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  1. Stage

'Fun Home,' 'Waitress,' 'The Color Purple' and more coming to the Straz

In On Your Feet!, the story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Ana Villafa plays Gloria. It opens Oct. 24.

TAMPA

Something familiar, something peculiar, something for everyone.

That's how the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts is rolling out its 2017-18 Broadway season. The venue starting in the fall will mix up straightforward romance with musicals that tell stories of Latino and African-American experience, with some Riverdance thrown in and recent hits coming back for an encore. Already one of the largest performing arts venues in the state, the Straz cements its claim as the dominant magnet for touring Broadway with 11 musicals, which its leadership hopes will cast a wider net for potential audiences.

The prime examples are the season opener, On Your Feet! (Oct. 24-29), the story of Cuban-born singer-and-producer couple Gloria and Emilio Estefan, and The Color Purple (March 6-11, 2018), which confronts racial inequality in 1930s Georgia.

"We really have a focus on diversity," said Judy Lisi, the Straz's president and CEO. "I'm so happy that there are shows like On Your Feet! and The Color Purple, reaching out to different communities."

The season will also take what Lisi described as a moderate risk with Fun Home (Nov. 28-Dec. 3), based on Alison Bechdel's coming-out memoir that addresses depression and dysfunctional families. It's a bit akin to this season's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, in which the world of an emotionally disturbed boy went a step beyond some comfort zones.

"Some people thought it was fabulous and some didn't quite get it," Lisi said of Curious Incident. "But I think that as curators we bring the community what is best, and allow people to have the opportunity to get something they have never seen. Fun Home might be something people know or have an appetite for, or they might not. Not everybody is going to like everything."

Love Never Dies (Dec. 12-17), Andrew Lloyd Webber's sequel to The Phantom of the Opera — which is also making a return engagement to the Straz (Feb. 14-25, 2018) — allows an entryway into the composer's mind. Webber started work on the musical in 1990 but didn't start writing the music until 2007. The Straz had hoped to run Phantom first, but schedules didn't accommodate.

"Practically everyone who comes to our Broadway shows has seen Phantom anyway," Lisi said. "But I think it's going to be really cool for them to see the sequel. It's a beautiful, rich show, and Andrew Lloyd Webber is so meticulous about the production."

The season then turns to the energetic School of Rock (Jan. 2-7, 2018), about a substitute teacher and his guitar-shredding nerds. After The Color Purple come the romance The Bodyguard (March 20-25, 2018) and the peppy musical Waitress (April 24-29, 2018), about a server who starts a piemaking business. Waitress, based on the movie starring Keri Russell, is currently on Broadway with music and lyrics by pop singer Sara Bareilles.

Old favorites are sandwiched in between, starting with The Book of Mormon (Dec. 5-10), the 20th anniversary world tour of Riverdance (Jan. 19-21, 2018) and Beautiful — The Carole King Musical (March 27-April 1, 2018).

One question mark hangs over all of the shows at the Straz's five theaters next season: where to park. Construction of an apartment complex has taken over the large lot by the Barrymore Hotel, and parking remains tight in adjacent areas.

The same apartment complex, once built, will include a 300-space parking garage that could, in turn, alleviate some of the parking worries.

"I think next year we will have 300 spaces back," Lisi said. "It will be in a garage, but we'll have some relief there."

The Straz has been planning an expansion of its own facility, envisioning another restaurant, art projects and greater use of its outdoor space along the Hillsborough River. The center has hit the pause button on those plans while it conducts a feasibility study on likely funding, Lisi said.

Contact Andrew Meacham at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

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