Make your way through an entertaining tour of surefire shows that’ll warm your winter spirit.
While the rest of the country burrows under the covers this season, Central Florida’s arts entertainment keeps struttin’ along. From toe-tapping fare to avant-garde flair, we’ve streamlined a tight list of unique, guaranteed-to-wow events.
Circle Square Cultural Center
8395 SW 80th Street, Ocala
(352) 854-3670 › csculturalcenter.com
January 28, 7pm
You may not know Michael Cavanaugh’s name yet, but you will. He performs throughout the world for company and charity events, not to mention PGA Tour events and the Indianapolis 500. He was hand-picked by Billy Joel to play the lead role in Broadway’s Movin Out, performing in more than 1,300 performances over three years, and now he’s coming to Ocala. This young, charismatic performer has been called brilliant by Variety Magazine and amazing by the New York Times. Gary Pierre, Circle Square’s production manager, says “Although he is considered jazz and travels with a 12-piece orchestra, he performs piano rock and rock music.” Pierre adds that Cavanaugh is one of his favorite performers.
7 Bridges, The Ultimate Eagles Experience
February 24, 7pm
The Eagles, in their heyday, released one hit song after another, earning professional acclaim and dedicated fans throughout the world. The tribute band 7 Bridges recreates the experience of an Eagles concert from the band’s most popular time. With one hit after another, this accurate portrayal of an Eagles concert experience will have some fans doing a double take. The best part? “Some mighty Don Henley and Joe Walsh surprises sprinkled into the mix,” according to the show’s description.
Sharon L. MorsePerforming Arts Center
Spanish Springs Town Square, 1051 Main Street, The Villages
(352) 750-5411 › thesharon.com
Cocktail Hour: The Show
January 22, 7pm
There’s more to cocktails than just a tiny bamboo umbrella. Cocktail Hour: The Show’s dance vignettes serve up an intoxicating visual tasting of drinks from around the globe. In Ballets with a Twist’s latest performance, 13 artfully crafted cocktails come to life as delicious ballet interpretations, such as exotic Polynesian Mai Tai; a slick, James Bond-themed Martini with requisite bombshell and skulking ninja-style assassins; the bittersweet contemplation of love lost in Gimlet; spunkiness of Shirley Temple and teasing chase of Roy Rogers kiddie “mocktails.” Others to watch for include: Sputnik’s rockabilly musical tone, the seafaring salute of Singapore Sling, the socialite poise of Manhattan, the rhythmic marching band music in Brandy Alexander; and otherworldly Zombie creatures.
Over the years, Artistic Director Marilyn Klaus and company have enjoyed playing bartender, mixing up and tinkering with each performance and growing a full repertoire of 23 scenes.
“The first time I put Cocktail Hour together was in 2009,” says Klaus. “Before that, I had been showing the pieces individually, but then all of a sudden, I said, ‘Wait a minute. I’ve got a whole concept here.’ Now, every year, I make two or three new ones. It’s been building up. I think the first time we did the show, it was nine cultural cocktail vignettes. So the mix of adding a little thing here, a little thing there, it becomes a creative mixture.”
The show’s promise:
The mission is to bring back the excitement and glamour of an old Hollywood nightclub through “charismatic choreography, intoxicating music and exquisite costume design.” In essence, “high style fun for all ages to enjoy.”
Cocktail Hour unveils its latest concoction, a striking new finale titled Rum Runner, which entails a suite of three popular rum- and lime-infused Latin drinks: Mojito, Cuba Libre and Brazil’s famous Caipirinha.
Adds Klaus, “Cuba Libre is a duet. It has Spanish elements, which is really nice because classical ballet loves Spanish motifs. We are able to use the elements like Cuban hip motions found in the Rhumba and Mambo. The male-female dance is very energetic.”
More to love:
Ballets With a Twist offers show T-shirts, briefs, posters and postcards on balletswithatwist.com/t-shirts.
January 23, 7pm
What could be better than four hunks on a stage? How about if they’re a singing quartet? Who prodigiously play wind instruments? Who also cunningly synthesize pop music with classical? The talented young gents of the group Well-Strung include Edmund Bagnell (first violin), Christopher Marchant (second violin), Daniel Shevlin (cello) and Trevor Wadleigh (viola). For them, thinking outside the box calls for harmoniously spinning whole “new” songs using recognizable classical pieces and the upbeat pop hits from artists like Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Madonna, Adele, Britney Spears and Kelly Clarkson. And it’s this eyebrow raising skill of mixing old with new that has garnered quite a bit of international attention as seen from coverage in countless magazines and morning news shows, appearances alongside actors Kristin Chenoweth and Neil Patrick Harris, not to mention command performances at the Vatican and White House.
The show’s promise:
According to violinist Bagnell, “I don’t think anyone will have seen a group like us before. We mash up classical music with pop music in the same song, and we sing at the same time. We love both kinds of music, and we love presenting them in one concert.”
It’s also the thrill of performing live that proves surprisingly powerful for the band and concertgoers. Says Bagnell, “Every show is different, and each audience brings their own energy to the evening. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite moment, but I always love when there’s a moment of musical recognition. So maybe we’re playing something from Bach, and then we morph into Taylor Swift. And I love when that switch gets a reaction from the audience.”
More to love:
Check out Well-Strung’s new CD or download, POPssical, at cdbaby.com or itunes.apple.com.
Pump Boys & Dinettes
February 1-2, 7pm
Mark Twain would surely be gabbing a blue streak about this one. As a rollicking, lighthearted romp, Pump Boys & Dinettes is one down-home musical that busts out songs of friendship, vacations, hard work, fishing and good ol’ color TV. The humorous trip down imaginary lane transports audiences to a humming gas station and nearby Double Cupp Diner located “on Highway 57, somewhere between Frog Level and Smyrna, NC.” At center stage, four gas station attendants and two waitresses rev things up by singing, dancing, stomping, strumming and thumping on a guitar, piano, accordion, bass, cello, ukulele, banjo and even kitchen utensils.
During its inception, friends Jim Wann and Mark Hardwick tested their catchy material while appearing five nights a week at The Cattlemen restaurant, a New York steakhouse. And since its debut in 1981, Pump Boys & Dinettes has traveled from Off-Broadway to Broadway, to London’s West End, to long stints in Chicago and Minneapolis and an award-winning stretch in Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. Along the way, the musical favorite has become widely loved by critics and nominated for a Tony Award and Drama Desk Award. Musically, CBS Records released the original cast album in the United States, and the song “The Night Dolly Parton Was Almost Mine” reached number 67 on the Hot Country Songs chart.
The show’s promise:
“The music is a quirky, highly imaginative blend of country, rockabilly, swing, rock and roll, and jazz.” Take it from Co-creator Jim Wann: “Pump Boys And Dinettes is a celebration of friendship among folks who work hard, sing about their dreams, joke about their irritations and support each other on various musical instruments. It was the first Tony-nominated Best Musical Broadway show in which the cast is also the orchestra. It’s a character-driven ‘day in the life’ with an original score.”
To whoop up yet more country flavor, the show has also been known to hold raffles during intermission, plaster the lobby with snapshots of friends and raffle winners, drink beer, cook and even make the occasional auto repair.
More to love:
Look for the original Broadway cast recording on CD, MP3 and even vinyl at amazon.com.
Taj Express, the Bollywood Musical
March 2, 7pm
Often a show is described as offering “something for everyone.” In the case of Taj Express, the Bollywood Musical, the production makes a grand Bollywood spectacle of itself to appeal to every member of its audience. Given that Indian Bollywood films have entertained billions for generations, legendary Bollywood Producers/Directors/Choreographers Vaibhavi and Shruti Merchant have undertaken the task of bringing this highly elaborate and widely entertaining storytelling style to the stage. A far cry from demure or understated, the entire show ratchets each scene to the next level by ensuring every inch of its presentation bursts with film footage; bright, intricate costumes; high-energy dance numbers and infectious song.
Taj Express’ storyline is tagged as a “cinematic journey through Indian culture.” To do so, the Merchants capture this collision of beautiful, classical traditions with the brash attitude of modern Indian pop. And when it comes to engineering the show’s catchy score, Taj Express calls upon musical heavyweights like Oscar-winning composer AR Rahman, Salim-Sulaiman Merchant and Monty Sharma to lend their impressive talents.
The show’s promise:
Words like “dazzling,” “vibrant” and “enchanting” are used to describe the musical. Or more precisely, expect “120 minutes of swirling colors, sparkle, shimmer and electrifying energy.” Then factor in the budding romance, which inevitably culminates into a full-blown, joyful wedding extravaganza.
Taj Express is recognized as “the first original Indian musical to have successfully completed five years of international touring.” And Director Shruti Merchant proudly expands on that distinction, saying, “Taj Express is the first ever Bollywood musical produced, directed and choreographed by an Indian company and is not an interpretation of India through a foreigner’s eye.”
When pressed to quietly reveal her favorite part of the show, she recommends sticking around for the whopping, crowd-pleasing finale.
Says Shruti: “As an audience member watching the show, what I enjoy the most is the energy of the entire cast enabling the audience to join them in the end.”
Appleton Museum of Art
4333 E Silver Springs Blvd., Ocala
(352) 291-4455 › appletonmuseum.org
February 2, 5-8pm
Tickets: Free for Appleton members, $10 for non-members
Want to get all dressed up and have somewhere to go? Try taking in the performance of SoulBase Band at the Appleton Museum of Art’s After Hours Concert Series. For a sophisticated midweek escape that’s close to home, the smooth improvisations of this Orlando-based musical group generate enough mellow groove to downshift from your day. Its members call upon their musical roots from major cities, including Chicago, New York, New Orleans, Miami and Orlando. From there, the band borrows from rhythm and blues, funk, jazz, blues, rock, reggae, hip hop and even gospel. And when that last amplifier is plugged in, these varied elements commingle for a fun, unexpected and upbeat show.
SoulBase Band first came together in February 2015, when Co-founder and Keyboardist Robert Bradley needed a band at an open mic event. Since then, the group has been performing and cultivating their characteristic sound.
Says Co-founder and Vocalist Tyla Harrington, “Every song we cover, we make sure to make it our own. You will barely hear the same song twice. We like to remix music a lot to make it sound fresh and new.”
A particular favorite is the finale, an old-school medley of classic covers such as “Ain’t Nobody” by Chaka Khan, “Who’s That Lady” by the Isley Brothers, “Portuguese Love” by Teena Marie, “Benny and the Jets” by Elton John, plus tunes by Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Toto and more.
The show’s promise:
With SoulBase Band, you won’t hear run-of-the-mill radio songs but an engaging performance for diverse musical tastes. Harrington also points out the crowd’s interaction with the group.
“We like to do an improv part in the show where we let guests choose a topic, and we make up a song on the spot,” she says.
Adding to the evening’s ambiance, the Appleton Museum presents special Ocala Art Group displays, tasty Mojo Grill food samples and a cash bar. Doors open at 5pm, and the music begins at 5:30pm.
University of Florida
Phillips Center, 3201 Hull Road, Gainesville
January 24-25, 7:30pm
The term folktale might evoke a dusty, forgotten old story. Yet Shen Yun completely flips that by resurrecting 5,000-year-old Chinese legends for the stage. The breathtaking and magical world of immortals, mischief and miracles come alive through Shen Yun Performing Arts, a leading Chinese entertainment company comprised of four touring troupes who perform more than 400 shows on five continents.
The show depicts timeless tales of courage, honor and valor through compelling hero characters such as a quirky monk, fearless general and mischievous monkey, who fly across heavens, mountains and underwater palaces.
Large-scale production fills each scene with classical dancers executing body-bending kicks and gravity-defying leaps; a full Western orchestra augmented with expressive eastern instruments like an Erhu violin or Pipa lute; powerful drums; fluid soprano and tenor singers; vivid, detailed costumes; ornate hairpieces; dramatic headdresses and swords; and flurries of colorful scarves swirling in unison.
The show’s promise:Shen Yun changes its performance each year and aims to mentally immerse audiences in ancient Chinese culture for a thoroughly entertaining and thrilling experience. Michelle Brazeau, regional director of Florida Falun Dafa Association, a nonprofit organization that presents the show throughout the state, attests to its overwhelming effect.
“From the moment the curtain rises, I immediately feel like I’m in another realm,” says Brazeau. “Even if you couldn’t see the graceful and athletic dancers, beautiful costumes and interactive backdrops, the music alone is worth going to Shen Yun because it’s so unusual and so wonderful.”
More to love:
Choose from DVDs, CDs, posters, prints, albums, books, printed scarves, ties, umbrellas and desk accessories at shop.shenyun.com.
Ada/Ava byManual Cinema
March 22, 7:30pm
Tickets: $20 general admission, $10 UF students
What began as a 10-minute Halloween puppet show from Manual Cinema Director Drew Dir’s first floor apartment window has matured into a thoughtful, inventive and award-winning program. Ada/Ava takes audiences on the dreamy journey of an elderly grieving twin sister who stumbles through a magical mirror, allowing her to explore the possibilities that lie beyond. The stylized gothic feel and enigmatic subject matter delves into emotions behind life, death and the supernatural, leading to a pure and profound self-examination.
Manual Cinema invites audiences into this enchanting, mystical sphere by weaving handmade shadow puppetry with layered cinematic techniques. And successfully pulling this off requires performers’ well-timed coordination of vintage overhead projectors, multiple screens, puppets, actors, live feed cameras, surround sound and a live music ensemble.
The show’s promise:
Dir explains how Manual Cinema’s offbeat brand of storytelling straddles both the qualities of film and live performance. Says Dir, “Most people have described it as unlike anything they’ve ever seen. It’s a lot like going to the cinema where even the music and sound are delivered to you in quadraphonic quality, so it sounds closer to a movie than a play. But at the same time, the show delivers all the real-time spontaneity of theater.”
Dir also points out that renowned Director Alfred Hitchcock’s mastery of intrigue had significant impact.
“Most obviously,” he says, “the story and production design are largely influenced by the films of Alfred Hitchcock, especially Vertigo. Like that film, Ada/Ava is a kind of psychological ghost story.”
More to love:
Check out downloads of Manual Cinema soundtracks, free soundscapes and T-shirts at manualcinema.bandcamp.com.