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  1. Stage

The best of 2018 in theater, orchestra and dance

The cast of Between Riverside and Crazy, which ran Oct. 3-Nov. 4, 2018, at American Stage, included, from left. Donovan Whitney as Oswaldo, Vanesa Rendon as Lulu, and L. Peter Callender as Pops. [Photo by Beth Reynolds]
Published Dec. 28, 2018

The Tampa Bay theater scene is still growing, particularly in Tampa. Theaters are making do with less amid a drastic drop-off in public funds. Both statements are true.

A new company, Fluid Expressions, debuted in November, just as Innovocative Theater opened in 2017, also in Tampa. The Tampa International Fringe Festival entered its second year, and the Tampa Bay Theatre Festival just celebrated five years. Last month, hundreds packed the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts for a shot at Hamilton tickets, opening Feb. 12.

Meanwhile, the greater Tampa Bay area continues to support three opera houses, a thriving orchestra and an evolving dance culture. Here are my performing arts highlights for 2018.

TOP SIX IN THEATER

6. A View From the Bridge, Tampa Repertory Theatre. Had the show been able to distribute acting strength evenly throughout the cast, this Arthur Miller gem would be ranked higher. As it is, Tampa Rep produced dramatic heat where larger companies had not. Ned Averill-Snell and Emilia Sargent starred as a bitter longshoreman with issues and his all-too-contained wife. Their chemistry spoke volumes on the set, whether either actor had lines or not.

5. The Play That Goes Wrong, the Straz Center. It's not just the collapsing sets (although those are fun). The funniest aspects of this British parody-within-a-play are not sight gags. It's the earnestness and courage with which the traumatized ensemble soldiers on, culminating in a dialogue loop that lasts several minutes.

4. The Producers, American Stage. The park production was brassy and loud, attacking the senses with a glut of light, color and sound. So distracting, it might have been designed by a con man, or two. The production directed by Rye Mullis didn't shrink from its own Nazi imagery, without which crucial shock value would be lost. They also delivered the strongest musical ensemble in a while.

3. Daddy Long Legs, Freefall Theatre. Cleverly staged, beautifully accompanied and superbly performed, this musical hit all the right notes. Britta Ollmann and Nick Lerew played an orphan and her mysterious benefactor.

2. A Raisin in the Sun, American Stage. Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun examines a black family that wants to enter a neighborhood predominantly occupied by whites. L. Peter Callender, the artistic director of San Francisco's African-American Shakespeare Company, directed this tour de force, in which themes of slavery and reconstruction, Northern racism and the meaning of family collide. A deep cast revolved around Fanni Green as a widowed matriarch and Enoch King as her ambitious son. With this show, the theater's new American Legacy series got off to a promising start.

1. Between Riverside and Crazy, American Stage. Benjamin T. Ismail directed a sterling cast in Stephen Adly Guirgis' brilliant mix of comedy and a deeply human drama, my clear No. 1 for the season. L. Peter Callender returned, this time with a brilliant performance of retired New York City police officer, Walter "Pops" Washington, who is suing the NYPD even as he risks eviction from his rent-controlled apartment. Enoch King is back as a wayward son; Vickie Daignault as O'Conner and Ricky Wayne played former police colleagues cranking up the pressure on Pops to drop his lawsuit. Vanesa Rendon and Sara Oliva took the play in unexpected directions.

BEST IN OPERA, ORCHESTRA AND DANCE

Don Giovanni, St. Petersburg Opera: Big arias, quartets and sextets fill the Mozart masterpiece. Gustavo Feulien made for a dapper villain in the title role, Chelsea Lehnea shone as Donna Anna, and Kelly Curtin and Adam Cioffari gave standout performances as Zerlina and Masetto.

Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, Florida Orchestra: The season opened with perhaps music's greatest composer in one of the most iconic symphonies ever written. The orchestra stayed on top each dynamic shift in a work that simultaneously overflows with the joy of life and vents the most furious kind of frustration. The same concert featured Jeffrey Stephenson with an English horn solo in Ottorino Respighi's tone poem, Pines of Rome and — last but far from least — Valentina Lisitsa, a perfectionist who comes pretty darned close, playing Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3.

Giselle, Ballet Nacional de Cuba: So much perfection, such execution and grace. Getting this troupe back here was worth the 15-year wait. Let's hope they can return sooner next time.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. John Leguizamo will bring his one-man show "Latin History for Morons" to the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa on Nov. 17. Courtesy of Matthew Murphy
    Plus, how his ‘House of Buggin’ became ‘Mad TV’ and a dream project about a Hispanic Oscar Schindler. Leguizamo’s one-man show comes to the Straz Center on Nov. 17.
  2. "Fiddler on the Roof" is at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa. Courtesy of Joan Marcus
    The revival of a pointed story about tradition stays close to the source. | Review
  3. Comic John Crist has canceled his upcoming tour, including a May 10, 2020 concert at Tampa's Yuengling Center, following a report by the Christian publication Charisma News alleging multiple instances of sexual misconduct. Courtesy of John Crist
    The viral star’s Netflix special and tour are on hold after a report alleging sexual misconduct.
  4. Julie Andrews will appear in conversation at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater on Nov. 13. Courtesy of Andrew Eccles
    The 84-year-old Hollywood icon will discuss her new autobiography this week at Ruth Eckerd Hall.
  5. Julie Andrews arrives at the Los Angeles Philharmonic 2015-16 season opening gala at Walt Disney Concert Hall. RICHARD SHOTWELL  |  Invision/AP
    Plus, comics Jay Mohr and Cristela Alonso, the Florida Orchestra’s ‘Deep Field’ with Eric Whitacre and more.
  6. Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater is undergoing a $12 million renovation/ expansion. Progress is seen here Wednesday, October 30, 2019. SCOTT KEELER  |  Times
    The 6,000-square-foot entryway opens this weekend, showcasing the venue’s most extensive facelift to date.
  7. Jobsite Theater's "The Thanksgiving Play" features Caitlin Eason, Giles Davies, Dana Mauro and Adam Workman. It runs through Nov. 17 at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for Performing Arts in Tampa. Courtesy of Jobsite Theater
    Larissa FastHorse’s witty satire at Jobsite Theater mocks political correctness as well as theater itself. | Review
  8. "Fiddler on the Roof" will come to the Straz Center in Tampa on Tuesday as part of its 2019-20 Broadway series. Courtesy of Joan Marcus
    Plus, Mo’Nique, Bianca Del Rio and more.
  9. Bianca Del Rio will perform at the Straz Center in Tampa on Thursday. Courtesy of Rene Koala
    The ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ winner will headline Tampa’s Straz Center on Halloween night.
  10. During a recent rehearsal of 'In the Heights,' Gulf Middle student Dominic Nitz gets a toss in the air with help from Noah Mederios (left) and Jay Woodson (right). Michele Miller
    It’s a mature stretch for middle school students, but teacher Peter Nason says that’s what it’s all about
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