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Fall Arts Preview: Performing arts are slowly coming back in Tampa Bay

Performing arts centers, local theaters and other entertainment venues have plans to bring Broadway, plays, opera, concerts and comedy back to local stages.
Chris De'Sean Lee (center) played the dual roles of Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in the Chicago production of Hamilton. The touring musical comes to the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts June 1-27, 2021.
Chris De'Sean Lee (center) played the dual roles of Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in the Chicago production of Hamilton. The touring musical comes to the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts June 1-27, 2021. [ JOAN MARCUS | Courtesy of the Straz Center ]
Published Sep. 5, 2020
Updated Sep. 9, 2020

Performing arts have been hit hard by the pandemic. Most venues have remained closed, putting serious financial strain on their organizations and putting thousands of people out of work.

The situation has become so dire that there is a nationwide initiative to push Congress to pass the Restart Act, which offers economic relief to the live event industry.

But as they say, the show must go on. Performing arts centers and local theater and opera companies have moved to online performances to keep their audiences engaged. They are starting to find creative ways to reopen and have announced 2020-21 seasons, though the uncertainty of the pandemic means that all of the events are subject to change.

Related: Related: Fall Arts Preview: Tampa Bay's visual art scene proves to be resilient

Many local theater companies are reopening in phases. American Stage and Stageworks are offering live performances online and eventually bringing audiences back into the theater after the beginning of the year. Freefall has adopted a drive-in model in which the audience watches from the safety of their cars.

The David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts is waiting until December to begin its Broadway series, which is planned to be presented in Morsani Hall. The season includes favorites Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen.

Beginning in October, the Straz Center will utilize its outdoor space on the Riverwalk to bring Jobsite Theater and Tampa Opera performances to audiences seated at socially distanced tables. Additional performances will happen in the center’s Jaeb Theater, where the seats have been removed and replaced with tables.

Ruth Eckerd Hall and the Bilheimer Capitol Theater have been rescheduling concerts and performances but optimistically have acts scheduled on their calendar for October. Ruth Eckerd Hall has a series of cabaret concerts held in its spacious lobby that begins in September. The Broadway series is packed with musicals and begins in February.

Even local comedy clubs have reopened with social distance safety guidelines.

Here’s what to look forward to this fall and beyond, hopefully.

THEATER

David A Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts

1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. (813) 229-7827. strazcenter.org.

Always … Patsy Cline (Nov. 5-22, Dec. 3-6, Jaeb Theater): This Straz Center production is based on a true story about Cline’s friendship with a fan who befriended the star in a Texas honky-tonk. The musical includes many of the singer’s unforgettable hits, such as Crazy, I Fall to Pieces and Walking After Midnight.

My Fair Lady (Dec. 22-27; rescheduled from the 2019-2020 season): This show will have an unusual twist on the story of transformation but keeps the classic songs I Could Have Danced All Night, The Rain in Spain and Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?

"My Fair Lady" comes to the Straz Center for the Performing Arts as part of their 2020-21 Broadway series.
"My Fair Lady" comes to the Straz Center for the Performing Arts as part of their 2020-21 Broadway series. [ JOAN MARCUS | Straz Center ]

Wicked (Jan. 13-31): The Broadway sensation goes back to the Land of Oz, long before Dorothy arrived, to tell the origin stories of the witches.

The Prom (Feb. 9-14): The musical comedy follows a group of Broadway stars on a mission to change the world.

Shout the Mod Musical (Feb. 16-April 4): The run of the musical that features local talent was cut short when the Straz closed in March. It follows five women as they navigate London in the Swinging ’60s and is packed with songs from the era.

Dear Evan Hansen (March 23-28): The Tony Award-winning contemporary musical follows a boy with social anxiety as he gets a chance to fit in.

The North American tour of "Dear Evan Hansen," which is scheduled to come to the Straz Center in Tampa on March 23, 2021.
The North American tour of "Dear Evan Hansen," which is scheduled to come to the Straz Center in Tampa on March 23, 2021. [ Photo Courtesy of Matthew Murphy. ]

Cats (April 27-May 2): The iconic musical based on T.S. Eliot’s poems returns to the stage with new sound design, direction and choreography — and no CGI.

Hamilton (June 1-27): The historical hip-hop musical phenomenon returns.

Little Shop of Horrors (June 9-July 3): When a shy flower shop clerk adopts a man-eating plant, things descend into doo-wop-scored campy madness.

Summer: The Donna Summer Musical (July 13-18; rescheduled from the 2019-2020 season): It traces Summer’s path to stardom, from her beginnings in a gospel choir to disco diva. The score features classic hits including Hot Stuff and the steamy Love to Love You Baby.

"Summer: The Donna Summer Musical" comes to the Straz Center for the Performing Arts as part of their 2020-21 Broadway series.
"Summer: The Donna Summer Musical" comes to the Straz Center for the Performing Arts as part of their 2020-21 Broadway series. [ MATTHEW MURPHY | Straz Center ]

Ruth Eckerd Hall

1111 N McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater. (727) 791-7400. rutheckerdhall.com.

Friends! The Musical Parody (Feb. 4-5, Bilheimer Capitol Theatre): Follow Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe and Joey on their misadventures navigating life and love in 1990s Manhattan.

"Friends! The Musical Parody" is scheduled to come to Ruth Eckerd Hall Feb. 4-5, 2021.
"Friends! The Musical Parody" is scheduled to come to Ruth Eckerd Hall Feb. 4-5, 2021. [ Courtesy of Benjamin Skigen ]

The Simon and Garfunkel Story (Feb. 13, Bilheimer Capitol Theatre): The concert-style show follows the pair on their journey to become a successful music duo and includes the song Bridge Over Troubled Water.

Jersey Boys (Feb. 23-24): The musical tells the story of the journey of Franki Valli and the Four Seasons.

"Jersey Boys" is scheduled to come to Ruth Eckerd Hall on Feb. 23-24, 2021.
"Jersey Boys" is scheduled to come to Ruth Eckerd Hall on Feb. 23-24, 2021. [ Courtesy of Joan Marcus ]

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (March 23): The true story of the prolific songwriter features beloved songs including I Feel the Earth Move and (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.

"Beautiful: The Carole King Musical" is scheduled to come to Ruth Eckerd Hall on March 23, 2021.
"Beautiful: The Carole King Musical" is scheduled to come to Ruth Eckerd Hall on March 23, 2021. [ Courtesy of Joan Marcus ]

South Pacific (April 3): The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical features the classic song Some Enchanted Evening.

"South Pacific" is scheduled for April 3, 2021, at Ruth Eckerd Hall.
"South Pacific" is scheduled for April 3, 2021, at Ruth Eckerd Hall. [ Courtesy of Mona Luan ]

Riverdance (April 16-17): The Irish music and dance sensation gets a reinvention.

Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles (May 8): In celebration of the anniversary of Abbey Road, a showcase of Beatles favorites.

"Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles" is scheduled for May 8, 2021, at Ruth Eckerd Hall.
"Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles" is scheduled for May 8, 2021, at Ruth Eckerd Hall. [ Courtesy of Matt Christine ]

American Stage Theatre Company

163 Third St. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 823-7529. americanstage.org.

The company programmed a hybrid season that will begin with Virtual Stage productions, performances that are performed live without an audience and can be streamed. In 2021, the company will begin bringing audiences back in, with all performances also available for streaming.

Fairy Tales Re-imagined: Stories for a New World (October-November, Virtual Stage): In this Family Series production, two siblings and their grandmother use their imaginations to get through a power outage from a never ending storm.

Letters to Kamala (October-November, Virtual Stage): Three women of color who made groundbreaking strides in politics, Charlotta Bass, Charlene Mitchell and Patsy Matsu Takemoto Mink, are called upon to provide guidance to vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris. American Stage commissioned this work by Rachel Lynette.

Kate — The Unexamined Life of Katharine Hepburn (November, Virtual Stage): Janis Stevens portrays the iconic actor at age 92 on New Year’s Eve in 1999. As she reflects on her life, unexpected emotions begin to emerge, revealing a side most have never seen.

Nosotros La Gente (We The People) (November-December, Virtual Stage): After losing his brother Joaquin in World War II, Benjamin Ramirez takes his brother’s widow as his bride and they struggle to build a life together in the desert sands of California’s Coachella Valley. American Stage commissioned this work by Jerry Montoya.

It’s a Wonderful Life Radio Play (December, Virtual Stage): It’s Christmas, and George Bailey is about to end it all, when three angels appear and show him what life would have been without him.

21st Century Voices: New Play Festival (January, on site or streaming): Five staged readings of plays that deal with mental illness, wellness and resilience, by emerging playwrights from around the country.

The People Downstairs (January-February, on site or streaming): Written by local playwright Natalie Symons, the play follows a funeral home caretaker who tries to set up his middle-aged daughter who lives with him and spends the day writing letters to prison inmates.

Satchmo at the Waldorf (February-March, on site or streaming): The one-man, three-character play imagines a tempestuous meeting between Louis Armstrong, his manager Joe Glazer and Miles Davis.

American Stage in the Park: Footloose (April-May, on site at Demens Landing or streaming.): The outdoor park production returns with this energetic musical based on the film about a small town that didn’t allow dancing.

School Girls: Or, The African Mean Girls Play (May-June, on site or streaming): A power struggle ensues when Erica, an American transfer student, arrives at the Aburi Boarding School, threatening the position of the school’s mean girl queen bee, Paulina.

Freefall Theatre

6099 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. (727) 498-5205. freefalltheatre.com.

The company is implementing a drive-in model for performances, utilizing their courtyard and parking lot. Snacks can be ordered from and delivered to cars. Guests must wear a mask if they need to use the restroom.

War of the Worlds: A Live Drive-In Radio Experience (Oct. 23-Nov. 22): Based on H.G. Wells’ book and the infamous Orson Welles radio broadcast. Performances will run for five weeks. It’s the first in a series of drive-in performances. More titles will be announced soon.

Jobsite Theater

David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. (813) 229-7827. jobsitetheater.com.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (Oct. 2-3, 9-10): Held on the Riverwalk Stage, it is an outdoor encore to Jobsite Theater’s 2019 show that was a 20th anniversary reboot of Jobsite’s Bad Boys of Abridgement, described as “a riotous romp through all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays plus the sonnets all in under two hours.”

Spencer Meyers, David Jenkins and Shawn Paonessa star in Jobsite Theater's "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)."
Spencer Meyers, David Jenkins and Shawn Paonessa star in Jobsite Theater's "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)." [ Courtesy of Jobsite Theater ]

Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus (Oct. 29-31, Nov. 1, Nov. 10, Jaeb Theater): Jobsite ensemble member Giles Davies brings “a one-person tour-de-force that formerly dazzled audiences at Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival.” Just in time for Halloween, the show is faithful to Shelley’s original story while combining Davies’ virtuoso display of acting.

Giles Davies stars in Jobsite Theater's production of "Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus" Oct. 29-31, Nov. 1 and Nov. 10.
Giles Davies stars in Jobsite Theater's production of "Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus" Oct. 29-31, Nov. 1 and Nov. 10. [ Courtesy of Jobsite Theater ]

Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 (Nov. 11, 17, 18 and Dec. 1-2, Jaeb Theater): In the one-person play written by Anna Deavere Smith in response to the Rodney King riots, Andresia Mosely will perform multiple characters based on testimonies of those who were there. The Los Angeles Times called it “the most comprehensive literary response” that channeled “the cacophony of voices at the city’s heart.”

Andresia Mosely stars in Jobsite Theater's production of "Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992."
Andresia Mosely stars in Jobsite Theater's production of "Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992." [ Courtesy of Jobsite Theater ]

Stageworks Theatre

1120 E Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. (813) 374-2416. stageworkstheatre.org.

The company is planning A Season of Resilience in three phases: virtual, outdoor and on stage in the theater.

Stageworks Staycation (ongoing through September): Original weekly virtual content geared toward both adults and children that includes bilingual Storytime Saturdays and Songs From the Shutdown performed by local professional talent.

A Bright Spot in the Sun (October-December): Local singers and musicians will present musical performances in outdoor venues throughout the Tampa Bay. There will be five performances in English and three in Spanish. Venues and performance dates weren’t determined at the time of publication.

Returning to the Theatre (February-June): Stageworks will present four new mainstage plays that feature small casts for the safest experience possible: Sylvia by AR Gurney, American Son by Christopher Demos-Brown, The Lady From Havana by Luis Santeiro (Stageworks Hispanic initiative) and The Lifespan of a Fact by Jeremy Kareken & David Murrell and Gordon Farrell. Dates weren’t determined at the time of publication.

Tampa Repertory Theatre

The company is offering live, virtual performances at tamparep.org. Patrons may register to see “I and You” from a link at tamparep.org/IandYou.

I and You (3 p.m. Nov. 15, Broadway on Demand; Nov. 16-18 on YouTube): Two mismatched classmates forced to work together on a poetry project forge a close friendship and discover a deeper mystery of what has brought them together.

OPERA

Opera Tampa

Performs at the Straz Center, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. (813) 229-7827. strazcenter.org.

The Witching Hour (Oct. 30): An outdoor concert on the Riverwalk Stage in which the Opera Tampa singers “unleash the greatest coven of witches of all time ... with superbly concocted witchy tunes.”

Home for the Holidays (Dec. 18-20): A concert full of Christmas carols by the Opera Tampa singers performing holiday favorites in the Jaeb Theater.

The Pirates of Penzance (Jan. 22-24): Gilbert and Sullivan’s slapstick satirical production follows a tenderhearted band of pirates. Sung in English with lyrics projected above the stage.

Opera Tampa will present "The Pirates of Penzance" Jan. 22-24 at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts.
Opera Tampa will present "The Pirates of Penzance" Jan. 22-24 at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. [ Courtesy of Will Staples ]

Il Trovatore (March 12 and 14): Featuring the famed “Anvil Chorus,” Verdi’s fiery tragedy is soaked in revenge, regrets and risking everything to save the life of a true love. Sung in Italian with English translations projected above the stage.

Madama Butterfly (April 23-25): Puccini’s tragic opera tells the tale of a young Japanese beauty who’s betrayed by the American naval officer she falls for while he’s stationed in Nagasaki.

St. Petersburg Opera Company

The company is doing a series of popup performances at various locations around St. Petersburg, as well as virtual performances. stpeteopera.org.

Three Tenors (Sept. 13): Three performances staggered throughout the day at Westminster Palms, the St. Pete Side Lot and the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg.

Happy Halloween (Oct. 25), Classic Opera (Nov. 22) and Holiday Sparkle (Dec. 13): Locations TBA.

St. Petersburg Opera Artist Recital Concert Series (Sept. 25-Dec. 18): An online eight-performance series featuring the company’s opera singers.

MUSIC

Live music venues have been among the hardest hit since the pandemic shut down most performing arts halls. Even outdoor venues, such as Jannus Live in St. Petersburg and the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa, have empty calendars this fall, though Jannus still has a Dec. 10 show by Grateful Dead tribute band Dark Star Orchestra on the books.

Amalie Arena has Jimmy Buffett’s Son of a Son of a Sailor tour on its calendar for Dec. 11, the 98 Rockfest featuring Shinedown (April 16) and The Millennium Tour featuring Omarion and Bow Wow (April 24).

Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater has been the rare success story, with its sold-out series of cabaret shows in its expansive lobby. Tickets are sold as tables of four for about $120 to $150 per table, depending on the act. Newly announced entries in the series are Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander, performing with his son Robin Taylor Zander on Sept. 25-26, and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band founder John McEuen performing with former bandmate John Stable and acoustic guitarist Shaun Hopper on Oct. 2.

In Ruth Eckerd Hall’s main theater, The Allman Betts Band, composed of the sons of rock legends Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts, is slated to perform Oct. 3, and Southern rockers 38 Special are on the schedule for Oct. 25. Looking ahead, Don McLean (Dec. 5), Styx (Dec. 10), Keb Mo (Dec. 13), Air Supply (Jan. 8) and Roseanne Cash (Jan. 16) are on the books, at least for now. Check for updates at rutheckerdhall.com.

The Florida Orchestra recently announced it will push back the start of its season to the end of October, though it has not yet released a calendar of events. In the meantime, they are making plans to allow for extra spacing on stage with flexible options for season ticket holders. Concerts will be slightly shorter, at 75 minutes, with no intermission. And for the first time, the orchestra will offer live video streams of select Masterworks concerts. The fall schedule will be released in September. Stay tuned at floridaorchestra.org.

COMEDY

Top comics and comedy podcast tours are scheduled for the larger performing arts centers. In Clearwater, Trey Kennedy (Oct. 28) kicks off the comedy season at the Bilheimer Capitol Theatre, Jay Leno (Jan. 15) brings the funny to Ruth Eckerd Hall and Paula Poundstone (March 20) takes the Capitol Theatre. At Tampa’s Straz Center, Rolling Stone-deemed “number one partier in the nation” Bert Kreisher (Feb. 21) brings his “Berty World Tour.” Hosts of the comedy podcast Kreeps With Kids (May 7) bring a live performance of their rapid-fire dad jokes and parental observations.

Local comedy clubs have cautiously ventured back into live performances. The Tampa Improv has DeRay Davis (Oct. 2-4) and Aries Spears (Oct. 16-18). Masks are required and the club is currently selling entire tables instead of individual tickets. You have the option of buying a table for two or four. 1600 E Eighth Ave. Tampa. (813) 864-4000. improvtampa.com. At Sidesplitters in Tampa, they are operating at 50 percent capacity and have installed a sophisticated purification system. Their calendar includes J.B. Ball (Sept. 10-13) of Kevin Hart’s LOL Network and veteran comic Robert Kelly (Nov. 5-7). 12938 N Dale Mabry, Tampa. (813) 960-1197. sidesplitterscomedy.com.