BEST MUSIC SCENE REVIVAL
Downtown St. Petersburg
Downtown St. Pete’s live music scene took a hit last year as a string of venues fell one after the other like dominoes, leaving behind a state of stagnancy that stretched for months and was bolstered only by the efforts of the steadfast State Theatre, the hardy hole-in-the-wall Emerald and part-part-time concert club Push Ultra Lounge. Then, little by little, the Mahaffey and Palladium theaters started beefing up their concert offerings, and three downtown live music spots got new management and makeovers — Jannus Landing became Jannus Live, Uptown re-opened as Fubar, and the venue formerly known as the Garage became The Local 662. Plus, indie record store Daddy Kool moved to bigger and better digs, and retail/style space Starbooty has jumped on the bandwagon, occasionally hosting acoustic performances and DJs during events like the 600 Block Party and AntiWarpt Fest. Nowadays, there’s almost too much going on...
Back to the Beach, The Semis
The requisite for a great album is that it stands up to repeated spins, allowing for new discoveries in lyric and melody with each listen. Such is the case with the Semis’ 2010 release, Back to the Beach, a concept record about addiction and redemption on the Gulf shores of St. Petersburg. Seamlessly blending pop, metal, folk, psychedelia and yes, surf rock, the record is a testament to how a great collection of songs (even self-produced) can be greater than its parts, and how an album continues to shine when all the songs included are jewels. myspace.com/thesemis
BEST BAY AREA BREAKOUT
Have Gun, Will Travel
We’ve seen several talented local artists rise to garner attention outside the community, from Geri X to Automatic Loveletter. But Bradenton’s Have Gun, Will Travel deserve extra props for walking away from the head-earned success of their former group, the posthardcore act The Chase Theory, starting again from zero and building another nationally known project brick by brick in a completely different genre on the foundation of frontman Matt Burke’s love for classic country. Now, with distribution through Suburban Home Records and tours with the likes of Slobberbone under their collective belt, this rollicking unit is poised to bring even more attention to the Tampa Bay music scene. myspace.com/hgwt
BEST RETURN AFTER A LONG ABSENCE
After nearly a year absent from the scene, the experimental rock trio made their usual summertime re-emergence to headline the Homemade Music Symposium’s live music showcase at New World Brewery. They packed the place, and not only demonstrated their continued relevance and talent with a compelling, high-energy set, but proved that people around town still cared about what’s going on with Candy Bars. The band is currently working on finishing a new album and hope to have it out by early next year. myspace.com/candybars
BEST FOLK POP
The Grecian Urns
Only active in the summer when its members are on break from school, this folk pop ensemble produces music that’s fresh and full of sunshine. The catchy refrains and heart-hugging melodies charm a tiny tear from your sentimental eye, boy-girl harmonies and exuberant sing-shouts trigger feel-good gooseflesh, bouncy piano-driven beats get your toes tapping and your head bobbing, and instrumental arrangements stimulate with bright blasts of brass and rising washes of strings. You sigh. It’s over. You’ve fallen, and hard, but it feels right and you can’t help but be happy about it. myspace.com/thegrecianurns
BEST ACID FUNK JAZZ INSTRUMENTAL TRIO
The local instrumental trio finally finished its self-titled album of trippin’ funkadelic grooves and dove back into the scene upon its release. Keyboardist Michael Zabrek casts Rhodes vibes and jams the Hammond, bassist Santiago Rodriguez drops lowend bombs or draws out atmospheric delays, and drummer Jason Stander keeps the steady jazzy-airy rhythms, the trio freeforming and stretching it out to surreal spookiness along the way. myspace.com/worldwidezoo
BEST PROG FUSION
The instrumental three-piece fuses elements of prog, post and alt rock, and throws in the occasional jazz, funk and reggae flavors. The players have chops to spare and good working chemistry that adds up to a dynamic whole, guitarist Brian Larsen’s finger-tapping style of soloing and shredding, sometimes recorded and looped back, is a good counterpart to drummer Alex Fedele’s concise, assertive rhythms, and Kahn’s steady swaying groove-oriented basslines brings added warmth and draws more danceable moments from their sound. Inactive for roughly a year, Auto?Automatic?? came back with a bang when they opened for Mercury Program in March, and have been going full steam ahead ever since. The band’s Kickstarter.com drive to raise funds for a new album is taking place right now and ends Sept. 20. facebook.com/autoautomatic
BEST WORLD JAM FUSION
The Hip Abduction
This lively eight-piece fuses the flavors of jazz, acoustic rock, tropicalia, blues, funk, Afrobeat and reggae into a sound that grooves with the easy-going vibe of the islands without ever coming off as trite. Against supple basslines, fluid keyboard melodies and a two-piece horn combo, frontman David New delivers his stream-of-consciousness style lyrics in a warm husky-rich timbre. thehipabduction.com
BEST EXAMPLE THAT PUNK IS AN ATTITUDE, NOT A SOUND
Jeff, Jerry and… um… a couple of different drummers have been knocking around the local scene (and into each other, and into amplifiers, and into folks in the crowd) for several years now, successfully defining punk rock without sounding anything like the cliches that classification inevitably conjures. Twangy without approaching country, spiky without pretentious artifice, catchy without approaching pop and unprofessional without sucking, Zanesville drips no-rules punk-rock essence while creating their own unruly character from pretty much every other style out there. zanesvillerocks.com
BEST BAND THAT’S (MOSTLY) UNDERAGE
While there may be one member over 21, as a whole the musicians of Diamond Man are far too young to be able to abandon conventional verse-chorus-verse songwriting with such confidence and excitement. Ambient without being tedious, electronic loops that never naval gaze or sound stale, and long songs of abductions by extraterrestrials that enjoy dropping acid and jamming to surf and hazy dreamscapes. myspace.com/reetreetreet
BEST PUNK REVIVALISTS
Male Order Brides
Young, fresh and full of brash self-confidence, Tampa-based Male Order Brides embrace the look and character of blues punk acts with their rock n’ roll strut and flippant delivery. myspace.com/themaleorderbrides
BEST POP REFRESHMENT
Music today can be painfully niche-driven or so tediously random that it becomes confusing. Thank you, thank you, thank you to the six-piece Clearwater band Beardsley for balancing appeal and structure with captivating surprises. Brian Berry, guitar and vocals; Andrew Craven, keyboard and vocals; Ricky Delgado, guitar and vocals; Benjamin Hedlund, drums; Louis Kern, bass, and Jason Kushner, guitar and vocals, are intelligent, likable and self-effacing fellas on and off stage. Their lyrics are sincere (but not to the point of being too straightforward) and elaborate (but not to the point of being pretentiously oblique). They sport a keen sense of melody and humor, referencing The Big Lebowski and NewsRadio in their titles, among other pop-culture gems. Live, they’re fun to watch and precise in their playing. Best of all, they’re not the same ol’ same ol’ — jam band, metal, hardcore, Americana, noise rock, insert overplayed genre here. myspace.com/beardsleyband
Dynasty (The Femcee)
Dynasty’s 2010 Dreampusher mixtape — produced by Jinx and DJ Royce, among others — is a thoroughly solid, ’70s funk and R&B-inspired long player. The disc includes actual shout-outs from luminaries like Wu-Tang’s Raekwon, MC Lyte and the legendary KRS-One, who refers to her as “a real MC.” KRS’ endorsement aside, it was evident at her June CD release at New World Brewery that our girl D.Y. (nee Diana Hardy) had the right stuff, lighting up the patio with her bright personality, striking good looks and honest-yet-aggressive rhymes. “They call me Femcee, put ‘em in a frenzy, there’s nothing feminine about killin’ an MC.” She had the people turned on and moving in spite of the stifling heat. And at a Tampa show, that says a lot. thefemcee.com
Local sax man Jeremy Powell plays both tenor and soprano saxophones, and can do it sexy smooth, session-player subtle, or make his instrument scream so loud it’d make John Zorn proud. This year, he’s been particularly busy. In addition to regularly playing with swamp jam rock outfit Swamp Logic and experimental jazz-funk ensemble Infinite Groove Orchestra, Powell collaborated with jazz guitarist LaRue Nickelson (the two released a new LP, Amizade, in January, and have supported it live in various lineups throughout the year); sat in on gigs with other locals ranging from old-timey fusionists Poetry n’ Lotion to singer-songwriter Dan Kincaid; recorded an ambient charity album, Compassion, with synth musician Justin Roberts to raise funds for Haitian earthquake victims; and worked on a few temporary live music projects with his trumpeter brother Jonathan while he was visiting from NYC. myspace.com/auterkeia
The petite bespeckled musician plays upright bass with earnest precision and a heavy dose of jazzified style and class, her talents a key element in keeping the groove for such local groups as lounge and swing-time revivalists Lounge Cat, roots and blues rockin’ Judy Tampa & Bunko Squad, Creole neo-ragtime rockin’ Jim Morey Band and Klezmer fusionists the Chicken Chasers, among other impromptu ensembles.
BEST LOCAL ROCK DIVA
Shawn Kyle Beauville (The Beauvilles)
Love him or loathe him, frontman/guitarist/songwriter Kyle brings the show on and off the stage, and it’s made him arguably the most consistently talked-about Tampa Bay musician of the last half-decade. His in-concert histrionics are legendary, and his flamboyant sartorial and conversational styles have earned him a unique status as the rock scene’s most polarizing figure. Scarf jokes aside, though, Kyle deserves credit for playing the role damn well… probably because it isn’t a role at all.
BEST SCENE ELDER STATESMAN
Sean “Crash” Mitchell
Whether or not his loose, primal, button-pushing country-a-billy is for you, Crash’s dedication to supporting all elements of Tampa Bay original music and art simply can’t be disputed. A staple of shows large and small for, what, it seems like two decades now, he’s always good for some applause, some catcalls, or just some crazy story about something that happened to him that week. If every scenester were as invested, as populist and as comfortably un-hip as Crash, we’d have one hell of a unified and motivated (and well, yeah, nuts) community. myspace.com/crashmitchell
BEST BAND THAT WENT AWAY TOO SOON
True, the phrase “an earnest, energetic blend of pop, rock and twang” doesn’t exactly inspire visions of blazing originality. But the four guys in Glasgow managed to put those oh-so-familiar elements together in a singularly compelling way, and when folks noticed earlier this year that the name had faded from local bills, it was the scene’s loss. Thankfully, however, three Glaswegians have made the transition into new group Marksmen with many of their former outfit’s sonic signatures intact, albeit including slightly less bombast and a more pronounced Southern accent. myspace.com/wearemarksmen
OK Go at Crowbar
Live entertainment, visual bedazzlement, high audio quality and ample dancing opportunities all collided to make a perfect storm of a show at Crowbar in May of this year. Dressed in their sexy mod best, LA-by-Chicago alternative poptronic rock foursome OK Go played with an elevated degree of finesse, dosed their set heavily with witty repartee and anecdotal humor, and threw in animations and video projections, random bits of fun — a cheeky, impromptu duet from Les Miz, a performance with handbells varying in size from small to extra-giant — and explosive bursts of multi-colored confetti along the way, leaving behind a carpet of confetti so thick and deep, it would’ve made Wayne Coyne proud.
U2 at Raymond James Stadium
Upwards of 70,000 people witnessed the colossal, multi-million dollar production spectacle otherwise known as U2’s “360 Tour” when the band stopped in town last October. The main stage round was located beneath a gigantic four-legged spaceship monstrosity (each leg having cost $24-$31 million to construct), and a mounted 360-degree high-definition screen opened and spread apart into individual hexagonal segments that featured dazzling lights, visuals, videos and even a live transmission from “space tourist” Laliberté via the International Space Station. While the set-up didn’t really bring fans closer to the band as intended, it sure did look damn cool. Check out pics from the show at cltampa.com/music.
BEST SHOW NOBODY ATTENDED
Jay Reatard at Crowbar
The surge of attendees seemed an inevitability with Reatard’s name all over the blogosphere last December, but two hours into the doors being opened to the public, a quick visual survey showed, at max, 40 people total, and not many more trickled into Crowbar after that to see the musician perform a stellar 28-minute, dozen-or-so song pop punk assault that was over in a screaming blur. A few weeks later, Jay Reatard died — and you totally missed one of his last performances! Where were you? Because it’s quite possible you missed something legendary.
BEST NEW MUSIC FEST
AntiWarpt Music & Arts Festival, downtown St. Petersburg
Brokenmold Entertainment and No Clubs banked on St. Pete’s burgeoning 600 Block popularity with this single-day multi-venue live music event, which featured more than 20 high-caliber local and regional acts, from Orlando soul-blues songstress Kaleigh Baker, to Bradenton’s fire-fueled Americana rockers Have Gun, Will Travel, to St. Pete one-man electro band Holiday. AntiWarpt was held on the evening of Warped Tour, right down the street from the Vinoy Park fest, for cheap, thereby creating an alternative choice for the folks who don’t do Warped at all as well as catching any Warped runoff. The crowds who inevitably showed up were exposed to music they wouldn’t have seen otherwise and will likely return for a second AntiWarpt. cltampa.com/antiwarpt
BEST PLACE TO SEE LOCAL MUSIC (Hillsborough)
New World Brewery
You can always count on New World to host cost-effective shows featuring the cream of the Bay area’s crop of original music makers, whether it’s as headliners of a CD release party, or as support acts for nationally touring artists. 1313 Eighth Ave., Ybor City, 813-248-4969, newworldbrewery.net
BEST PLACE TO SEE LOCAL MUSIC (Pinellas)
The Local 662
A new live music venture of Tony Rifugiato (No Clubs Productions), Mark Assiff (State Theatre) and Lou Campillo, The Local 662 has seen some substantial improvements since its days as the Garage Bar, when it was arguably one of the worst venues in St. Pete. The space has a roomier feel, the sound system is good and loud, there’s a full-liquor bar (something the Garage lacked), the garish red walls have been painted a pleasant shade of periwinkle and decked with vibrant art pieces. The best part — admission to all shows is free, and top-notch local musicians perform every weekend. 662 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, statemedia.com
BEST BACK IN THE SADDLE
Jannus Live (formerly Jannus Landing)
The public freaked a little when local businessman Jeff Knight revealed the changes he planned for Jannus Landing and its surrounding properties. But when the venue re-opened as Jannus Live, the end result laid most fears to rest. Even though it wasn’t the same seedy Jannus everyone remembered, the inherent magical, under-the-sky vibe was still intact, the renovations improving upon an already fabulous venue. The most noticeable upgrades (aside from the luxury suites) included the removal of the old “circus tent” with its sight-obstructing poles, which opened up the courtyard and made it feel more spacious; a Plexiglas-covered (now Koi-free) pond situated where the deck used to be that gives the place a Saturday Night Fever dance-floor-after-dark kind of ambiance; and a full set of air-conditioned men’s and women’s bathrooms to replace the crude Port-O-Johns and disgusting piss trough. With a beefed-up schedule that includes dates by Vampire Weekend, Flaming Lips and The Script, Jannus is well on its way to recapturing its former glory as one of the Bay area’s best concert venues. 16 Second St. N., St. Petersburg, 727-565-0551, jannuslive.com
BEST VENUE TO SEE A GOOD BAND YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF
Transitions Gallery @ Skatepark of Tampa
Discovering music that’s unknown, unexpected or unpredictable at Transitions is a given, and you can go to a show knowing that if six bands are on the bill, at least two will surprise and delight and prompt an immediate 7" purchase. Even at a noise show, you might find a random dude from South Dakota strumming his guitar folk-style and singing songs about his favorite novels, or some skinny girl banging on the drums for 15 minutes straight, or a throw-back thrash outfit that still plays that thrash style the zeitgeist stupidly abandoned 20 years ago. You just never know, and that’s why you should go… 4215 E. Columbus Dr., Tampa, 813-382-3477,
BEST LIVE MUSIC ON THE BEACH
Jimmy B’s Beach Bar
The St. Pete Beach mainstay is located in the rear of the Beachcomber and runs up against its private beach, with wooden walkways leading from the tiki hut-style open air bar to the water for those who want to dip their feet. Not only is Jimmy B’s ideal for enjoying the sunset while sipping on a piña colada, it’s also the best place on the beach to catch live music with bands playing late seven days a week. There’s not an abundance of original songwriting — it’s on the beach, after all, and entertaining the drunken sunburned denizens requires a song catalog heavily padded with covers that prompt uninhibited dancing and repeat trips to the full liquor bar — but at least it’s a far cry from the typical subpar acoustic guitar-playing beach bum. 6200 Gulf Blvd., St Pete Beach, 727-367-1902
BEST PLACE TO EAT AFTER A SHOW IN YBOR CITY
Mema’s Alaskan Tacos
It’s a fact: after the last band says goodnight at various live music spots in Ybor City, an unnamable pull steers through the hullabaloo and draws you to Mema’s Tacos — and not just because it’s fast, or conservatively priced, or there’s a possibility of randomly running into some kid you haven’t seen since Little League; it’s because your subconscious knows every item on the menu is fucking delicious, and worth eating any hour of the day, before or after the show. 1724 E. Eighth Ave., Ybor City, myspace.com/memasalaskantacos
BEST NEW DIGS
Daddy Kool Records
From a dim and dingy space the size of a retail shoebox, to a bright and open storefront with wide (you can see in!) windows, neatly organized racks, bold color on the walls and floor, a greater selection and variety of merch (vinyl included), and room not only to move around but to grow and maybe even host a few in-stores. 666 Central Ave., downtown St. Petersburg, 727-822-5665, daddykoolrecords.bigcartel.com
BEST COMBINATION OF FOOD AND LIVE MUSIC
Ella’s Americana Folk Art Café
A big and airy dining room full of light and eclectic folk art creations, a corner stage that features free live music by local and original acts of all sorts — from folk to funk to rock, world and everything in between — and a menu jam-packed with delicious home-style-meets-modern eats, including a Sunday menu of soul food and barbecue to go with a serving of late afternoon music. Go. Immediately. And make sure to wear your elastic-waist pants and dancing shoes. 5119 N. Nebraska Ave., Tampa, 813-234-1000, ellasfolkartcafe.com
BEST BOOST TO LOCAL INDIE MUSIC RETAILERS
Record Store Day
The fourth annual Record Store Day — an international campaign celebrating the indie music retailers — brought a nice economic boost to local indies Daddy Kool, Vinyl Fever and Mojo Books & Music, luring record numbers of music enthusiasts to their respective storefronts with the promise of limited RSD-exclusive vinyl and CD releases, storewide sales, special promotions and giveaways, and guest appearances by a range of artists. Just goes to show you that with a sound marketing campaign and hot-ticket goods, you don’t need the holidays to get back in the black. recordstoreday.com
BEST GRAFFITI (Non-Genitalia)
Scientists have conclusively agreed the greater Tampa Bay area is home to some of the world’s greatest bathroom graffiti. After perusing the stall walls at Crowbar in Ybor City, connoisseurs might truly appreciate what French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre had to say: “Imagination is not an empirical or superadded power of consciousness, it is the whole of consciousness as it realizes its freedom.” Specifically, while in the men’s room, where the aforementioned Sartre quote can be found adjacent to such gems as a laundry list of people that “suck gorilla balls,” a rhyme about “your mom’s twat” that goofs on a line from King Lear, and a rather decent drawing of a helicopter. Escape the doldrums of the postmodern novel and fully exist within a surreal instillation of all the outrageous and disorderly values this graffiti dares to replicate. 1812 N. 17th St., Ybor City, 813-241-8600
BEST CONCERT POSTERS
Brad Askew and Azn Mike (Brokenmold Entertainment)
You know a Brokenmold poster when you see one, thanks to the team of “Azn Mike” Houlihan and Bradley Askew. There’s a sense of unapologetic boldness to their work that sets it apart from the other papers glued to the wall. This is graphic art that instantly catches your eye and stays fresh in your mind. bymuseum.com, http://bit.ly/9jntKX
BEST NEW MUSEUM DIGS
Tampa Museum of Art
A visual calling card for downtown Tampa’s waterfront, Stanley Saitowitz’s sleek building has breathed new life into the institution. At night, artist Leo Villareal’s installation of color LEDs lights up the façade. tampamuseum.org
BEST ALTERNATIVE SPACE
Housed in a modest commercial garage in Seminole Heights, Tempus Projects — under the leadership of artist Tracy Midulla Reller — hosts smart showcases of work by emerging artists, Etsy markets and yoga. 5132 Florida Ave. Tampa, tempus-projects.com
Mindy Solomon Gallery
Art collector turned gallerist Mindy Solomon organizes sophisticated exhibitions with an emphasis on contemporary photography and ceramic sculpture in a sleek space just off Beach Drive. 124 2nd Ave NE, St. Petersburg, 727-502-0852, mindysolomon.com
BEST ART-BASED COMMUNITY REVIVAL
The 600 Block, St. Petersburg
Once blighted and nearly abandoned, downtown St. Pete’s 600 Block has sprung back to life thanks to one developer’s vision and an effort led by local artists and designers to brand the block as a destination. sixhundredblock.com
BEST ART CLASSES
Morean Arts Center
With a fall line-up that includes more one-day workshops and three-week classes, the Morean remains a reliable resource for excellent instruction in a range of media, from glass blowing to digital design. 719 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-822-7872, moreanartscenter.org
BEST IN WEARABLE ART
Frank Strunk III
Already a formidable sculptor when he turned his talents several
years ago to creating elaborate garments
out of metal, Strunk is synonymous with wearable art in Tampa Bay.
Theatre. Dance. Music. Art exhibits. Film festivals. Open mics. St. Pete’s Studio@620 does it all — and does it all well under the guidance of artistic director Bob Devin Jones. 620 First Avenue S., St. Petersburg, 727-895-6620, studio620.org
Salvador Dalí Museum
Along with several Spanish organizations, the St. Pete museum co-produced Traces [of the Avant-garde], a riveting and surreal two-channel video by contemporary artist Mabel Palacín. salvadordalimuseum.org
BEST IN PAINTING
A survey of Larsen’s work at the Morean brought well-deserved attention to this amazing painter, whose narrative compositions of angular figures toy with viewers’ sense of space and time. mernetlarsen.com
BEST IN SCULPTURE
Look no further than a current exhibition of his graceful steel sculptures at TMA for proof that the French-born artist, who lives in Tampa, is a Bay area treasure.
In role after role for Stageworks, Legault demonstrated a spectacular versatility and a warming authenticity. In My Children! My Africa! she was a bright, idealistic schoolgirl trying to salve a gaping national wound with a little goodwill. In Agnes of God she was a suffering nun/mother reliving the excruciating moment when she gave birth. And in Eurydice she was a deeply loving woman who lost every precious memory when she descended into Hades. What’ll she do next?
The thrilling American Stage in the Park production of Hair celebrated everything that was beautiful and courageous in the counterculture of the ‘60s. These hippies really meant it when they welcomed “The Age of Aquarius,” and when they begged for someone to “Let the Sunshine In,” you found yourself wishing just as passionately that Peace, Love and Understanding might find their way into our hearts right here right now. A total success: acting, singing, dancing, costuming, set. Unforgettable.
Was he born for the role, or is he simply a genius? As blind Richard Harkin in Conor McPherson’s The Seafarer at American Stage, Richard Coppinger was an astonshingly disheveled personality, wheedling and whining, carping and barking, manipulating his brother Sharky and sniffing out every available drop of alcohol in Ireland. Was this even acting? Seldom has a performer so completely engulfed his part.
BEST SET DESIGNER
Cooper was everywhere this season. His Eurydice environment for Stageworks included a doorway that rained and a motif of umbrellas and sheet music; his Woman in Black for Gorilla Theatre featured a scrim on which was painted the mournful face of a mysterious female; and his Blithe Spirit for American Stage brought us the beautifully elegant living room of the dapper Charles Condomine. Add the peace signs and protest posters of Hair and you’ve got it: sheer talent.
BEST COSTUME DESIGNER
Just one look at the layers and layers of veils and scarves under which labored Madame Arcati in American Stage’s Blithe Spirit and you were transported to a world of bizarre communications and miscommunications with the dead. And just one gander at the flowery dresses, the vests and headbands of Hair, and you were back in 1968 among the love children of a more hopeful America. Moral: when Chavez is at work, you can judge persons by their appearance.
As his stunning staging of The Wild Party in 2008 proved, Eric Davis is an extraordinary director. But would he ever be able to top his work on that wonderful Party? Yes: Hair, at American Stage this year, brought us the most convincing singing, dancing, pot-smoking hippies ever to wander on- and off-stage this side of Haight-Ashbury. Because of Davis’ canny work, this was a staging that reached deeply into the psyches of the audience. Far out!
BEST THEATER COMPANY
Where to begin? In the regular season, there were triumphs like Fences, Hair and The Seafarer; then there were the After Hours shows such as The Vagina Monologues and A Couple of Blaguards. The hilarious Dumb Show brought us superlative improvisation once a month, and the cabarets — like Vive La Piaf — regaled us with song. Under producing artistic director Todd Olson, American Stage has expanded wondrously. Tampa Bay wouldn’t be the same without it.
BEST ARTISTIC DIRECTOR
No other artistic director in the Tampa Bay area is committed to diversity the way Brennen is. Her theater seasons for Stageworks are carefully composed to offer something for African-Americans, feminists, gays and the religious, be they Catholics (last February’s Agnes of God) or Jews (this coming year’s God of Isaac). Her patient wait for the move to Channelside is becoming heroic, and her prickly personality may even be softening. Brava!
MOST AUSPICIOUS PREMIERE
Revolve Theatre Company
It’s not at all unusual for small new theater companies to begin with half-baked, half-professional shows that spawn fear as much as hope. But the new Revolve Theatre Company, brainchild of Chris Jackson, Jessica Alexander and James Rayfield, came to Gorilla Theatre this August with a topnotch production of Caryl Churchill’s perplexing, provocative Far Away. The acting was superb, but the choice of plays — Churchill may be England’s greatest living dramatist — was inspired. Keep your eye on Revolve!
SCARIEST HALLOWEEN SHOW
The Woman in Black
A British solicitor is sent to a mysterious mansion for a funeral and certain legal work. He’s warned that the mansion’s connection to the mainland is cut off every high tide, and told not to let himself become isolated. At the funeral — shriek! — a ghostly woman in black appears, her face, seemingly ruined by a wasting disease, just barely visible. And a haunting begins. And a revenge is set in motion. Run! Scream! Don’t turn around! (Thanks, Gorilla Theatre.)
MOST CONSISTENTLY SURPRISING ACTRESS
No Bay area performer is as hard to pin down as the protean Meg Heimstead. In the last nine months or so she’s played a disturbed, intellectual sexual predator in Christmas Trio; a hilariously narcissistic correspondent in Hate Mail; a fiercely moral, adventurous Good Samaritan in Dead Man’s Cell Phone; and a comically sensual Peanuts character grown to teen years in Dog Sees God. Whatever she plays, she’s always perfectly credible. Who she really is, we may never know.
BEST THEATER NEWS
freeFall Theatre finds a home
After more than a year of looking, freeFall Theatre has found a three-acre property in St. Petersburg which it will transform into a two-stage home for Equity productions. If any new company might actually turn into a major regional theater, that company is freeFall. And if you saw The Wild Party at The Studio@620 in 2008, you know that founders Eric Davis and Kevin Lane are to be taken seriously. Want a good bet? This news is huge.
SADDEST THEATER NEWS
The passing of Jeff Norton
Word of the murder of top actor and all-round man of the theater Jeff Norton rocked the Bay area arts community this year, and in some senses, we may never recover. Norton was perhaps the single most beloved theater person in the region. His talent shone on multiple stages all through the ’90s and after, and his professionalism was a beacon for younger and less experienced performers as well as for his adoring contemporaries. His death is, simply, unthinkable.