Find Your Perfect Match with The Florida Orchestra

TFO public relations manager Kelly Smith takes over our blog this week with some pro tips for finding your perfect concerts in the new orchestra season. The Straz is a proud partner with The Florida Orchestra, who holds many of its concerts here.

Guest blog by Kelly Smith, public relations manager, The Florida Orchestra

Deciding on an orchestra concert is a lot like dating. You’re looking for similar interests, that special something that makes your skin tingle and your heart race. On the morning after, no one wants to wake up disappointed. Since the Straz Center has more than 20 Florida Orchestra concerts to choose from when the season opens in September, here are five insider tips to help you find concerts you’ll love.

Michael Francis conductor, The Florida Orchestra, Mahaffey Theater, March 23, 2019

If you love, love, love Beethoven
This is your happy place, supersized. Not only is Music Director Michael Francis celebrating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, but he’s doing it with rare performances of the Mahler versions of both Beethoven’s Fifth (May 1) and Eroica Symphony (Oct. 11). What does that mean? Often called “Beethoven on steroids,” the Mahler versions are the original symphonies, with a few tweaks, powered by an orchestra much larger than Beethoven could have ever imagined in his day. It’s the Beethoven you know, just bigger, bolder. What’s not to love? Plus TFO will perform Beethoven’s Violin Concerto (Feb. 21), Piano Concerto No. 3 (Jan. 17), and lots more. All part of the Tampa Bay Times Masterworks series.

Maximilian Hornung Photo: Marco Borggreve

If looks matter
This is a visually stunning concert you can see only one weekend in October, only with The Florida Orchestra. That’s when TFO debuts an exclusive art film to tell the story of Strauss’ Don Quixote (Oct. 11), combined with live orchestra and German cello soloist Maximilian Hornung. The film features paintings by local artist Geff Strik, who also illustrated Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night with TFO last season. Michael Francis conducts. Another concert to consider is National Geographic Symphony for Our World (Nov. 2), a full film of breathtaking wildlife scenes with live orchestra.

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If you’re into rock more than classical
Try REVOLUTION: Music of the Beatles – A Symphonic Experience (Oct. 4). If you’re looking for another Beatles tribute show, this isn’t it. This one uses hundreds of rare photos and video, along with top vocalists, to take you through the history of The Beatles as told through their hits, such as “Penny Lane,” “Get Back,” “Here Comes the Sun” and “Hey Jude.” Big bonus: Grammy winner and TFO Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik did all the orchestra arrangements using the original Abbey Road recordings. Part of the Raymond James Pops series.

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If you’re looking for great sax
Go ahead, name one classical orchestra piece that features saxophone. Yeah, not easy. Philip Glass’ lyrical Concerto for Saxophone Quartet is full of surprises, played by the Rascher Saxophone Quartet, who has performed in all the major concert halls throughout Europe. A little secret to watch for: Members of the Rascher ensemble will join the orchestra ranks for Gershwin’s An American in Paris – another rare orchestra piece that includes sax. All part of TFO’s American Masters concert (Feb. 14), which also features Bernstein’s Candide Overture. Stuart Malina conducts.

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If you need your space
With the 50th anniversary of the moon landing this year, TFO is focused on the galaxies like everybody else. A stellar concert that might not be on your radar is Deep Field: A Cosmic Experience (Nov. 8) with Grammy winner and superstar composer/conductor Eric Whitacre. It goes deep into the stars with Whitacre’s symphonic Deep Field, featuring a film of Hubble Telescope images. There’s also Out of this World (Feb. 28), a Raymond James Pops concert with music from Star Trek, E.T., Holst’s The Planets and more. And if date night needs to turn into family time, try TFO’s new full-orchestra, interactive Family Concerts (Oct. 27), which kick off with One Giant Leap, featuring NASA video of the lunar surface and space-themed music, along with the Instrument Petting Zoo for kids to try out instruments.

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Make a date with us
Tickets to all Florida Orchestra concerts are on sale now at FloridaOrchestra.org. Some deals to keep in mind: Compose Your Own tickets are only $25 each when you mix and match three or more Masterworks and Pops concerts. Student and military tickets are $10, available 1 hour before the concert. Kids and teens get in free to all Masterworks concerts with a paying adult with Classical Kids & Teen tickets, available in advance through the TFO Ticket Office.

Let’s ROCK

Meet classically-trained Philly pop punk rocker Kevin Sitaras, director of the Patel Conservatory’s super popular Rock School.

Rock School at the Patel Conservatory puts together people who want to be in a rock band. The drummer may be a 65-year-old retiree, the guitarist a seventh-grader, the lead singer a recent transplant working her first professional job at a bank in downtown Tampa. The point is, Rock School is for anyone and everyone who wants to rock.

Caught in the Act is thrilled to introduce you to the director, Kevin Sitaras. You can come see Kevin and his Rock School crew shred at the End-of-Summer Music Blowout this Wed., Aug. 7.

Raised by his classically-trained opera singer mother and classic rock drummer dad, Kevin absorbed the best of both worlds, learning Strauss and Slayer, Giacomo Puccini and Getty Lee. He took to music like a duck to water, playing in metal and rock bands, then having dreams fall through like they do on the artist’s road. He walked away from music, but the move didn’t suit him well. Under the strong encouragement of his girlfriend who was tired of living with a musician not playing music, he looked for another band, hitting up the Philadelphia Craigslist until he found a pop-punk band who needed a drummer. Kevin traded a few emails with one of the members, then heard nothing for a year.

“So, a year later, I got another email from him out of nowhere,” Kevin says. “Their drummer wasn’t going to do a tour they were about to go on, so he asked if I’d tour with them. I said, ‘yeah, absolutely.’ I walk into the audition just as their drummer’s walking out. So, it went from ‘you’re going to be the touring drummer to well, it looks like you’re it.’”

Kevin playing guitar with his students during a Rock School Blowout performance at Skipper’s Smokehouse. (Photo: Soho Images)

The band, Rivers Monroe, had picked up some notice on the Philly circuit, landing a manager of some prominence – in the country music scene (he helped break Taylor Swift). Thus, the hard-drumming, happy anarchists found themselves sponsored by NASCAR, gigging at NASCAR tracks throughout the country. “It was so cool to do because I got to meet race car drivers and be on the track while the race was going on, but that’s a lot of fans to play to who don’t like your kind of music,” Kevin laughs. “In a weird way, we fell in love with it, and we did end up getting some fans from the NASCAR tour and our music on a NASCAR video game.”

Rivers Monroe graduated from NASCAR to what Kevin hails as the best diet in the world – the Warped Tour. In 2015, Rivers Monroe joined the two-week hell-on-earth that is dragging your hundreds of pounds of equipment across miles of parking lots to set up during the summer heat, sit out in the summer heat, then play in the summer heat, then break down your equipment and lug it back to the bus for the next town – in the summer heat.

Photo: Soho Images

“It’s physically demanding,” Kevin says about working the Warped Tour. “You’re outside for 16 hours a day in 100-degree heat. You do that for 10 days straight. You have gear, a merch table. You’re pulling your stuff up and down hills. I lost 15 pounds in two and a half weeks. It makes me think back to when I was a kid and would see guys on the Warped Tour. I’d stick around to talk to them and some of them weren’t that nice, but I get it. I’m not saying that’s okay because when fans came up to me I was always like ‘Thanks so much: I slept three hours last night, have a horrible sunburn, I’ve changed my clothes three times and it’s only four o’clock but thank you so much for coming!’ I’m just saying I got why Warped Tour musicians just wanted to get on the air-conditioned bus after their show.”

After a successful run on the Warped Tour with Rivers Monroe, Kevin returned to his passion for songwriting, going solo and meeting some friends along the way. A good pal moved to St. Petersburg, and Kevin, like any sane person, hates winter. The lure of a singer-songwriter life in the land of sunshine led him to this neck of the woods, and a rather unlikely perfect circumstance brought him to the Patel Conservatory at the Straz Center.

Kevin with Rock School students during a performance in the Jaeb Courtyard earlier this year. (Photo: Soho Images)

Kevin, who also drives for Uber, picked up a ride one day in 2018 – a certain outgoing raven-haired theater teacher – shortly after he moved to the Tampa Bay area. They struck up a conversation. She mentioned she taught theater for a performing arts school in Tampa; he mentioned he was a musician and had taught at a rock school in Philadelphia. The woman turned out to be the Patel Conservatory’s Sarah Berland. “I told Sarah about working at the rock school in Philly and she was like, ‘oh, yeah, I think we’re looking for a Rock School instructor at The Straz.’ I gave her my email address and said ‘shoot me an email and we’ll talk.’ We went back and forth, she put me in touch with Dr. [Lauren] Murray [head of the music department], and I was hired. I was so happy. The Rock School program here is incredible, so this is a dream opportunity for me.”

Dr. Murray, who gave Kevin full license to shape the program from his scope and expertise, is more than happy to welcome her newest staff member aboard. “Kevin is pleasure to work with and has made a huge impact on our program,” she says. “He’s a terrific teacher, he genuinely cares about making a difference and his rock school students made amazing progress in such a short time. I can’t wait to see what the next year brings.”

To study with Kevin Sitaras and experience the face-melting joy of living to rock, go to patelconservatory.org and search under music classes.

Oh, Say Can You Sing

Dear “The Star-Spangled Banner,” why are you so hard to sing? WHY.

This time last year, we brought you the exciting story behind our national anthem but we didn’t go into the technical aspects of performing the song. Which, as a performing arts center, we should.

So, as we all celebrate America’s independence this Thursday, let’s start the week by discussing why this precious symbol of the American spirit is so unforgivingly difficult to sing.

We’re certain you remember from our blog last year that “The Star-Spangled Banner,” originally titled “The Defence of Fort M’Henry,” was penned by Francis Scott Key at the precise moment that American independence from Britain seemed won. Washington, DC, had fallen, but if the Americans could defeat the redcoats at Fort McHenry, we would tip the balance of the struggle for freedom in our favor. Mr. Key had a well-known British drinking song, popular at the gentlemen’s clubs, in mind as he wrote the lyrics. We did win; in the morning, our flag was still there. Key took up the pen and memorialized the unlikely victory.

The tune, rousing and particularly suited for boisterous belting there in the middle, lended itself to the feeling of the moment. We’ll mention again that Key’s song was never intended to be our national anthem; it was merely written to capture the history-making, nail-biting drama of an independence that almost wasn’t. “The Star-Spangled Banner” (so coined in November 1814) officially became the national anthem in 1931 mostly because the song paired so well with major sporting events to unify the crowd in glorious feeling. Ergo, now we have the anthem performed prior to most sporting events.

There are some questionable renditions, like Fergie’s lambasted jazz-riff-skeedley-dee version before the NBA All-Star game:

And there are some well-executed, hair-raising deliveries, like Jack Black’s no-frills interpretation before the WNBA L.A. Sparks game:

So, let’s talk about what makes “The Star-Spangled Banner” such a tough song to nail—or, not even nail but just get through.

First, this ditty spans an octave and a fifth, so, thirteen notes. Already, the SSB has wiped out anyone with normal vocal abilities from being able to sing it and not sound like a minivan backing over a set of bagpipes.

Second, the tune makes “leaps” up and down, meaning that your voice has to jump from one note to a step and a half above or below—or more. That’s not natural or intuitive. Or easy. Music writer Scott McCormick explained it clearly in his 2018 article on how to sing the anthem: “Leaps are harder to sing than steps. The first seven notes of the national anthem are all leaps … The passage ‘dawn’s early light’ is especially challenging for it features a downward leap of a sixth – from Bb (‘dawn’s’) to D (‘ear-‘) and the ‘-ly’ part of ‘early’ is sung on an E natural.” So, that’s a huge leap. People, including the writers of this article, often fail to stick the landing, wobbling on the tone of “dawn’s” and hoping for the best as they launch to “early light.”

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This 1814 copy of “The Star-Spangled Banner” was the first printed edition to combine the words and sheet music. Currently this is one of only ten copies known to exist, and is housed in the Library of Congress.

Third, the lyrics are a vine-like construction of 19th century locution that, let’s face it, we’re all friends here, most of us memorized by sound and never thought about too deeply. It’s pretty easy to fumble along lines like “what so proudly we hailed … at the mumble mumble last gleaming” in a gigantic group but seriously try singing the whole thing by yourself at full volume in the shower with complete confidence. It’s tricky, people. For example, did you know that the last two lines don’t state the flag is there—they ask the question ‘did the flag survive the night? Is it still waving?’—and, in our national anthem, we don’t provide the answer. We just end there. Oh say—does that star-spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

The song answers the question in the next stanza, which we don’t sing, and most performers phrase the closing couplet as though it is a statement (it does yet wave!) and not a question, since we know it’s rhetorical anyway—the flag was gallantly streaming, as history notes.

The point is, the wording is akin to fancy footwork on top of all the vocal leaping and stepping around a 13-note range. That, friends, is why the SSB is so difficult to pull off gracefully.

Here, let Christina Aguilera show you:

In defense of popular singers everywhere whose SSB fails go viral, please remember that they’re often singing with no monitor, no musicians and with a 1.5 second delay—which is an outrageously disorienting echo-effect.

To this end, we have a few tips about how to hone your own execution of our beloved national anthem, the main one being start really low so you can get to the big, high notes without blowing a gasket. We’ve taken the liberty (pun intended) to print the lyrics below in case you’d like to test your own close reading of the text. For us, we always sing in a group—safety in numbers, as they say.

Happy Independence Day, America!

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The Star-Spangled Banner
O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Gimme a Beat

Ultra fan fave Tap Dogs returns with new blokes, new moves and new drummers—the jaw-dropping duo of Warped Tour veteran Caitlin Kalafus and Final Fantasy percussionist Noriko Terada.

Tap Dogs drummers Noriko Terada and Caitlin Kalafus. (Photo from Instagram: noriko_terada_drumsume)

For those of us who were around in the 90s when Tap Dogs made its first tours in the United States, the sight of barrel-chested, be-jean-shorted Aussie beefcakes slapping their Blundstone work boots around a minimalist construction zone was a revelation of the form. Tap Dogs drilled down into the idea of percussion as a prosaic, pedestrian fact of life. The show deconstructed (if you will) tap dance and rebuilt the notion of how beat-making could look and sound. Industrial. Rough. There could be flannel involved—and water and working-class sight gags.

Naturally, the show skyrocketed in popularity. By 1997, four separate tours of the show traveled the world to meet the demand of folks wanting to see the blue-collar dance phenomenon from Down Under.

Photo from Instagram: @tapdogsofficial

Dein Perry, the show’s creator and choreographer (himself a former steelworker from Newcastle, Australia), tweaked the show as times changed, leveling up the moves, upgrading sets and stunts, continually modifying the show to keep it as exciting as those first tours. Today, Tap Dogs is seeing a revival of sorts; it seems as if the next generation of live performance audiences finally got a gander at the show.

No doubt the new incarnation of Tap Dogs is greatly enhanced by the percussive talents of the show’s drummers, who now perform onstage with the Dogs. One they hired fresh off her Warped Tour and stint as Cyndi Lauper’s drummer and the other is best known for her unforgettable work as the percussionist for all the Final Fantasy video games.

The two—Caitlin Kalafus and Noriko Terada—symbolize why Tap Dogs maintains its popularity: they are really cool. And, like the Dogs, neither is reserved in the least when it comes to full-on hammering away with their tools. Their maniacal glee matches the intensity of the rough-and-ready dancing to a T, often pushing the guys to their limits as the women drive a relentless, fun, and mind-blowing force of sound for the show.

Caitlin Kalafus started gigging as a drummer at 12 years old, playing in bars and eventually winning Disney’s Next Big Thing competition with her band Kicking Daisies.

Here’s some grainy footage of an unknown Caitlin crushing the drums at The Orange Ale House on Cinco de Mayo 2007. She’s 13 years old:

And here’s Caitlin twelve years later warming up before the curtain rises on Tap Dogs in Durham, NC, just a few stops from the show’s run in Morsani Hall March 29-31:

Caitlin landed a spot with Mother Feather on the Vans Warped Tour 2017, then gigged with Cyndi Lauper’s band while the 80s icon toured last year. Kalafus has appeared as a guest drummer on Late Night with Seth Myers and as a spokesperson for Zildjian cymbals. She rocks.

Kalafus’s counterpart, the Japanese wunderkind Noriko Terada, joined Tap Dogs in 2012 after a super successful career as the percussionist for Video Game Orchestra, featured in the Final Fantasy series. Terada’s training began at 3 years old with piano, but at 11 she discovered the drums and that was that. Terada—as you will see and hear in the show—can play anything that makes noise. She’s fun to watch, which you’ll discover at the show, too. She also rocks, gigs everywhere and represents Japan for Hits Like a Girl, the international, girls-only drum competition.

Check out the Tap Dogs official Insta account for some killer videos of Caitlin and Noriko rehearsing for the current tour, like this one:

Belting Reigns: An Exclusive Interview with Storm Large

Rocker, chanteuse and raconteur Storm Large (yes, her real name) is a consummate performer—storyteller, writer, high-decibel rock belter, actress and crooner in the woozy, boozy husky-dusky style. After her stint on Rock Star: Supernova catapulted her into America’s living rooms, she became a household name, ultimately re-directing her career trajectory to fronting for Pink Martini, the ultra-hip, multi-lingual contemporary big band everybody loves. Storm formed her own bands The Balls and, most recently, Le Bonheur, both gaining a cult-like fan base. Striking, vulnerable, brutally honest and still eager to grind through the influences of her punk rock youth in her cabaret show, Storm is an experience that matches her name.

We caught up with Storm on the phone during her east coast tour, which stops by The Straz on Thursday, April 4, to chat about the price of reality-TV fame, her career and food.

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Photo from Instagram: @Stormof69

Caught in the Act: You seem to be a thinking woman, an angry woman, a thoughtful woman’s woman. You’ve been open about your background with Crazy Enough, a one-woman-show about reckoning with your mom’s mental illnesses that you turned into a memoir. You were famous on television for a while when you were on Supernova in 2006, and you’ve come to what appears to be, at least in your other interviews, a peaceful place of acceptance. You’re in this different part of your career from The Rocker Storm Large. Do you feel like a famous person or do you feel like a normal person who is very visible?

Storm Large: I don’t really feel like a famous person. I don’t know what a famous person would typically feel like. When I was on television and right when I got off television, I was kind of famous. I did not like that. Right now, I feel really great. I think I don’t feel famous. Not that being famous is necessarily a bad thing. Not to disparage people who are famous. I didn’t enjoy that experience very much. It was frightening, and it was very weird, and awkward, and incredibly demanding. And a weird responsibility to strangers that I’d rather not have.

CITA: Did you feel that you had to “perform” their idea of you?

SL: No, I felt like I had to hide. In terms of dealing with people in the public, when I was feeling like a famous person, I was very, very, very, very, very, very self-aware about be nice, be nice, be nice, don’t give anyone any reason to say something nasty about you. When little kids come up to you and their parents are pushing them towards you for whatever reason, be very gentle. Try not to swear. When people start crying because they’re meeting you, don’t laugh because you’re like, “What the hell are you crying about?” You know, “Why are you crying?” People would offer incredibly, dangerously, personal information about themselves to me, as if they had a very intimate relationship with me. It was really not what I liked. I did not enjoy it. I always try to perform at the top level of whatever I’m doing. When I’m on stage, I always try to, you know, when it’s time to perform. I definitely always do my best, whether someone thinks I’m famous or not.

CITA: You said elsewhere about feeling like you, yourself, are a cabaret storyteller. The term “cabaret” is sometimes confusing for people. When you come down here, most of our audience will probably recognize you from the work that you’ve done with Pink Martini. Will you talk a little bit about what means to you to be a cabaret singer?

SL: It doesn’t mean anything really to me … people call me a cabaret singer because I’m not a rock singer. I’m not an opera singer. I’m not a jazz singer. Cabaret just kind of encompasses any genre that doesn’t really necessarily have a genre. It’s kind of a lazy way to describe someone you don’t want to really get into describing. I’m like a punk rock balladeer storyteller. A punk rock balladeer raconteur. I still sing rock and roll music. I still have that grit and that gravel, but I like to use my voice also in a pretty way, in an intimate way. I love to tell stories. It all kind of comes together in the whole show. The more intimate the space, the more effective the whole show is. Because I can get into people’s faces. It’s really lovely.

CITA: Talk a little bit about the show. What musicians are you going to bring with you? What are the arrangements like? Are we going to hear some punk rock ballads? What’s the deal?

SL: Yeah, you will. You’ll hear some things that are unexpected; things that sound differently than you might expect them to sound. You might hear something very traditional. I’m going to be bringing my band, La Bonheur. They’re a rock ensemble: piano, guitar, bass, drums, and I play ukulele and some percussion, and yeah, it gets loud. It gets bawdy, it gets raucous, but it’s also very smooth and very beautiful. I mean, the band plays so … They’re great, great musicians and good friends of mine. There’s a level of comfort on stage that I really enjoy.

CITA: Well, that’s awesome. What from your punk rock days still lives with you?

SL: I think I just have, you know, some brain damage from the drugs and the bashing myself around, and sleeping in the street, and being a shit-head. Maybe that’s kind of what’s opened up my creativity. Who knows? Maybe it’s cut off a large part of my creativity. I could have totally stunted myself with my bad behavior.

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Photo from Instagram: @Stormof69

SL: One thing I’m pretty sure I have from having lived that way—it lives on in me energetically in terms of the way I see the world—is I understand how a lot of people see things. I have a good strong sense of empathy with people, and sensitivity. I’m like overly sensitive, really. I mean, I talk all tough, and I look really tough, but I’m such a puss. I’m such a squishy, like overly sensitive. I cry over very little thing. I used to hate that about myself, but now I really appreciate that I have heart, having encountered a lot of heartless people. I’m just like, “Wow, I would so much rather burn than be cool ever.”

CITA: When you come to The Straz, will this your first time in Tampa?

SL: I don’t think so.

CITA: Are you looking forward to anything in particular about heading down to Florida that we can share with our readers, some of whom may be being introduced to you for the first time?

SL: Well, I would like to know what your particular food is? Every city has its own kind of take on some kind of food you’re famous for, or drink you’re famous for, or something. Do you have one?

CITA: We do. If you’re a vegetarian, or a vegan, you are way out of luck, though.

SL: I’m not. Is it alligator?

CITA: Not in Tampa. You have to go a little bit further south for that. First, you have to know that Tampa was a huge, huge cultural crossroads back in the 1800s because of the cigar industry. We had Cubans, Germans, Spanish, Italian. It was a hodge-podge, and everybody had their own cigar factories, and they had their own mutual aid societies, but everybody got along. They were making mad, serious, sick bank because cigars were so incredibly popular. The Cubans naturally gave us cafe con leche, which is delicious here. The original Cuban sandwich was invented in Tampa for the cigar workers.

SL: Shut up!

CITA: It’s true.

SL: The original Cubano was invented in Tampa?

CITA: In Tampa, yeah.

SL: Oh my god.

CITA: We had the first Cuban neighborhood. It wasn’t New York, it wasn’t Miami, it was Tampa, honey. We have a piece of land in downtown, in a place called Ybor City—that’s where most of the cigar factories were—that literally belongs to Cuba. It’s Cuban soil.

SL: That’s awesome.

CITA: Yeah, it’s nutso.

SL: Then I know what I’m getting when I get down there.

CITA: Yeah. You’ve got to get a Cuban sandwich and a cafe con leche.

SL: You got it.

CITA: That reminds me that you, before your true destiny called you, were going to be a chef and you ended up in Portland.

SL: Yup.

CITA: Do you have a favorite thing that you make? Is cooking still something that you pursue?

SL: I cook all the time. I’ve been staying with mostly friends and family on this tour and I cook, almost every night. Last night, I made my Greek chicken, which is chicken marinated in Greek yogurt. Lots and lots of garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, fresh parsley. Let that sit for at least an hour. Then you bake that with a lot of salt and pepper.

CITA: You bake it right in the marinade?

SL: I usually take it out of the marinade and just wipe a little bit off. The dairy will brown. It makes it nice, but I kind of like brown skin. It’s usually chicken thighs, chicken legs.

CITA: Yeah.

SL: I make pretty killer salads. Let’s see … tonight I’m going to do beef tenderloin with brown butter garlic.

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Photo from Instagram: @Stormof69

CITA: We want to go on tour with you, except that we’re vegetarian, although you can probably whip up some delicious veggie cuisine, as well.

SL: I make great vegetarian food, but my business partner is vegan; he and his wife make amazing food, like crazy creative, interesting food.

CITA: When you and your crew get here, you’ll have to make sure you eat downtown. Get Cubans, café con leches … you’re in a fantastic performance space here at The Straz, so you’ll have a really great time.

SL: Thank you so much.

Storm Large and her band La Bonheur perform as part of the Straz Center Cabaret series. Hear them in the Jaeb Theater Thursday, April 4.

Everybody Looks Good in a Tux

An Ivy League tradition shed the shackles of the patriarchy, gaining a glorious new talent with Sofia Campoamor.

Yale University’s formerly all-male a cappella group The Whiffenpoofs began in a delightfully Victorian upper-crust circumstance involving a local tavern, a freezing New England evening and a handful of Glee Club members with access to beer.

The story goes that roughly a century ago, some Yale upperclassmen who happened to be in the Varsity Quartet ducked into Mory’s Temple Bar to escape the bitter New Haven cold. Needing very little liquid encouragement, the young men began singing and harmonizing, charming the barkeep and fellow patrons. The young men began meeting each week, gained a following and formed an a cappella group featuring the best singers Yale had to offer. Needing a name, quintet member Denton “Goat” Fowler suggested a mythical dragonfish from a common joke called a Whiffenpoof. Capturing the levity they wanted, “Whiffenpoof” stuck. In 1909, Yale University’s The Whiffenpoofs were born, staying the country’s oldest all-male a cappella group until 2018, when the Whiffs voted to open the group to Yale’s best singers, whoever they may be. (The university’s all-female group, Whim ‘N Rhythm made a similar vote.)

Composer and soprano Sofia Campoamor auditioned, landing a Tenor 1 spot and securing her place in Yale history as the first woman to don a Whiff tuxedo. Although assigned soprano parts, Campoamor’s range plummets to alto and bass when necessary or vaults to operatic head voice for higher soprano notes. In an article for Yale News, her singing peer Aissa Guidno quipped that Campoamor’s exceptional range “doesn’t really exist.”

Campoamor auditioned for The Whiffenpoofs with Sara Bareilles’s “Manhattan,” a popular tune that displays both a vocal and emotional range for a skilled singer who can capture very nuanced phrasing, pulling something a little extra out of the end notes. Campoamor impressed the judges, and now she joins the top tier of Yale singers as The Whiffs embark on their 2019 tour.

Whiffs go on national tour after their junior years, taking a leave of absence from their studies. They return to Yale at the end of the tour to start their senior years. So, each year, a new class of Whiffenpoofs charm the nation with their tradition of robust singing and wacky harmonizing. The Whiff class of 2019 arrives at The Straz Wed., March 27, to perform in Ferguson Hall.

While Whiffs ’19 may be the first co-ed class, efforts were made 30 years ago to lift the gender restriction as members realized they were withholding their resources and privileges from qualified singers. In 1987, Whiffenpoof David Code lobbied to open the group to women, a position that polarized the campus and sparked a debate that grew, as Code reported in The New York Times, “ugly and personal.” Yale itself went co-ed in 1968, the year Code cites as being the year The Whiffs should have also started auditioning qualified female singers. “Finally … meritocracy is here,” he told The Times. “I’m thrilled. I’m delighted.”

Sofia’s inclusion doesn’t strike the current make-up of Whiffs as political. “If people judge Sofia on her quality as a singer, they would reach the same conclusions that we have,” says current Whiffenpoof musical director Kenyon Duncan. “This class of Whiffenpoofs is exceptionally talented.”

Hear for yourself:

Get your tickets now before Poof! they’re gone.

Thrilling new Jaeb show asks: What would you do if you only had a Hundred Days with the love of your life?

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Let’s say one morning you hustle into your favorite coffee shop, order your regular, and as you’re dawdling by the pick-up counter, you happen to make eye contact with someone at the high-top in the corner who happened to look up the same time you did. An exchange occurs in that moment: you capture each other, an undeniable knowing that you are supposed to be together passes between you. You brave the unknown; you travel the 8,000 miles across the coffee shop to speak. A conversation leads to a date that leads to a long weekend where you wake up Tuesday to discover yourself in love.

You become that skipping, smiling, whistling, happy happy joy joy supernova of a besotted lump experiencing what it feels like to be the most favored in the universe. Nothing could throw a hitch in your skip.

But news arrives you didn’t expect – a diagnosis, a deployment, something that sets your time together against the clock. You found the love of your life, yes. But, you’ll only have one hundred days with that person.

Three and a half months.

How would you choose to live each and every one of those days? So goes the premise of Abigail and Shaun Bengson’s autobiographical punk-folk-indie-rock-electronica blues show, Hundred Days, which runs in the Jaeb Theater Jan. 15 – March 24.

Hundred Days New York Theatre Workshop

The show, which reveals their love-at-first-sight story and the crazy events that followed, does so through a rock concert structure, almost like a reverse musical.

Hundred Days is a concert that tells a story – a very personal, very extraordinary, very funny story about the make-or-break need to become vulnerable if you want to make love stay.

Professional singer-songwriters, the Bengsons wrote all the songs for show, pulling from their favorite theatrical forms to get Hundred Days exactly where they wanted it to be: leaving audiences wishing the show itself lasted at least as long. The show has been a huge hit in New York and San Diego, where it ran before the Bengsons packed up their guitars and drums and headed to Tampa.

Our INSIDE magazine caught up with Abigail and Shaun during their opening weekend at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego to talk about Hundred Days, family life and their upcoming Florida debut at The Straz.

 

INSIDE MAGAZINE: Tell us a little bit about this show. It’s a departure from the traditional musicals we normally have at The Straz and it’s not a jukebox musical or a concert. What is it?

ABIGAIL AND SHAUN: It’s true that Hundred Days is not your standard musical theater fare. We started out as musicians and moved into the world of writing for theater because of our passion for telling stories and the ability theater has to bring people together for big moments of shared emotional catharsis. So, our music pulls from a wide variety of genres that inspire us, like folk, punk, indie rock, blues and electronica. We also pull from a lot of different theatrical styles when it comes to building the structure and form for the stories we want to tell, including folklore storytelling, documentary, concert and stand-up comedy. Our core collaborators Sarah Gancher, Anne Kauffman and Sonya Tayeh have also been hugely instrumental in creating this new, music-theater hybrid. They helped us push the form and the sound as well as weaving in more traditional theatricality throughout our work. And really, the truth is, even with all of the ways in which we are trying to break the mold, at its core, Hundred Days is a story told through music just like any other piece of musical theater! It’s all in the service of building an emotionally compelling story that we hope will resonate with our audiences.

IM: How “true“ is the “based on a true story” part of Hundred Days?

A&S: It is embarrassingly true! We really did have our first date, then three weeks later, we were hitched. Something about the moment of our falling for each other shattered any illusions of youthful invulnerability we had, made us realize the pain of placing so much of our hearts into such a fragile vessel. Some details and events are changed in the show in order to fit it all into 90 minutes, but any change that we made was designed so that the show would better convey what it felt like to go through that time – the joys and the terrors that we felt. There is a scene in the show that is an actual transcription of a conversation we had. It’s in there in all its glory and its humiliation.

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Photo from Instagram: @hundreddaysny

IM: You all spend a lot of time together. What’s your secret to staying a happy, healthy and productive family?

A&S: Yes, we do spend a whole lot of time together. We’ve actually really worked for many years to be able to build a life in which we could be together as much as we can possibly be. It is truly the blessing and the joy of life that we get to. This is the exact opposite of how we’ve handled pretty much every other relationship in our lives. We’re both huge introverts and usually need a great deal of personal space. But, it’s just not like that with each other. There is certainly a lot that we needed to figure out in terms of combining and balancing family and work and it’s a daily practice to try and get it right. Finding that balance has become even more true since the birth of our son two years ago. We really thought we were already operating at full capacity, but, man, we can’t believe how many plates we have to spin at once trying to keep the art going and raise our boy in a way we feel good about. If there is any secret at all, it’s being as open and honest with each other as we can, trying always to talk things through, really working to try and hear and support each other. That can be easier said than done, but it really does come down to that for us.

IM: Share some of your musical influences and mentors … how do you create the Bengson “sound“ in this show?

A&S: We grew up listening to all sorts of music and we hope that it comes through when you listen to our tunes. We’ve been writing this show for more than a decade, and you can hear a lot of the different styles of music that we’ve been writing and listening to from over that time. The core of our music is really all about folk, both American folk music as well as from places all over. We grew up listening to a lot of ‘60’s folkies like Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Odetta and Ewan MacColl. There’s a lot of music being made right now that inspires us a lot too that draws on that folk tradition – Sufjan Stevens, Joanna Newsom, Sharon Van Etten. We also really love it when that folk sound meets punk music (The Pogues, Gogol Bordello, Flogging Molly). We are also huge fans of big vocalists and singers from Motown, soul, and Latin music like Etta James, Aretha Franklin and Caetano Veloso. The newest elements that we have loved playing with is using big heavy electronic beats and playing with interesting electronic sounds and textures like The Flaming Lips, Björk, Kanye, James Blake. Everyone onstage in Hundred Days plays an instrument and sings, so this blend of acoustic and electronic elements with a big choral sound is what this show is about for us.

IM: Hundred Days is the kind of show that really touches the heart. Do you often have audience members sharing stories with you? Would you mind sharing one or two touching moments you’ve had with fans?

A&S: We have heard a lot of sweet stories from people! Our favorite thing is getting to hear stories from both the brand-new young couples in the house as well as from couples who have been together 50-60 years. There was one older couple in their 80s who were sitting beside our associate director, Caitlin Sullivan, and she couldn’t honestly tell what they were thinking about the show. But, as they were leaving, she heard the woman say, “That is exactly what it felt like to be young and in love. That is just what I remember.” That really meant a lot to us.

IM: What do you hope audiences will get out of this show?

A&S: In many ways, these are frightening and confusing times we are living through. We find that it’s easy to get beaten down, to numb yourself out, to give up. This show is about the power of fear and the ease with which it can prevent us from living. This show is our way of continuing to challenge ourselves to love and to live and to not give in even when the stakes feel insurmountable. And also – we hope everyone will enjoy the awesome music and hilarious jokes.

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In the studio recording the cast album. Photo from Instagram: @hundreddaysny.

A Note to Fans from Abigail and Shaun:
If anyone is curious to hear the music before the show, we just released the official cast album. You can find it on iTunes, Spotify, wherever you go for your music. We worked hard on it, and we are proud to get it out there and share it with folks. We are so honored to get to be coming to Tampa, to be welcomed into this theater and this community. We are looking forward to meeting all of you!