1. Music

Review: Seal, Florida Orchestra serve up symphonic synergy in St. Petersburg

A few missed opportunities couldn't dampen an otherwise 'Crazy' night.
LUIS SANTANA | TIMES Grammy winning recording artist Seal performs at a gala with the Florida Orchestra with Michael Francis, conductor at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg.
Published Feb. 10

It happened during My Funny Valentine, the moment when Seal and the Florida Orchestra became one.

The British pop and soul singer was admiring the orchestra's rendition of the Rodgers and Hart standard when principal trumpet Robert Smith stood for a doleful back-alley solo. Slowly toward the spotlight slinked Seal, first steps away, then just arm's length, lifting his mic until it was inches from Smith's bell. The singer arched his back in a brief moment of ecstasy as solo wailed to a close.

"What a great orchestra," said the singer, who headlined the orchestra's annual gala on Saturday at an all but sold-out Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg. "It's like being behind the wheel of a hybrid of the most beautiful Rolls Royce and a Ferrari. You say go and they give you back tenfold."

The four-time Grammy winner was the latest mononymous pop star to join the orchestra's largest annual fundraiser, following one of his heroes, Sting, last season.

"Everyone looks so pretty and so well tonight," said Seal, wearing loose a loose, casual black top and pants. "Had I known, I would have worn something a bit more sparkly. I didn't know I was going to be in such great company."

He was an offbeat choice for the gala, one that only truly made sense in the wake of his Great American Songbook album Standards. It made for, in many respects, a classic pops concert, rife with familiar finger-snappers like Luck Be a Lady, I've Got You Under My Skin and They Can't Take That Away From Me.

Highlights: The stirring, starlit romance and wall-of-sound percussion of Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand); the delicate flutes pirouetting around the cinematic It Was a Very Good Year; and a 007-like Smith solo on a noirish I Put a Spell On You.

Harder to embrace, on the other hand, was the orchestra's absence when Seal delved into his own back catalog. For a good chunk in the middle of the set, conductor Michael Francis left the stage and the orchestra largely sat things out as Seal played the sort of show his fans are used to seeing. Not entirely -- the orchestration was lush and lovely on Kiss From a Rose, which saw a couple of enthusiastic instrumentalists swaying and singing along -- but by and large, the home team just sat things out while Seal and the band played like rock stars.

The ironic thing is, this was the section that enlivened the gala the most. Multiple times, Seal hopped off stage and meandered through the crowd, hugging fans and willing them to their feet. The ethereal Prayer for the Dying was spellbinding, Seal's delayed vocals echoing through the house. Same with Killer and covers of Steve Miller's Fly Like an Eagle, David Bowie's Rebel Rebel and Curtis Mayfield's Move On Up (which did feature a fierce battery of horns and saxes).

To be fair, it would've been nigh-impossible to chart out fresh arrangements for each of these songs and still have this section feel so fresh and in-the-moment. As Seal clambered through the crowd, leading fans on a euphoric, barn-burning sing-along of Crazy, what else could Francis have done but stand sidestage and clap with joy?

Still, imagine how Seal and the Florida Orchestra might've sounded if they'd done with every song what they did with Charlie Chaplin's Smile, which Seal called his favorite song of all time. As the strings swept the house off its feet, the singer, enraptured, faced the crowd and traced a finger down his cheek.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said afterward, "please put your hands together for the Florida Orchestra."

The audience cheered them both. For this night only, they were one.

Contact Jay Cridlin at or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.


  1. John Prine performs at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater on Dec. 7, 2019. JAY CRIDLIN  |  Tampa Bay Times
    In a semi-hometown show in Clearwater, the songwriting legend made the whole house feel alive. | Concert review
  2. Mario Lopez tosses beads to the thousands of people lining Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa during the 2019 Gasparilla Parade of Pirates LUIS SANTANA  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Catch up on today’s Tampa Bay concert announcements.
  3. From left, Vince Neil, Nikki Sixx, Mick Mars and Tommy Lee of Motley Crue arrive at the world premiere of their Netflix biopic "The Dirt" on March 18 in Los Angeles. Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP
    Joan Jett and the Blackhearts will also perform at Camping World Stadium next summer.
  4. Adam Levine of Maroon 5 performs during halftime at Super Bowl LIII on Feb. 3. MARK HUMPHREY  |  AP
    The Super Bowl halftime headliners are heading out on an extensive world tour next year.
  5. John Prine will perform at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater on Dec. 7. Courtesy of Danny Clinch
    Trisha Yearwood, Colter Wall, NGHTMRE, Madeon and more also perform.
  6. Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes will perform at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg on April 21. High Road Touring
    The Grammy-winning singer will bring her debut solo album to St. Petersburg next spring.
  7. Jill Scott will perform at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater on March 17. Atlantic Records
    Catch up on today’s Tampa Bay concert announcements.
  8. Chicago will bring their summer tour with Rick Springfield to Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on July 3. Ryan Bennett
    The classic rock favorites will perform at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in July.
  9. Omarion will bring his Millennium Tour to Amalie Arena in Tampa on May 1. Jabari Jacobs
    The singer and rapper will bring the mid-2000s to life in your backyard next spring.
  10. Garbage will bring their tour with Alanis Morissette and Liz Phair to Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on June 17. Joseph Cultice
    This is bound to be one of the most interesting tag-team shows of the summer.