work of astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, figures to be brain food for science geeks as well as an inspiring tale. Between 1900 and 1920, from her New England home to the observatory at Harvard University, Leavitt and a cluster of other women helped to map the night sky.
In particular, the "human computers," as the women were dubbed, broke ground in determining the distance of stars from Earth. Emilia Sargent, right, plays Henrietta. The cast also features Karissa Barber, far right, Derrick Phillips, Caroline Jett and Lynne Locher. Connie LaMarca-Frankel directs.
Silent Sky starts at 7:30 Thursday night and continues through May 22 at the Smith Black Box Theatre, Tampa Preparatory School, 727 W Cass St., Tampa. $20, $15 students and military. tamparep.org.
IN THE WINGS: NEAL BURKS
Neal Burks isn't sure where he's going to be five years from now. Who among us can be? (And isn't that an Amway recruiting question, anyway?)
It's in the DNA of teenagers not to know.
Come this weekend, however, the 15-year-old dancer will be on stage at the Patel Conservatory's ballet, Giselle. Directed by Patel's artistic director Philip Neal and ballet mistress Ivonne Lemus, the story follows a peasant girl who dies of a broken heart but gets a second chance at life. Neal plays one of a half-dozen peasants in Saturday's performance.
Ballet is still undernourished when it comes to African-American dancers. Because of its relative scarcity in schools and community programs compared to, say, team sports, talent can easily go undiscovered. Fortunately, a teacher noticed Neal's movement at 7 and encouraged him to take up dance. He lives in Jacksonville and studies online while developing his craft.
"I like to make the audience proud, to leave them in the spirit," he said.
An added bonus this weekend: Neal's mother, Makeda Oates, who works for a civilian contractor in Afghanistan, will be home in time to see him perform. Giselle starts at 7 p.m. Friday and 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday at the Patel Conservatory at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. $20-$45. (813) 229-7827. strazcenter.org.
WEAR THAT DRESS: THE POLICE EXPERIENCE
The Florida Orchestra has saluted U2, Led Zeppelin and the video game Final Fantasy. The popular outreach continues this weekendwith The Police Experience, a tribute to the 1970s and 1980s that consisted of Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland. A cover band will join the orchestra for performances of the post-punk icon's five-album legacy, four of which made a list of top 500 albums of all time, compiled by Rolling Stone. Selections include Roxanne, Walking on the Moon, Every Breath You Take, Message in a Bottle, Don't Stand So Close to Me and more. It starts at 8 p.m. Friday at the Mahaffey Theater, 400 First St. S, St. Petersburg. $35-$65. (727) 892-5798. themahaffey.com.