John Fleming, Times Performing Arts Critic

John Fleming

John Fleming is a performing arts critic for the Tampa Bay Times. His beat ranges from community theater to Broadway, modern dance to symphony orchestras. A onetime business editor at Georgia Trend magazine in Atlanta, he frequently writes about the finances and politics of the arts. Twice he won first-place awards from the Florida Society of News Editors, in 2002 for criticism and in 2004 for beat reporting on the Florida Orchestra.

Fleming joined the Times in 1991. He has worked as a staff writer for Metropolis in Minneapolis-St. Paul and the Chicago Reader. He was an editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Sunday magazine. He reviews opera productions in Florida for Opera News. From 2001 to 2007, he was on the executive board of the Music Critics Association of North America. He was a judge for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in drama.

Phone: (727) 893-8716

Email: fleming@tampabay.com

  1. Review: Rare 'Jerusalem' stands out at Sarasota Opera

    Stage

    SARASOTA — Jerusalem is a showcase for its prima donna, and Danielle Walker was rightly the star of last Saturday's opening of the early Verdi melodrama at Sarasota Opera. The soprano brought passionate conviction to the huge role, which includes three arias, a duet and a trio, as well as a prominent voice in many ensembles. Her scintillating performance helped to make the case that this seldom staged work deserves to be considered more than simply a footnote to Verdi's familiar masterpieces....

    Danielle Walker is a standout as Helene in the Sarasota Opera production.
  2. Sarasota Opera stages rare Verdi opera set in the Middle Ages

    Stage

    An obscure 19th century opera, which was the revised version of an equally obscure opera, is the most anticipated work of the season?

    Only at Sarasota Opera, and only if the opera is by Verdi.

    Artistic director Victor DeRenzi and his company in Sarasota have added one more notch to their Verdi Cycle with a rare production of Jerusalem, a melodrama set in the Middle Ages during the Crusades that opened Saturday night at the opera house whose patron saint has become the great Italian composer....

    Soprano Danielle Walker as Helene, tenor Heath Huberg as Gaston, and bass Young Bok Kim as Roger in Verdi’s Jerusalem.
  3. Interview: For famed violinist Itzhak Perlman, spontaneity keeps the music fresh

    Music & Concerts

    At a recital given by Itzhak Perlman, you'll always hear the classics, such as the sonatas by Beethoven (No. 3 in E flat) and Franck that are on the violinist's program Saturday night at the Straz Center. But you're also likely to hear music from composers who aren't exactly household names anymore (if they ever were), such as Jean-Marie Leclair or Giovanni Martini or Francois Francoeur or Franz Ries. Often these pieces are charming, flashy showstoppers, such as Antonio Bazzini's Dance of the Goblins or Giuseppe Tartini's Devil's Trill. ...

    Violinist Itzhak Perlman: “What I try to do is I try to really just concentrate always on the music, not the way I played. The minute you concentrate on the music, then you have freshness all the time.”
  4. Review: Believe in the magic of 'The Book of Mormon'

    Stage

    In a simple, bald-faced telling of its story, The Book of Mormon sounds awfully daring, even dangerous. How could a show ever get away with African villagers giving God the middle finger? Or baptism being likened to sex? Or Jesus crudely calling a missionary a certain part of male anatomy?

    And then there's the big Mormon pageant about female genital mutilation, dysentery, AIDS and an unmentionable act done to babies and frogs....

    Elder Price (Mark Evans) and Elder Cunningham (Christopher John O’Neill) are a pair of 19-year-old Mormon missionaries.  
  5. Provocative, hilarious 'Book of Mormon' coming to the Straz

    Stage

    Mormons plus South Park plus musical theater equals the biggest Broadway hit in years, The Book of Mormon.

    Inspired by the sacred text of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it's also the raunchiest show ever, relying on profane shock value for a lot of its laughs, such as a number that features the lyric "F--- you, God!" There's an African warlord character named Gen. Butt-F------ Naked. No religious sentiment goes unmocked, as in Man Up, in which a callow Mormon missionary summons the courage to save some souls: "And just like Jesus, I'm growing a pair!"...

    Mark Evans plays Elder Price in The Book of Mormon. He said of the musical: “People find it shocking because they feel like they shouldn’t be laughing at it, even though they find it highly amusing.”
  6. The odd couple of 'The Book of Mormon'

    Stage

    BY JOHN FLEMING

    Times Correspondent

    In many ways, The Book of Mormon fits the formula of an old-fashioned buddy movie — think Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in, say, Road to Zanzibar — as it recounts the story of two mismatched 19-year-old Mormon missionaries sent from Utah to save some souls in Uganda.

    Elder Price and Elder Cunningham are indeed an odd couple. Price is an upright alpha type, while Cunningham is a schlub who hasn't even read the Mormons' sacred text. In seeking to convert the Ugandans, Cunningham invents his own theology, drawn from Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings and other pop culture. It's all filtered through the irreverent sensibilities of the musical's creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, whose comic talents were honed on their long-running animated TV show, South Park, along with Robert Lopez, who wrote music and lyrics for Avenue Q....

    Mark Evans plays Elder Price in the hilarious Book of Mormon. The Welsh native is the first Brit to take the American role.
  7. Full immersion in Wagner, 'Ring' cycle at Bayreuth Festival

    Stage

    BAYREUTH, Germany

    In the beginning was the sound. I had expected to be overwhelmed by the E-flat major chords before the curtain goes up on Das Rheingold, with the orchestra's lower strings rising out of the darkness to suggest the depths of the Rhine River. This comes in the opening of Wagner's first installment in his four-opera, 16-hour cycle The Ring of the Nibelung.

    I had been imagining the moment for months and here it finally was, in the hallowed Festspielhaus, or festival theater, that Wagner had designed and built atop Bayreuth's bucolic Green Hill for the performance of his own works, and especially the Ring cycle....

    This is Mount Rushmore reimagined as a Communist icon in a scene from Siegfried, the third opera in Richard Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung, at the 2013 Bayreuth Festival in Germany. Canadian tenor Lance Ryan, left, is joined by British soprano Catherine Foster. 
  8. Steve Martin's 'The Underpants' among top picks for stage

    Stage

    'The Underpants'

    In the last 20 years or so, Steve Martin has created quite a large body of literary work, from novels and short stories to a memoir to plays. The Underpants is his 2002 adaptation of a German Expressionist farce by Carl Sternheim whose theme is summed up by a remark made by one of its characters: "Never underestimate the power of a glimpse of lingerie." The comedy is being staged by Florida Studio Theatre, 1241 N Palm Ave., Sarasota, opening Friday and running through July 28. Bruce Jordan directed the production that features Gil Brady, Daryl Embry, Jennifer Joan Thompson, Mary Ann Conk, Danny Bernardy and Chet Carlin. Preview tonight. $18-$42. (941) 366-9000; floridastudiotheatre.org....

    Photo by Maria Lyle
  9. St. Petersburg Opera presents 'The Medium'

    Stage

    BY JOHN FLEMING

    Times Performing Arts Critic

    Many people unfamiliar with opera know the work of Gian Carlo Menotti because he composed Amahl and the Night Visitors, which debuted on Christmas Eve 1951 in an NBC broadcast and became a seasonal staple on TV and in stage productions. Menotti wrote other operas — as well as founded the Spoleto arts festival in Charleston, S.C. — and now St. Petersburg Opera is presenting one of them, The Medium....

    Melissa Misener plays psychic Madame Flora, who profits from fake seances.
  10. Tony nominee Mary Testa stars in 'My Brilliant Divorce'

    Stage

    Broadway star Mary Testa stars in My Brilliant Divorce, a one-woman show by Irish playwright Geraldine Aron that is receiving its second major U.S. production at Asolo Repertory Theatre. Directed by Asolo producing artistic director Michael Donald Edwards, it's a comic account of a middle-aged wife and mother named Angela, left high and dry in London by her husband, who has run off with his lover. Should Angela fight to keep her husband or sign the divorce papers and move on? Testa is a two-time Tony Award nominee for performances in On the Town and 42nd Street. Her solo show runs through July 14 at the Asolo, 5555 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. $20-$72. (941) 351-8000 or toll-free 1-800-361-8388; asolorep.org....

  11. John Fleming retires as Tampa Bay Times performing arts critic

    Stage

    It was 22 years ago that I moved from Atlanta to become the Tampa Bay Times performing arts critic, and now the curtain is coming down on what has been one of the most enjoyable, educational and gratifying experiences in my career as a journalist. I turned 66 in January and decided it was about time to see what it would be like not to have deadlines — at least the newspaper kind — hanging over me....

    John Fleming poses for a portrait in Morsani Hall at the Straz Center in Tampa. Fleming is retiring from his position as performing arts critic for the Times.
  12. Pianist Lang Lang leads Ruth Eckerd Hall series schedule

    Stage

    Times Performing Arts Critic

    Lang Lang, the superstar Chinese pianist, tops the schedule of Ruth Eckerd Hall's 2013-14 World Stage Series. He'll give a recital Feb. 24 at the Clearwater hall.

    The schedule, released Friday, also includes performances at the Capitol Theatre, the downtown Clearwater venue under renovation..

    Lang Lang (pronounced Long Long) is no stranger to the bay area. Before his career took off, the pianist was a soloist in three programs with the Florida Orchestra, beginning as a 17-year-old in 2000. He also gave a recital in Tampa....

  13. Jasper String Quartet to play Beethoven at Museum of Fine Arts

    Music & Concerts

    An up and coming string quartet will play Beethoven this weekend in St. Petersburg. The Jasper String Quartet, winner of the 2012 Cleveland Quartet Award, consists of violinists J. Freivogel and Sae Chonabayashi, violist Sam Quintal and cellist Rachel Henderson Freivogel. They'll play the Beethoven Op. 18 quartet in C minor and the mighty Op. 131 quartet in C sharp minor (which Schubert requested to hear on his deathbed). The group — named after Jasper National Park in Canada — will also perform a pair of works by Webern, Langsamer Satz and Five Movements for String Quartet, in the concert at 2 p.m. Sunday in the Marly Room of the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg. $20 and $10 for students 22 and under; museum admission included. (727) 896-2667; fine-arts.org....

    Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg
  14. 'West Side Story' among top stage picks

    Stage

    'West Side Story'

    The Sharks and Jets battle it out in the revival of West Side Story that playwright Arthur Laurents revised and directed before he died in 2011. The big news was that Laurents — part of the 1957 musical's legendary creative team with Leonard Bernstein (music), Stephen Sondheim (lyrics) and Jerome Robbins (direction and choreography) — incorporated Spanish into the dialogue and song lyrics of the Puerto Rican characters, such as I Feel Pretty/Me Siento Hermosa, though some of that has been changed back to the original English. A touring production, with Addison Reid Coe as Tony and Maryjoanna Grisso as Maria, opens Friday and has five shows through Sunday at Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater. $50-$70. (727) 791-7400; rutheckerdhall.com....

    A production of West Side Story.
  15. Maks Chmerkovskiy, Mary Murphy, Tony Dovolani to be at dance party

    Stage

    They're calling it "An Afternoon in Havana," at the Coliseum in downtown St. Petersburg, but the hottest part might be the hosts — namely Maks Chmerkovskiy of Dancing With the Stars bad-boy fame. He'll be joined by Mary Murphy (So You Think You Can Dance) and DWTS's Tony Dovolani. The music's not bad either. Orquesta Aragón is a Cuban band whose lineage goes back to the glory days of Havana nightlife. The party celebrates the end of the five-day Millennium Dancesport Championship that's taking place at the Marriott Tampa Waterside this week, where the trio is serving as judges. The dance championship runs through Saturday with top competitors from around the world; $25-$150; (863) 668-9668; 8 a.m.-8 p.m. today, 8 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday. At the Coliseum party, which is from 2 to 6 p.m. Sunday, there will be Latin dance stars, Cuban food and drink, plus a courtyard for cigar smoking. Tickets for reserved table seating are $70-$145. (727) 538-7750; afternooninhavana.com....

    Tony Dovolani and Melissa Rycroft