Did You Know It Almost Wasn’t Called Fiddler on the Roof?

Fiddler on the Roof is arguably one of the most important musicals ever staged. Let’s talk a little about this show, and then we have some Fiddler fun facts we’d love to share. The show opens here on Nov. 5.

The Cast of Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Joan Marcus.

“You want us to put up how much money for a show about a Jewish shtetl in 1905 Tsarist Russia? Get outta here.”

That’s more or less how we imagine the conversation at Sardi’s going when Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick pitched their latest creation to the producer set. In the early 1960s, they got a lot of no’s, let’s just put it that way. But we can guarantee you all those no-men were kicking themselves later when that same show, under the direction of Jerome Robbins and starring Zero Mostel of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum fame, became the most successful musical on Broadway for the next eight years. For every dollar original Fiddler investors put up, they earned $1,574.

The script, first titled The Old Country then renamed Tevye; Not So Long Ago, Not So Far Away; Where Poppa Came From and, finally Fiddler on the Roof¸ was based on a series of stories by Jewish writer Solomon Rabinovich who used the pen name Sholem Aleichem ( “peace be with you”) to create page-turning tales about an irrepressible Jewish Everyman named Tevye.

The musical born from Aleichem’s Tevye stories hit America at exactly the right time and in exactly the right way. The show, whose original run lasted for a staggering 3,242 performances, many of which were sold out, is epic on many levels outside of its box office stats.

It was the first monumental commercial success of modern American Jews defining Jewish identity on their own terms. Much has been written in the annals of Broadway history about Jerome Robbins awakening to his own ethnic identity while immersed in Fiddler. The show allowed Robbins to explore the Jewish heritage he had long denied and profoundly changed the great choreographer-director’s life. Robbins fiercely guarded the portrayals of Tevye et al., refusing to let any of them be reduced to vaudevillian caricatures, as Jewish people had been portrayed on stage and screen prior to Fiddler.

Much has also been written about the beef between Robbins and Zero Mostel, who had absolutely no qualms at all about his blinding Orthodox pride. The two men despised each other, but their mutual love of the Tevye stories and grudging respect for the other’s artistry allowed them to bury the hatchet temporarily to get Fiddler on the boards. The upside of their towering personalities being at odds was the authenticity it brought to the central conflicts in the musical:  identity vs. assimilation, traditions vs. modernity, family vs. self-actualization, tragedy vs. comedy. It’s hard to imagine any other odd couple bringing Fiddler to life the way Jerry and Zero did on Broadway.

The universal appeal of these central conflicts propelled Fiddler to international fame. Tevye is every parent who wants the best for a child growing up in a world changing too fast. Tevye’s daughters are every child who wants something more out of life but doesn’t even know where to start looking. Golde, Tevye’s wife, is every woman who has had to sacrifice more than her fair share for love and her family’s safety.

In other words, Fiddler is every bit as relevant this minute as it was in 1964 when it opened. It transcends cultural, racial and economic boundaries. The show is a slice of life from the human story. The show is us.

Important as Fiddler is both in performing arts history and human history, there are some fun tidbits from its legend that we wanted to share as we prepare to present the show this November.

Here are a few factoids we think you might find interesting. We sure did.

1. What’s Marc Chagall got to do with it?

The famous modern painter pitched in for friends in New York, designing costumes for Balanchine at New York City Ballet and such. Jerome Robbins, a huge Chagall fan and personal friend, approached the painter about doing set design for what was then called Tevye. Chagall regretfully declined, as he was too busy with other projects. However, his painting, The Fiddler, is noted as the inspiration for what eventually became the show’s title and the image forever associated with this musical.

2. What’s Gene Wilder got to do with it?

Technically, nothing. But, since we just had Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory onstage, we thought we’d mention Gene (Willy Wonka in the movie version) auditioned for Motel the Tailor in Fiddler but didn’t get the part. Later, though, he starred with Zero Mostel in Mel Brooks’s film The Producers.

3. What’s Bea Arthur got to do with it? 

So, you probably just saw our announcement for That Golden Girls Show. Dorothy, a.k.a. Bea Arthur, originally tried out for the role of Yente, the matchmaker, but Robbins thought she looked too modern. Eventually, she got the role. However, Robbins earned the dubious distinction of being the only director to ever break Bea and make her cry. By now, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that a lot of folks had beef with Robbins. You are correct.

4. What’s Japan got to do with it?

One of the oft-told tales proving Fiddler’s universal truths goes back to Tokyo. The show is outrageously popular in Japan, having been mounted in the country more than 1,300 times. The story goes that a well-known Japanese producer asked Fiddler writer Joseph Stein, “do audiences understand this show in America?” Stein, puzzled, replied yes, that they wrote it for Americans—why? “Because it’s just so Japanese,” he said.

FIDDLER ON THE ROOF opens in Morsani Hall Nov. 5, 2019 and runs through the weekend.

The Cast of Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Joan Marcus.

We Know the Mission

Straz Salutes is an organizational mission to make sure our military and veteran communities know they have a place at The Straz. We provide tickets, outreach programs and presentations for military, veterans and their families.

We’ve always had a soft spot for military, veterans and their families, which is why we’ve offered discounted tickets for our armed forces guests for years. Since 9/11, the country as a whole has seen more wounded warriors return home with visible and invisible injuries sustained in the line of duty. Since we regard our military with the utmost respect, we, like most civilian organizations, needed some first-hand guidance about how to say, ‘hey, we’re here for you in more ways than just tickets’ and still honor the warrior’s code of stoicism regarding pain.

We know people in the military and their families have chosen a tough path. It is our earnest desire to demonstrate that the performing arts can allow safe passage back to self and home.

We call our initiative in this endeavor Straz Salutes.

Cast of Diavolo’s The Veterans Project in rehearsal at The Straz.

As more research and media emerged explaining the positive effects of the arts for PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI), we realized we had a duty to implement greater efforts to build stronger ties to our military community. Simultaneously, we explored national movements in arts and healing as well as worked with a creative arts therapy network for PTSD and TBI, Creative Forces, a partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts and the Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs.

Soon after, the Straz Center community engagement department began direct efforts to initiate visual art, performance collaborations and community conversations with our military community. The Straz received a grant from Creative Forces to launch the VetArtSpan project with the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. The project, spearheaded by our community engagement specialist Fred Johnson, resulted in the VetArtSpan website that includes podcasts, a visual art gallery, helpful information for civilians. The VetArtSpan project culminated in a live performance of veteran artists at The Straz on Aug. 30 this year.

Local veterans and dancers work together to create a meaningful and memorable performance with Diavolo.

These efforts—discounted tickets, our education from national organizations, direct community involvement as well as military-themed programming—converged into a united push to bridge any gaps between us, our military and their families. The different prongs needed unification under one initiative: thus, our over-arching program, Straz Salutes, was born.

The sum of our efforts to reach, meet and support the whole scope of the military community, Straz Salutes appears on the 2019-2020 season in many forms. Our Straz Salutes logo denotes specific performances relating to or of particular interest to our military community, including the United States Air Force Concert Band on Oct. 26 and longtime veteran advocate and country music star Aaron Tippin on Oct. 22. Our ongoing community engagement efforts resulted in some spectacular collaborations, most notably the Diavolo Veterans Project and the Medal of Honor visual art exhibit.

Veterans and dancers from the Tampa Bay area participated in a few weeks of intense dance training with Diavolo earlier this year.

Diavolo, a performance art group based in Los Angeles, made an open call for local dancers and veterans in the Tampa Bay area to participate in a two-week intensive to create a dance to be performed in Diavolo’s Oct. 25 show in Morsani Hall. The piece, A Long Journey Home, held to a demanding 5-hour-a-day, six-days-a-week schedule, and is slated to be the centerpiece of their eye-popping Straz Center program.

At the beginning of October, we unveiled our newest exhibit on the Riverwalk which features the visual art of students from the tri-county area who participated with us as part of the Medal of Honor convention being held in Tampa this year. The kids were given a virtue of the Medal of Honor—”the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force”—to depict upon a coin. The top seven artworks were reproduced physically and now hang upon the panels of the Riverwalk gallery to coincide with the Medal of Honor convention Oct. 22-26. The community engagement department also sent Fred Johnson, himself a veteran and artist who is heavily involved in the Diavolo project as well, to MacDill Youth Center to teach bucket drumming for the children living on MacDill Air Force Base.

Diavolo’s The Veterans Project aims to exemplify strength and emotion through it’s unique dance techniques.

Alice Santana, acting director for the community engagement and education programs, envisions growing more community partnerships through Straz Salutes, formally and informally. “Our job is to accomplish the goal of making sure our military and veteran community feels 100% welcomed here. Straz Salutes is also about equity. If we have something going on in these walls that can help these families get their minds off the past, current deployments or the strains of military life, we want them to have access to our performances, our programs, our campus. We are approachable, we’re open to suggestions and we are continually looking for input from active military and veterans on what we can do better,” she says.

Don’t miss our Straz Salutes performances and events this Oct. For tickets and more information, visit strazcenter.org

Come with Me, and You’ll Be, in a World of Pure Imagination

Patel Conservatory theater instructor Joe Herrera teaches students at Burnett Middle School that you can find yourself (and change the world) with a little imagination. Caught in the Act welcomes Straz Center media relations manager Alex Stewart as our guest blogger this week.

by Alex Stewart, guest blogger

Let’s play a theater game. I want you to imagine you have a long, skinny neck. Now, walk around the room as if you have one. Project how that would look. Would it influence the way you walk? Would your voice sound different? How would this change your overall appearance? Next, do the same as if you have a short, fat neck. Does that change your voice? Your behavior? Now, act as if you have long, green finger nails. Does that make you feel like a creepy witch? Or more like Cardi B with her signature blinged out nails?

Do you feel weird yet? Good. Because this is a no judgment zone – and here at The Straz, that’s what we strive for. Be weird. Be yourself. And have fun with it.

This fall, students at Burnett Middle School, a Title I school in Seffner, are learning how to be their weird, true selves through theater games just like this – and discovering how to bring their unique personalities into the characters they are aiming to create.

Joe meets the class in the school auditorium theater where they warm up with theater games.

Patel Conservatory theater instructor Joe Herrera and Burnett Middle School drama/English teacher Cathy Cromar are teaching students acting and characterization techniques using Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as inspiration, just in time for the Broadway show’s arrival to The Straz. This class is made possible by the Straz Center’s Arts Education Partnership Program, which partners with agencies, schools, community organizations and after-school programs to expose children and adults to the life changing benefits of the arts – at no cost to them, thanks to donors and grants. How sweet is that?

Look, it can be expensive to go to the theater. You need transportation, money for parking, and let’s not forget the cost of the actual ticket itself. And what if you want to treat yo’ self? That candy bar in Morsani Lobby is tempting. Simply put, not everyone can afford access to the arts. With arts classes and programs being cut out of school curriculums, some kids might get no exposure to them, which is why the Arts Education Partnership Program is so important.

Coaching individual students on finding the courage to perform.

Burnett Middle School has been a community partner for several years, but this year the program was able to provide students with free tickets to Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and cover the costs of transportation to the theater, in addition to the eight-week class Joe is teaching.

“Many of my students have never been to a live performance or ever taken part in one,” says Cathy. “The students come away from this experience with an appreciation for this art form, knowledge of theater etiquette, which we stress in our class, and the ability to step outside your comfort box and perform, even if you’re frightened to do so.”

The class encourages students to explore and discover the crazy characters from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, using their imagination to create their own versions of some of the iconic characters. The goal being to break these students out of their shells – to use these characters to learn about themselves and to gain confidence and focus in their everyday lives.

Joe shares his expertise from his career as a professional actor in the Anton Chekov technique to build trust and guide students’ acting choices.

“My process into theater making and acting has always been the imagination,” says Joe. “And I think when you look at the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, whether it’s the musical or the film versions or even the novel, there are so many different themes,” says Joe. “But what resonates for me as a human being and as an artist, it’s the idea that nothing’s impossible. It’s tapping into that inner child. And I think that what I’m starting to see more and more these days with kids is that they’re losing their inner child, even at a young age.”

When the class first started, many of the students hadn’t seen the movie or read the book, so Joe prompted them to use their imaginations to create their chosen character based on the character names alone. The students were asked to write a diary entry from the perspective that they were a Golden Ticket winner, to help them understand and explore the emotional aspects of their character. Next, they were asked to add physicality, and imagine what that would look like. “If you were Willy Wonka, how would you walk? Is he old? Does he have a limp? Show me that,” asks Joe.

After the students see the show at The Straz on October 10, they will be asked to draw their character, free form and uncensored. And if it’s nothing like the book, movie or musical? Perfect. “There’s no right or wrong when you’re using your imagination,” says Joe. The class culminates with the students performing monologues based on their diary entries, incorporating the emotional, physical and visual techniques they’ve learned throughout the class.

“You’ll hear me say this a lot – there’s no right or wrong in theater. My goal is to create an atmosphere of fun-ness, so that they can break out of that shell of right and wrong, that they are so used to in school. And there’s room for that – but with art there isn’t. It’s a basis of you. You are the expression of that thing,” Joe says.

Participating in the “silly shapes” games that asks actors to improvise shapes in order to discover their physicality onstage.

And fun-ness, Joe delivers. Students participate in a range of activities and theater games during the class, from creating twisty shapes with their bodies to working together to build a “sound machine” of different noises. The students are active most of the class, learning to make friends with each other and the space.

While theater games and drama class can be fun, kids learn skills from the arts that can help them in everyday life. “I want them to see that this is not just a class ‘to have fun’ … we’re actually learning skills that can benefit us elsewhere, like doing a presentation in class,” says Cathy. “Joe is such a positive, animated actor; this rubs off on the kids. I can see that they trust him and will try anything he asks them to do.”

Each class ends with a round table evaluation of what students learned and what they can take from the class into their everyday lives.

The arts not only boost students’ academic achievements, but they help them figure out who they are. The arts allow them to be creative, collaborate and problem solve, among many other benefits, which sets them up for success in future careers.

“What can theater do? What can the arts do? It can bring out that self-expression,” says Joe. “I explained to the students that there are many different individuals that I’ve come across. They start out in a theater class or an acting class, and yet, they’re not actors. They’re working in other areas. They’re businessmen or businesswomen, they’re public speakers or they’re lawyers. And what it does, is it helps you to identify who you are, number one. And number two, it helps you to communicate so that you can achieve the things that you want.”

Ultimately, Joe wants his students to be able to find their true, authentic selves, and for them to know that nothing is impossible, just like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

“The golden ticket for you may not be theater. It may not be art, it may not be acting. But what I’m trying to introduce to them is to tap into the inner you. The you that is so pure, the you that is so true, the you that is so authentic. The you that the world needs because that’s why you are here.”

Get your tickets for Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory today before the Wonka factory rolls out of Tampa.

What The Heck Is A Spymonkey?

This Q&A from the cast of Hysteria sheds a little light on the renowned British troupe and will hopefully get you even more excited to see this exclusive United States debut at The Straz.

"Cooped", Spymonkey, Liverpool Playhouse, Liverpool, Britain - 05 June 2019

The cast of Spymonkey’s Hysteria. (Photo: Jane Hobson)

How would you describe Spymonkey to a stranger?

Aitor Basauri (joint artistic director, performer): Spymonkey is a unique and original form of funny theatre. You see a theatre play, but you laugh a lot, too.

Toby Park (managing artistic director, performer): A glorious bunch of idiots who like to make seriously ridiculous theatre.

Stephan Kreiss (associate artist, performer): Spymonkey is a highly precise and accurate depiction of what Europe seems to feel like at the moment. Two European countries (Spain and Germany) represented by – two idiots! The U.K. – represented by – two idiots! Three men = three idiots! One woman – also an idiot! But the difference is – we know and have shown to each other on numerous occasions that we are idiots and therefore get along pretty well these past two decades … The world would perhaps be a nicer place if people would admit to their foolishness.

Bill Barberis (performer): Stupid idiots pretending to be wonderful dramatic actors. Or the other way around? Anyway, you’ll laugh your heart out.

Anne Goldmann (performer): Clown, physical comedy, surrealist slapstick, raunch melodramatic Da Da-ism, the-real-edge-of-edgy. Pure delight, a gut-wrenching laugh factory. Everything I always wanted to see a group of people do on stage. World-class brilliantly idiotic performance art theatre group.

headshots

L to R: Aitor Basauri, Toby Park, Stephan Kreiss, Bill Barberis, Anne Goldmann.

Is this Spymonkey’s first time performing in the United States? If not, where could Straz audiences have seen you before?

Toby: Our first visit to the U.S. was in 2001 at the Aspen Comedy Festival (disco dancing with George Lucas anyone?) and at the tiny Theatre LaB in Houston with our show Stiff. We spent two years living in Las Vegas, being the clowns in Cirque du Soleil’s burlesque show Zumanity, for which we created the comedy numbers. And we took our Complete Deaths (four clowns perform all the deaths in Shakespeare in one night) to Chicago Shakes a couple of years ago.

Aitor: I very much enjoyed the time we had in Houston and every time we have played in the U.S.A. So, I am really looking forward to playing in the U.S.A. again as I feel there is a real appetite for comedy at the moment.

Stephan: When I lived in Las Vegas 16 years ago, I did regular late night shopping at Vons at East Tropicana Avenue – so maybe some members of The Straz audience who visited Las Vegas then might have seen me there?

What are you most looking forward to about performing at The Straz and being in Tampa?

Toby: Really looking forward to making Tampa audiences fall out of the seats laughing. Hoping that there aren’t too many hurricanes, as we heard that those are quite impressive, and we couldn’t resist renting a house on a river. Stephan is convinced that we will be fending off alligators every night. There are some big surfing fans in the company, so we anticipate a number of Sunday night dashes across to the Atlantic coast to catch some waves.

Aitor: I am really looking forward to the good weather. It is nice to play where it is hot. I think people laugh more when it is hot. We have been playing Hysteria for many years, and we have never played it in the U.S.A., so I would like to find out how it goes with the new changes.

Stephan: It is just brilliant to play and tour our shows abroad. New audiences, new and fresh audience reactions, new laughter. The excitement when you open somewhere new and you feel the sizzling curiosity of how it will go down. Plus, Florida for me, being German, is such an exotic location. The sun, heat, humidity, palm trees and alligators in kitchens.

Anne: I’m excited to find out what makes the audiences respond and laugh. Every audience is different, and I love to find out what makes each one unique. The best Thai food I ever had was in Florida, so I’m hoping to revisit fine cuisine. And I really love the natural beauty of Florida. I can’t wait to take some walks and enjoy the nature.

giphy

Describe Hysteria in five words.

Anne: Surreal Fantasy Gothic Romance Comedy

Toby: Funniest show you’ll ever see

Aitor: A funny piece of theatre

Stephan: Wet yourself with hysterical laughter

 

SPYMONKEY__Digital Billboard_840x400

Set in Stone (and Bronze)

This week we unveil the new collection of sculptures in Morsani Hall.

For quite some time, we’ve had the privilege of collaborating with the National Sculpture Society (NSS) in New York City thanks to a very special couple who has been with The Straz from the beginning. Well, even before the beginning since Jim Jennewein—The Straz connection to the NSS—was one of the original architects of our campus.

He and his wife Joan stayed involved with us all the years after, she on our Opera Tampa League Board and both as patrons, donors and overall genuinely lovely people who appreciate art in all its forms. The newest collection of sculptures, unveiled in Morsani Hall this week, stand in honor of the Jenneweins’ dedication to sculpture and art and their decades-long connection with the Straz Center.

The juried exhibit, Performance in Sculpture, invokes both literal and abstract notions of performance, resulting in some provocative works that are definitely worth a gander before your next show. We decided to use the blog this week to talk about what we love about a few of the new pieces, then you can go see them for yourself with the rest of the collection.

PUMA                                                                                                                                                                                    By Kristine Taylor                                                                                                                                        

WHAT WE LOVE: We’re cat people. We’re performing arts people. Which means we tend to think of cats as the embodiment of dance, music and theater rolled into one majestic creature. Kristine Taylor’s exquisite bronze likeness of the only big cat native to North America captures the artistic essence of puma concolor, a.k.a. the mountain lion or cougar (in Florida we call it a panther). The delicate point of the paw conjures a dancer’s leg, the arced body from tail to nose reminds us of a ligature in music and the potential energy—the cat is about to strike—creates quite the dramatic moment.

MARIAN ANDERSON                                                                                                                                             By Meredith Bergmann 

WHAT WE LOVE: Well, what’s not to love about Marian Anderson? One of the greatest singers of all time, Anderson’s contralto stirred the soul whether she was performing arias or spirituals. “Movement” is the word we think of when we think of Marian Anderson- her voice moved people, political will and social justice. Meredith Bergmann’s sculpture, while seemingly a static statue at first glance, reveals the swirling, sweeping grace not only of the woman herself but of the kinetic force she brought to the times in which she lived.

GOSSIP                                                                                                                                                                            By David Richardson                                                                                                                                        

WHAT WE LOVE: We are almost as big a fan of humor in fine art as we are of cats, and that’s saying something. David Richardson’s delicate and deliciously witty quintet of chickadees appears as unassuming art for the bird lover until you take a look at the title. Gossip suddenly transforms the seed-eating five into a cabal of possible frenemies. Now, the artwork begs the questions what are they talking about? What did that one chickadee do? Does this work answer the riddle of when do birds become catty? And that’s the kind of thinking we admire in fun visual art.

DRUM HORSE                                                                                                                                                            By Kathleen Friedenberg                                                                                                                          

WHAT WE LOVE: Of the 13 new works, Kathleen Friedenberg’s opus to the grand military purpose of the drum horse represents the classic Western European sculptural style. (There is another beauty recalling the traditional Greco-Roman style, but you will have to go see that one for yourself.) We note, off the bat, the sense of purpose charged in the horse’s gait, the diagonal lines of his legs contrasted by the ramrod straight posture of the soldier he carries. In bronze, this sculpture acts especially reflective both physically in the material’s sheen and metaphorically: Friedenberg notes that this sculpture emerges from her memory of growing up in England; it is, literally, the artist’s reflection of a time gone by. We also adore the meticulous detail work of the subjects, from the saddlecloth to the parallel “manes” on the soldier’s helmet and on the drum horse.

We hope you find even more to love about the new works in our Performance in Sculpture exhibit. There are nine more pieces besides these to enjoy, each with its own sense of awe and multiple points of contemplation. If you really love them, you’ll be happy to know each is available for purchase, with a portion of the acquisition price going to the Straz Center to support our mission.

The collection may be viewed by patrons attending performances in Morsani Hall. The collection may also be viewed by special arrangement during non-performance times. Contact the Straz Center’s director of guest services at 813.222.1062 for more information.

Picker, Grinner, Emmy -And Grammy- Award Winner

Steve Martin may have made his way to the spotlight as a star on Saturday Night Live and in films like The Jerk and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. But there’s a lot more to this wild and crazy guy than a genius knack for comedy.

This month, Jobsite Theater launched its new play season with Steve Martin’s give-you-a-stitch-in-the-side funny Meteor Shower. The troupe saw a raucous success staging Martin’s The Underpants a few seasons ago and Picasso at the Agile Lapin a few seasons before that, so they’re bringing in his most recent play to treat audiences to Martin’s signature mix of intelligence and hilarity.

A frequent contributor to The New Yorker – the paragon of excellent writing – Martin eclipsed his own celebrity as a comic actor when the arts establishment noticed he was a sublimely talented writer.

A triple threat, Martin pens plays, essays and novels, each of which requires a different skill set from the writer’s craft. Well, make that a quint-threat: he also writes songs and poems. His long-nosed character C.D. Bales famously states in Roxanne, Martin’s film adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac, “tell her you’re afraid of words!” Regarding Martin himself, this line seems deeply ironic since he deep-dives into them all, no matter the shape, size, form or fashion.

His writing chops developed on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in the 1960s, where he netted his first Emmy Award® for outstanding writing achievement. His first short film, The Absent Minded Waiter (1977) was nominated for an Academy Award®. For those of us in live theater, we were thrilled when his play Picasso at the Lapin Agile opened Off-Broadway in 1996 (of course winning the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Play that year).

We were even more giddy when we found out, in 2014, that Martin and alt-pop-folk 90s wunderkind Edie Brickell were collaborating on a bluegrass musical. That show, Bright Star, opened on Broadway in 2016 and earned a subsequent Tony® nod for Best Musical in 2017.

Martin, who had implemented his impressive banjo skills as a gimmick in his stand-up, eventually quit playing around and came out as a serious student of bluegrass and a masterful banjo player in league with  the greats of the bluegrass tradition.

Prior to making Bright Star with Brickell, Martin released two acclaimed bluegrass albums of original songs, collaborated with stars The Steep Canyon Rangers and won the 2011 International Bluegrass Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year Award. An ardent devotee of banjo history, stylings and experimentation, Martin created the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass which comes with an unrestricted cash prize of $50,000 through the Steve Martin Charitable Fund.

On Sep. 19 in NYC’s Town Hall Theater, Martin hosts a live concert of bluegrass all-stars which culminates in the unveiling of the 2019 Steve Martin Prize recipient.

Jonelle Marie Meyer (Corkey) and Jordan Foote (Norm). Photo courtesy Pritchard Photography.

Meteor Shower, Martin’s latest play, opened on Broadway in 2017 starring Amy Schumer, Laura Benanti, KeeganMichael Key and Jeremy Shamos. Schumer garnered a Tony® nomination and both she and Benanti – a perennial Broadway favorite – landed distinguished performance nominations from the Drama League.

Jordan Foote (Norm), Jonelle Marie Meyer (Corkey), Jamie Jones (Gerald), and Amy E. Gray (Laura). Photo courtesy Pritchard Photography.

To get your seat for Jobsite Theater’s production of Meteor Shower, playing in the Shimberg Playhouse Sept. 4 – Oct. 6, visit strazcenter.org.

Let’s Eat Chocolate

In honor of Roald Dahl’s CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY opening in a month, we thought we’d give you a head start on some delectable chocolate recipes you can make at home. We asked our renowned pastry chef Jamie Paultre for his three favorites, and here they are.

We don’t mean to brag, but—well, we do; yes, we’re bragging—chocolate first arrived in the American colonies in Florida. That’s right. The mouth-watering, life-giving force introduced itself on our shores via a Spanish ship in 1641. By the time the Revolutionary War rolled around, cocoa beans were a major American import considered a utilitarian staple in pantries across the New World. Soldiers had chocolate in their rations.

The Aztecs and Mayans, early pioneers in assigning value to cacao beans, used the fruit as currency. They also served liquid chocolate to human sacrifices prior to said fate to cheer them up a bit. Civilizations in other parts of Latin America and Mesopotamia used the beans and fruit for eating and drinking. The Latin name for the cacao tree translates to “food of the gods” and today, in the United States alone, chocolate generates a 4-billion-dollar-plus economy. The average American eats about a half a pound of chocolate each month.

We’re going to go out on a limb here and suggest that Roald Dahl’s classic tale of a poor boy lucking his way to a Golden Ticket might not have seen the same popularity had Willy Wonka owned a broccoli factory. Chocolate makes life delicious.

So, when we wanted to share some deliciousness with you to celebrate the brand-new Broadway production of Roald Dahl’s CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY opening Oct. 8, our first thought was to track down the Straz Center pastry chef, Jamie Paultre. We asked him to reveal his three favorite recipes using chocolate as a main ingredient. He delivered these three whoppers, each requiring simple ingredients you may already have in your pantry.

1.    Chocolate Flan Cake

Yield: 1 flan cake

Hard Caramel

Caramel Weight – grams Volume
Sugar, granulated 200g 1 cup
Water 40g 3 tbsp
Corn syrup 22g 1 tbsp
  1. Bring sugar, water and corn syrup to a boil.
  2. Brush sides of pot with a brush to remove any sugar on the sides.
  3. Cook sugar mixture until amber color.
  4. Pour caramel evenly around the bottom of a bundt pan. Set aside to cool.

 

Flan

 Flan Weight – grams Volume
Condensed milk 800g 2ea – 14oz cans
Milk 560g 2 ¼ cup
Cream cheese 225g 8oz block
Eggs, whole 300g 6 eggs
Eggs, yolks 60g 4 yolks
Vanilla extract 14g 4 tsp
  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Blend using an immersion blender until smooth, being careful not to incorporate any air. Set aside.

Chocolate Cake

Chocolate Cake Weight – grams Volume
Cake flour 80g 2/3 cup
Cocoa powder 30g 1/3 cup
Baking soda 3g 1/2 tsp
Salt 2.5g 1/4 tsp
Dark chocolate 115g 1/2 cup
Butter 115g 1 stick
Buttermilk 130g 1/2 cup
Sugar, granulated 100g 1/2 cup
Eggs, whole 100g 2 eggs
Vanilla extract 7g 2 tsp
  1. Melt together butter and chocolate. Set aside.
  2. Sift together flour, cocoa powder baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  3. Whisk together buttermilk, sugar, eggs and vanilla extract.
  4. Whisk chocolate mixture into egg mixture.
  5. Mix the chocolate mixture into the flour mixture.
  6. Pour cake batter into the bundt pan.
  7. Fill the mold the rest of the way with the flan mixture.
  8. Bake in a water bath at 300 degrees F in a conventional oven. Cook until center reads 180 degrees F on thermometer, approximately 1.5 hours.
  9. Refrigerate overnight.
  10. Place plate or serving tray with a lip on the bundt pan and flip to unmold.

 

2.    Chocolate Passion Verrine

Yield: 12 2oz shot glasses

Chocolate Panna Cotta

 Chocolate Panna Cotta Weight – grams Volume
Milk 38g 2 ½ tbsp
Heavy cream 200g 7/8 cup
Sugar 50g 1/4 cup
Gelatin 3g 1 tsp
Dark chocolate 75g 1/3 cup
  1. Place milk in a bowl large enough to hold chocolate and heavy cream.
  2. Sprinkle gelatin over milk, let bloom for 5 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, combine sugar and cream in a separate pot and bring to a boil.
  4. If using chocolate bar/squares, chop into small pieces, then put into the bowl with milk and gelatin.
  5. Pour boiling hot cream mixture over the chocolate.
  6. Whisk till combined. Let cool to around 100 degrees F.
  7. Place 2oz shot glasses in a muffin pan at a 45 degree angle.
  8. Pour into glasses until it almost reaches one edge of the glass. Let set in fridge.

Passion Fruit Curd

Passion Fruit Curd Weight – grams Volume
Passion fruit puree 170g 2/3 cup
Sugar, granulated A 50g 1/4 cup
Egg, yolks 95g 6 yolks
Eggs, whole 100g 2 large egg
Sugar, granulated B 50g 1/4 cup
Butter 100g 1/3 cup
  1. Combine sugar A and passion fruit puree in a pot and bring to a boil.
  2. When almost at a boil whisk together yolks, whole eggs and sugar B in a bowl large enough to hold eggs and puree.
  3. Temper boiling puree into egg mixture.
  4. Return to medium heat and cook until thickened, while continuously stirring curd and scraping sides and bottom of pot.
  5. Once thick remove from heat and whisk in butter.
  6. Let cool to room temperature.
  7. Remove shot glasses from muffin pan and stand straight up.
  8. Pipe curd into shot glasses on top of the panna cotta, filling the glass the rest of the way.
  9. Let cool in fridge.

Decoration (optional)

  1. Top with whipped cream
  2. Place piped chocolate decoration or chocolate shavings on whipped cream

3.    Chocolate Caramel Tart

Yield: 1 9in tart

Hazelnut Pate Sable

 Hazelnut Pate Sable Weight – Grams Volume
All-purpose flour 125g 1 cup
Sugar 40g 3 tbsp
Powdered sugar 20g 2 ½ tbsp
Butter, cold 120g 1/2 cup or 1 stick
Ground hazelnuts 50g 1/2 cup
  1. Combine all ingredients until butter is incorporated.
  2. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  3. Roll out 3mm thick.
  4. Place in greased tart pan.
  5. Bake at 325 degrees F until golden brown.
  6. Let cool set aside for later.

Caramel

 Caramel Weight – grams Volume
Sugar 200g 1 cup
Corn syrup, light 40g 2 tbsp
Water 40g 1/4 cup
Butter 75g 1/3 cup
Heavy cream 75g 1/3 cup
  1. Combine sugar, corn syrup and water in a pot.
  2. Bring to a boil. Brush side of pot with a wet brush to remove any sugar crystals sticking to side.
  3. Cook to 320 degrees F.
  4. Remove from heat and carefully whisk in butter and heavy cream.
  5. Return to heat and cook to 250 degrees F.
  6. Pour into tart shell. Let cool.

 

Ganache

 Ganache Weight – Grams Volume
Heavy cream 200g 7/8 cup
Dark chocolate 200g 1 cup
Sea salt As needed As needed
Hazelnuts 25g 1/4 cup
  1. Bring heavy cream to a boil.
  2. Meanwhile, if using a bar/square of chocolate cut it up into small pieces, then put into a bowl large enough to hold chocolate and heavy cream.
  3. Pour over dark chocolate.
  4. Whisk together until smooth.
  5. Pour over caramel.
  6. Let cool.
  7. Finely chop hazelnuts and toast them.
  8. Once chocolate is almost set sprinkle with sea salt. On the edge of the tart, sprinkle with the finely chopped, toasted hazelnuts.