FROM THE VAULT: Natalie Cole

Friday, March 20, 1992

Natalie Cole from the vault

Natalie Cole performed at the Straz Center on March 20, 1992, a stop on her “Unforgettable” tour.

In the early 90’s, the Tampa Tribune had a “Friday EXTRA!” section, an arts and entertainment tabloid, chock full of local and national entertainment news and events for the upcoming weekend.

The section for March 20, 1992, featured the headliner of weekend events at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Natalie Cole, who competed for space in “Friday EXTRA!” with the shocking psycho-sex thriller Basic Instinct, which opened that weekend, and news of MTV’s Spring Break airing live from Florida’s very own Daytona Beach.

Then 42, in her prime, and ramping into Festival Hall fresh from a series of Grammy® wins for her Billboard-sweeping album Unforgettable, Cole was enjoying a resurgence of fame for the wow-factor of “advanced recording technology” that enabled the singer to record a duet with her late father, the legendary Nat King Cole. The album resurrected not only one of American’s most beloved singers, Nat King Cole, but also Natalie’s career, which had plateaued after her recovery from drug addiction and a string of hits in the late 1980s.

According to EXTRA writer Philip Booth, who interviewed Cole for the feature, Unforgettable emerged at the request of Cole fans—both Nat King’s and Natalie’s. Instantly successful in 1991, the idea has sustained Natalie for more than two decades: even in 2015, “Unforgettable” still serves as the highlight of her evening concerts.

Tickets for the show at TBPAC on March 20, 1992 ranged from $25-$35, and she played Festival (now Morsani) Hall.

If you saw Natalie Cole during this performance, share your memories by posting to this blog.

FROM THE VAULT: Dizzy Gillespie with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra

Friday, April 6, 1990

Gillespie_from the vault

Dizzy Gillespie and the Lionel Hampton Orchestra performed in Festival Hall (now Morsani Hall) on Saturday, April 7, 1990.

Two of the great, Mufasa-esque lions of be-bop era jazz conspired together for a performance on the stage at Morsani Hall on Saturday, April 7, 1990, and, surprisingly, it didn’t blow up.

However, one can only speculate about what happened to the minds of the audience.

Vibes virtuoso Lionel Hampton, with his Orchestra, hosted trumpeter par excellence John Birks Gillespie, best known as “Dizzy,” in a jazz concert for the record books. At the time, Dizzy was 72 years old, a Kennedy Center Honors recipient that year, and, three short years after his Straz Center engagement, would die an American legend in Englewood, New Jersey.

When Dizzy blew, his neck and face puffed like a set of billows, his eyes bugged and his signature up-turned-trumpet bell gave him his distinctive, original look. The beret, sharp goatee and dark spectacles helped.

Dizzy, in the scope of jazz, held a special place as a musician and African-American man who pushed himself to the limits of his imagination and then some, becoming a cultural ambassador, a beloved American icon and a superior improvisational artist. Plus, he was so darn funny. Who else could have convinced President Jimmy Carter, in 1978, to record the lyrics for a rendition of Gillespie’s own famed tune, “Salt Peanuts”?

Dizzy, who credits Afro-Cuban Godfather Mario Bauza as his musical father, assumed the mantle of Bauza’s work and became one of pioneers of Afro-Cuban/Latin Jazz in American music. By the end of his career, Dizzy had 14 honorary degrees and a Grammy® Lifetime Achievement Award. He’d performed with Cab Calloway, Teddy Hill Band, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane, Yusef Lateef and personally discovered Arturo Sandoval.

In 1964, Gillespie put himself forth as an independent write-in candidate for the presidential race, citing his Cabinet, which would include Miles Davis as Director of the CIA and Charles Mingus as the Secretary of Peace. Phyllis Diller, he noted, would run on his ticket as VP.

If only we had a time machine.

Gillespie appeared on more than 1,000 records, and, in this one-night-only appearance, in the flesh on our stage with his good friend and equal legend, Lionel Hampton. Hampton also sported an impressive collection of honorary doctorates and would later earn the National Medal of Arts from President Clinton. Hampton died in New York City in 2002. He was 94 years old.

The show, billed as “Dizzy Gillespie with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra,” played at 8 p.m. with tickets at $19.50. Again: if only we had a time machine.

FROM THE VAULT: Alice Cooper

March 2, 1990, St. Petersburg Times

This article, written by pop music critic Eric Snider, appeared in St. Petersburg Times as a feature of the “On The Town” section and profiled Cooper’s dual identity: as husband/father of two Vince Furnier, and as the gothic, be-serpented rock ’n’ roll character called Alice Cooper.

This article appeared in the St. Petersburg Times as a feature of the “On The Town” section and profiled Alice Cooper’s dual identity.

Proto-typical shock rocker Alice Cooper performed in “Festival Hall” (Morsani) on, ironically, a Sunday.

The March 4 show here marked a stop on Cooper’s 1990 comeback tour, the same year a young man the world would know as Marilyn Manson was taking classes at Broward Community College in Fort Lauderdale. When the pop music world reeled over Manson’s taking-it-to-the-next-level brand of shock rocker-ism, Cooper famously pointed out Manson wasn’t the first person to ever take a woman’s name and rock out with make up on.

This article, written by pop music critic Eric Snider, appeared in St. Petersburg Times as a feature of the “On The Town” section and profiled Cooper’s dual identity: as husband/father of two Vince Furnier, and as the gothic, be-serpented rock ’n’ roll character called Alice Cooper. “I’m very separate from him [Alice],” Furnier says in the article, “Off-stage, I’m not him. It’s a Jekyll and Hyde situation.” Snider’s feature, an examination of the creation of Alice that also included Furnier’s bouts with excessive drinking and Alice’s almost-murder by “the disco plague” (says Furnier in the interview), includes Cooper’s backstory of building the cult following in Detroit, recording under the tutelage of Frank Zappa and the band’s desire to “drive a stake through the heart of the [60s] love generation.”

At the time of his show here, Alice Cooper was a mere 42 years old—just a baby in the grand scheme of things, but ancient by pop music standards. At the time of this blog, Marilyn Manson is 45 … perhaps ready for a comeback tour of his own? Carol Morsani Hall? Anyone?

Alice Cooper show time was 7:30 p.m., tickets cost $19.75.

Twenty-one years after his stop here for this show, in 2011, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame inducted the original Alice Cooper band into its elite pantheon.

FROM THE VAULT: Teddy & Alice

December 1987, Americana Magazine

Article from Americana Magazine

Article clipping from Americana Magazine, December 1987.

In November 1986, the Iran-Contra scandal broke in the Lebanese media, quickly spreading to international headlines. With key players such as Oliver North, Fawn Hall, President Reagan and the Nicaraguan Contras, that drama cast a sour shadow over American politics and government.

Needless to say, it was bad timing for a romping musical about beloved president Theodore Roosevelt’s wily relationship with his insouciant, teenaged daughter, Alice. The musical, Teddy and Alice, inspired by that true tale, had its tryouts at The Straz before heading to Broadway for a two month run. The show focused on Roosevelt’s inability to run the country while containing his irrepressible daughter, and he chose the former job, but not without paying the personal price of an outspoken, free-spirited daughter in love with an ill-favored match in the form of Ohio representative Nicholas Longworth.

Reviews were not favorable to the show, mostly citing too much one-dimensional painting of Roosevelt outside of his political and historical context. Perhaps, in 1987, reviewers merely wanted more truth about a president than what was revealed? Or maybe, as it happens in any industry, the product just missed the mark. Either way, The Straz, then and now, proudly supported the premiere of the show—without new works, performing arts in America will not evolve, grow or expand to the next level. As with any business, supporters of the arts must be bold enough to take risks. Tampa’s very own Hinks Shimberg, a long-time supporter of The Straz whose family also produced the original production of Oklahoma!, produced the show and helped it mount on Broadway.

The show ran November 12, 1987 to January 17, 1988 at the Minskoff Theater.

In December 1987, Americana Magazine’s Hilary Ostlere promoted the musical’s Broadway run with an interview of the playwright, Jerome Alden. According to the article, Alden, who had previously written a one-man show about Teddy Roosevelt called Bully! states: “When they came up with the idea for Teddy and Alice … it was as if T.R. bit me and I went mad, as someone once said.” Alden completed the book, and the musical was scored to John Philip Sousa tunes.

Notably, Alden also wrote “Bicentennial Minutes,” a series of short history lessons for CBS in 1976. He died in Manhattan in 1997 from kidney cancer. He was 76 years old.

The original Teddy and Alice starred Len Cariou as the president and newcomer Nancy Hume as his daughter Alice. The show was revived as recently as 2012 by Seven Angels Theater of Waterbury, CT.

FROM THE VAULT: Straz Center Archives

To our delight, the Caught in the Act staff discovered a box of newspaper articles and fundraising artifacts from the Straz Center’s early years, many from the inaugural 1987-1988 season. We decided to create a regular feature called From the Vault to share these snippets of performing arts history with you. Enjoy!


October 19, 1987

Mikhail Baryshnikov and American Ballet Theatre premiere Leonide Massine’s Gaiete Parisienne

Famed ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, the then-artistic director of American Ballet Theatre (ABT), brought a revival premiere of Leonide Massine’s “Gaiete Parisienne,” a work originally staged by Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1938 and brought back to the stage by ABT in 1970.

This engagement, which spanned five days and eight performances, typical then and almost unheard of for ballet companies on tour these days, also included Baryshnikov’s staging of Giselle, Balanchine’s “Symphonie Concertante” and Marius Petipa’s “Raymonda” Act III. The company also performed “Bruch Violin Concerto No.1” by Clark Tippet, who was a principle dancer for ABT at that time but later became a rather famous choreographer in his own right.

Tickets ranged from $10.50-$33.50, and, in case you were wondering (and some of you might remember), Baryshnikov didn’t dance with the company during this engagement, which ran in “Festival Hall” (Morsani) from Jan. 18-23, 1988.

In the photograph, Misha works with a young dancer named Alessandra Ferri, who would dance the principle role in Giselle, and later become internationally recognized as one of the greatest dancers of her generation.