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1997-98 SEASON // TBPAC gives its regards to Broadway

Broadway shows are the franchise at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. As was previously announced, national tours such as Chicago (Dec. 16-28), Show Boat (Feb. 15-March 21) and Rent (April 8-19) will draw as many as 12,000 subscribers to the four-theater complex in the 1997-98 season. And that doesn't even take into account ticket buyers who will flock to the return of The Phantom of the Opera (Sept. 24-Oct. 26) as a non-subscription offering.

The Broadway series, co-produced by Pace Theatrical Group and TBPAC, gives the center a powerful advantage in putting together a lineup of presentations for next season, whose schedule is released today.

"We start with the Broadway shows because they're the biggest, and then we always have to leave room for pop acts that can be booked on short notice _ a singer or band who's hot," said executive director Judith Lisi. "The other stuff is finding out what's really interesting that you think might connect in some ways with audiences here."

So what does Lisi consider most interesting among the 1997-98 offerings?

"Every year we try to develop new kind of programing, and next season it pertains to the traditional play," she said. "We don't really have a regional theater company in Tampa. We had a series of focus groups last year about how to create a new paradigm for doing plays."

The result is a series of plays that includes a TBPAC-produced staging of Paul Zindel's modern classic The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (Oct. 3-19), with a director to be announced. The series also includes Hal Holbrook in Mark Twain Tonight! (Jan. 24), Richard Dresser's Below the Belt (Feb. 6-March 1) and the European troupe UMO in El Dorado (April 17-May 3). Subscribers to these four plays also may get priority seating to the only non-musical on the Broadway series, Terrence McNally's Master Class (Nov. 18-23), with Faye Dunaway as Maria Callas.

Also in theater, there will be another cabaret show from Indianapolis' American Cabaret Theatre, whose Fabulous Fifties revue continues in the Jaeb Theater into June and then goes to the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach in August. Decades, which chronicles American pop music from the turn of the century to the present day, will play the Jaeb Jan. 24-March 29.

In what is becoming a TBPAC trademark, there are quite a few one-person shows. They range from John Hochenberry, formerly a commentator on National Public Radio and now on MSNBC, in Spoke Man (March 14), his monologue on being wheelchair-bound and going through a near-death experience, to the wide assortment of solo performers in the Bending Minds with Spoons Festival in March and April.

For the first time in several seasons, there is a high-profile ballet company at TBPAC. "The Bolshoi Ballet is a coup for us," Lisi said. "And this is the real Bolshoi _ with a letter from Boris Yeltsin himself saying so."

In recent years, what amounted to pickup companies of Russian dancers _ with a few onetime Bolshoi principals _ have toured the United Stages under the renowned name. The troupe of 50 dancers at TBPAC on April 5 will come with the pedigree of current Bolshoi artistic director Vladimir Vasiliev.

Other dance includes Pilobolus (Feb. 21), the Chinese Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company (March 11), David Parker Dance and the Bang Group (May 8-10) and a pair of bay area companies, Guadere Danza (Oct. 24-26) and Ballet Folklorico of Ybor (March 8).

One TBPAC dance engagement is bound to draw flak from Florida Orchestra supporters and fans of live music. The Nutcracker (Dec. 12-14) will be performed by the Sarasota Ballet to taped Tchaikovsky. In previous years, the orchestra has performed in the pit for the holiday ballet at the center.

"This is the Sarasota Ballet's choice,"' Lisi said. "It's their presentation, and they don't want to pay more for an orchestra than they can earn for the dancers. It's just not worth their while to do it." To have the orchestra play for the ballet costs an estimated minimum of $7,500 per performance.

The orchestra and the center will, however, collaborate for the third season on an opera. It's La Boheme (May 8-10), tied in with Broadway's rock musical smash Rent, which is modeled after the opera by Puccini. Previous operas, Madama Butterfly and Carmen, had three performances, but Lisi thinks La Boheme's wide appeal will justify adding a fourth show. Anton Coppola will again conduct, but with a new director, Jim Lucas.

The Irish folk group the Chieftains (April 21) tops the eclectic music programing. Quartetto Gelato, an unconventional classical ensemble from Toronto, gives a holiday concert in a return engagement Dec. 13, having played to a sold-out Playhouse in March. Brave Old World, a Klezmer group, performs April 30.

Looking back at the past season, Lisi counted herself lucky to avoid the cancellations of Broadway tours that hurt other performing arts centers. "We lucked out with Applause, we lucked out with Sunset Boulevard," she said, citing two shows that played TBPAC last fall before cutting short their tours. "There are some centers that now have huge holes in their schedules."

One of her disappointments was the slim turnout for a pair of African-American-themed performances. "We had some wonderful shows that weren't well attended, one of which was Having Our Say, with three shows doing maybe 50 percent of capacity. The Boys Choir of Harlem was another one."

Then there was Liza Minnelli, who canceled a three-concert engagement not once, not twice, but three times. "It created a huge problem in customer relations because they blame us," Lisi said. "Canceling once is one thing, but three times?"

TBPAC had to write off at least $30,000 in advertising for Minnelli's no-shows. "It was very disappointing," Lisi said. "I'm still smarting from it."

For ticket information, call 229-7827 or (800) 955-1045. The internet address is www.tampacenter.com. On June 14, patrons interested in purchasing Broadway subscriptions may check out available seats at Morsani Hall.

Here is the TBPAC 1997-98 schedule:

Broadway: Master Class (Nov. 18-23); Chicago (Dec. 16-28); Annie! (Jan. 13-18); Decades (Jan. 24-March 29 in the Jaeb Theater); Show Boat (Feb. 15-March 21); Rent (April 8-19). Non-subscription: The Phantom of the Opera (Sept. 24-Oct. 26); Tap Dogs (May 12-17); Les Miserables (June 2-14).

Cabaret in Jaeb: Holiday Cabaret (Dec. 5-20).

Music: Andes Manta from South America (Nov. 5); Quartetto Gelato (Dec. 13); Chenille Sisters (March 7); Kandisky Trio's Tales of Appalachia (Feb. 28); Chieftains (April 21); Brave Old World (April 30).

Opera: La Boheme (May 8-10).

Dance: Guadere Danza's Marbleized Memories (Oct. 24-26); Sarasota Ballet's Nutcracker (Dec. 12-14); Pilobolus (Feb. 21); Ballet Folklorico of Ybor (March 8); Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company (March 11); Bolshoi Ballet (April 5); David Parker Dance and the Bang Group (May 8-10).

Theater Horizons: Rhodessa Jones and Idris Ackamoor in Big Butt Girls, Hard Headed Women (Oct. 10-19); Judith Sloan in Denial of the Fittest, Excavations of Untold Truths and Other Outbursts (Jan. 2-24); Dan Hurlin in The Day the Ketchup Turned Blue (March 6-15); Off Center Artists' Collective in The Bending Minds with Spoons Festival (March/April); John Hochenberry in Spoke Man (March 14); Dael Orlandersmith in Monsters (April 10-12); Paul Zaloom in Sick, But True (May 15-31).

"The Play's The Thing" Series: The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (Oct. 3-19); Hal Holbrook in Mark Twain Tonight! (Jan. 24); Below the Belt (Feb. 6-March 1); UMO in El Dorado (April 17-May 3).

Comedy: Rob Nash in Twelve Steps to a More Dysfunctional Family Part Two (The Dysfunctional Christmas) (Oct. 31-Nov. 2); Chicago City Limits (Nov. 6-9); Rabbi Bob Alper (Nov. 15); Jill Shaarga in Evening of Estrogen, Part D'uh (Nov. 21-30).

Wee Folks Series: Hobey Ford's Golden Rod Puppets (Oct. 18); Goldilocks and the Three Bears (Nov. 15); Ishangi African Dancers (Jan. 17); Jack & the Beanstalk (Feb. 7); Storytelling for Tots with Victorene Jackson (March 14).

Kid Time Series: Paper Bag Players (Oct. 26); King Midas & the Golden Touch (Nov. 23); Jungle Book (Jan. 25); The Golden Goose (March 22); Peacemaker (April 19).

Young Adult Show: Tuskegee Airmen: The Right to Flight, with Rochel Coleman (Feb. 22).

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