Archive for January, 2013

tosca1If you want a full-contact, no-holds barred opera experience, then this weekend’s production of Tosca, by the St. Petersburg Opera is a must-see.

Tosca, one of Puccini’s masterpieces, litters the stage with dead bodies – during an evening of torture, sexual blackmail, revenge, murder, suicide and, unforgettable music.

Director A.J. Wester, who sang mezzo parts during her singing days, told me – “As I jokingly put it – everyone dies but the mezzo – and that’s only because he didn’t write a part for us.”

Wester, who is familiar to SPO audiences for her work on two Sondheim shows – Into The Woods and A Little Night Music, along with Verdi’s La Traviata – says Tosca is a classic melodrama.

“Everyone likes to think we don’t love melodrama, but we really do. I saw the show Revenge on TV the other night and that’s exactly what it is.”

Because of the story, Wester rehearsed the show more like a play than a musical.

“I tell the actors it’s all about motivation,” she says.

It helps that both her leads have lots of experience in their roles. And while this production is not a reinvention – it’s a costumed opera still set in the 1800s – it is also not a copy of a previous performance.

“We’ve found different moments and different things based on the actors and the set. We even found some humor. And I’m really using all of the theater,” she said.

Wester loves the intimate nature of the Palladium for operas.

This is almost like a chamber opera on the main stage,” she says. “And I love it that the audience is right there in the middle of it.”

Along with with directing jobs around the country, Wester serves as the Stage Director for the newly created Opera Music Theater Ensemble which is part of the Reneé Fleming Solo Voice Initiative program with the Merit School of Music and Lyric Opera of Chicago.

You can see Tosca at the Palladium this weekend but hurry. Friday and Sunday’s shows are likely to sell-out. Shows run: Friday, Feb. 1, 7:30 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 3, 2 p.m. and Tuesday, Feb. 5, 7:30 p.m.

For tickets and information visit http://www.mypalladium.org or call the box office at 727 822-3590.


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Lauren Mitchell - Photo by Deb Carson

Lauren Mitchell – Photo by Deb Carson

It’s just been six months since she was last on the Side Door stage, but Lauren Mitchell has spent that time producing a new CD, adding a new rhythm section and giving her stage-show more dynamics.

Lauren has always been effective in her uptempo numbers but Friday night her ballads and slow blues also packed an emotional wallop. It fun to see a singer and a band growing in confidence and charisma.

Lauren manages a pretty neat trick as a performer. She can deliver a fully sensual version of “I Just Want To Make Love To You,” complete with some gyrations and leg kicks on top of the Hammond B3 – then go right into a gospel number without giving her audience whiplash. The guys love the form fitting leather pants and the women are drawn to her “Just one of the girls” personality.

The result was a sold-out side door show last Friday. Palladium favorites, Liz Pennock and Dr. Blues opened the show and joined Lauren’s band on-stage for a show closing version of “Down Home Blues.”

She’ll be back at the Side Door in June. Until then, check out this YouTube video of her closing song Friday night:

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Lauren at the Palladium

Lauren at the Palladium

We’re thrilled to have Lauren Mitchell back at the Palladium celebrating the release of her debut CD – Please Come Home.

Tickets are going fast and the show will definitely be sold out in advance of Friday’s night’s concert in the Side Door.

The December issue of Mayhem Magazine features a full story on Lauren, with photographs taken inside her favorite venue – The Palladium Theater. To see all those pictures and read the article follow this link or just google Mayhem Magazine:


You can also catch more of Lauren on You Tube – where some video of her knock-out Side Door show last summer is posted. Here’s a link to see and hear Lauren doing “Come To Momma” at the Side Door: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_P_MX3bTyqY

One listen and you’ll hear that Lauren’s sultry, gritty vocals conjure down-and-dirty blues like Koko Taylor, soulful Etta James sounds and even some Funk-based blues a la Susan Tedeschi.

Take my advice and don’t wait. Go on-line or call the Palladium box office now to assure you’re at the party.

For tickets and info call 727-822-3590 or visit http://www.mypalladium.org.

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We had three great shows in the Side Door last weekend – Nicki Parrott and Rossano Sportiello on Thursday; Roy Book Binder and Paul Geremia on Friday; and Whitney James and her great band on Saturday night.

Whitney, who lives in our area but sings in jazz clubs around the country, was in top form. My email basket was filled with raves this morning from happy listeners:

“Had to tell you – Whitney’s performance on Saturday night was absolutely stellar. Great band behind her, and a great flair to all her singing. If you weren’t there to hear her rendition of Stardust you missed a really special moment. Keep bringing her back. She is awesome!”

And this one:

“Whitney is fabulous. Thanks for having her at the Palladium.”

In case you missed it. Here are some pictures by the wonderful photographer, Gary Bookout.

Whitney at the Side Door - Photo by Gary Bookout

Whitney at the Side Door – Photo by Gary Bookout

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BayPop writer Eric Snider reviewed Thursday night’s Side Door show, which featured New York jazz artists Nicki Parrott and Rossano Sportiello and Eddie Metz Jr. Read the review below or click on this link to visit the BayPop site:

Jazz Artist Parrott Charms the Side Door at the Palladium
Published on January 18, 2013 by Eric Snider in BAYPOP

Well, look here—a jazz club in St. Petersburg. Not a five-nights-a-week hotspot like they have in New York, but a cool room that has jazz and blues as a significant part of its programming.

It’s the Side Door Cabaret at the Palladium Theater, where last night I saw a charming performance by acoustic bassist and singer Nicki Parrott and her trio.

Nicki Parrott at the Side Door

Nicki Parrott at the Side Door

The roomy Side Door was nearly filled to capacity with a crowd of 140. The space features fairly large community tables. You just grab empty seats and sit alongside folks you don’t know. There are some obstructed views, but for the most part the sight lines are fine. And the sound quality emanating from the small PA that flanks the low-rise stage is superb.

I’d not previously heard of Parrott, an Australian native who for 10 years was a member of guitar legend Les Paul’s band. She’s a facile bassist who sings in a disarming, breathy voice, mercifully low on histrionics. Her one foray into scat proved to be the set’s nadir. Her best moment at the microphone was a touching take on the vintage ballad “Smile.”

Parrott’s trio delivered two sets of what I’ll call happy jazz—light and swinging, with smiles beaming from the bandstand. This approach fits Parrott’s easy-on-the-eyes looks and sincere demeanor.

Pianist Rossano Sportiello sticks solidly to mainstream fundamentals. His playing was a bit knotty early on, but he warmed up and delivered some engaging solos. The trio peaked when they closed the first set with a 15-minute medley based on familiar Chopin themes. The piece ranged from ballad tempo to quicksilver bebop; the band deftly handled the hairpin transitions, and Sportiello, whom I suspect wrote the arrangement, came off as particularly inspired.

I’m usually put off by jazz renditions of the classical canon, but this was a much-appreciated exception.

The Side Door continues its roll this weekend: Acoustic bluesmen Roy Book Binder and Paul Geremia hold court tonight.

Tomorrow night features internationally renowned jazz vocalist Whitney James with an ace band that includes guitarist LaRue Nichelson, saxophonist Jeremy Powell, bassist Alejandro Arenas and drummer Mark Feinman.

And jazz fans, mark your calendar for March 7, when top-tier jazz pianist Fred Hersch performs with his trio.

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We had to put up the SOLD OUT sign on Friday and Saturday night last weekend. Damon Fowler, our Side Door favorite, brought his incredible new band, Southern Hospitality, to the nightclub stage.

I was there Friday for what I think was the best show I’ve ever seen in the Side Door – and I’ve seen a lot of great shows here. Southern Hospitality is Damon Fowler, plus two other stars – JP Soars, as a second lead guitarist and Victor Wainright, playing piano and electric keyboard. Wainright is a monster player, who will certainly be back for a future version of our Boogie Woogie Stomp.

Southern Hospitality at the Side Door

Southern Hospitality at the Side Door

I’m not sure if the Side Door will hold Southern Hospitality next time. As I told Damon Friday night – “You guys are a mainstage band!”

So the audience last weekend got what could be a “I saw them when…” kind of show.

The Side Door shows keep on coming this week and next. Here’s a list of don’t miss shows:

Thursday, Jan. 17: Nicki Parrott and Rossano Sportiello – Do It Again CD release party
The world-renowned bassist and jazz vocalist is part of the legendary Les Paul Trio. Parrott, who was Paul’s bassist and vocalist for over 10 years, is joined by Rossano Sportiello (piano) and Eddie Metz Jr. (drums). 7:30 p.m. PHOTO BY GARY BOOKOUT

Rossano, Nicki and Ed

Rossano, Nicki and Ed

Friday, Jan. 18: Acoustic Blues Brothers – Legendary guitar blues masters, Roy Book Binder and Paul Geremia
These two acoustic guitar masters take turns showing off great Delta guitar licks and telling hilarious stories. 8 p.m.

Saturday, Jan. 19: Sultry songstress Whitney James
Breaking national jazz star, Whitney James returns to Side Door with her band playing jazz classics with her fresh, modern approach and unique sound. 8 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 25: The Lauren Mitchell Band – Please Come Home CD Release Party
Mitchell’s sultry, gritty vocals conjure down-and-dirty Koko
Taylor, soulful Etta James and blues funk a la Susan Tedeschi, seamlessly backed by Michael Hensley on Hammond B3, Bob Dielman on guitar, Richard Price on bass, and Steve Howell on drums. 8 p.m.

Lauren Mitchell at the Palladium

Lauren Mitchell at the Palladium

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You can read the full story below or click to read it at the BayPop site: http://www.baypop.com/a-new-day-at-the-palladium/


By Eric Snider
Jan. 9, 2013

For years, the Palladium Theater on the fringes of downtown St. Petersburg served as a venue for local performing arts groups to present programs, a place where mom and dad could go see little Jennifer in a dance recital. The few concerts by touring acts often suffered from poor sound quality and—depending on time of year—woefully inadequate air conditioning.

I’m pleased to report that it’s a new day at the Palladium. The 850-capacity room’s schedule is packed.

“If an arts organization wants to come in and do something on a Monday or Wednesday, there are openings,” said Production Manager Damon Dougherty. “But that’s about it for the next three or four months.”

The slate of touring acts is surging. Several independent promoters are actively bringing shows to the Palladium. The Mahaffey and Ruth Eckerd Hall have adopted the venue as a place to present concerts too small for their flagship rooms.

And here comes another potential windfall: Eckerd Hall’s adjunct venue in downtown Clearwater, the Capitol Theater, closes in late March for a major renovation that’s scheduled to last at least six months. The Palladium is the most obvious alternative site to stage what the performing arts center calls its REH On The Road series.

REH shows already on the books at the Palladium are comedian Kathleen Madigan (Feb. 8); an absolutely terrific double bill of rock/R&B with Los Lobos and Keb’ Mo (March 1); legendary trumpeter Herb Alpert with Lani Hall (the former singer for Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66) along with breathy pop-jazz vocalist Michael Franks (March 2); smooth jazzers David Benoit and Brian Culbertson (April 18); and the veteran British prog-rock band Renaissance (April 25).

Several factors have contributed to a Palladium rebirth of sorts, which last year was designated a local historic landmark. The former First Church of Christ Scientist was completed in 1926 and dedicated in 1948 (in keeping with Christian Science tradition). Steady declines in church attendance led to the building being purchased by an arts group in 1998 and renamed the Palladium. St. Petersburg College acquired it in 2007.

The college’s stewardship has led to a steady improvement over the last five years, nothing more important than the installation of a new sound system in fall 2010.

Replacing a P.A. that Palladium Executive Director Paul Wilborn describes as “hammered together,” the new rig (by the respected brand Martin) is a digital “line array,” which hangs high above the stage and sends the sound out in proportional lines, creating a balanced listening experience throughout the room.

The Palladium space is still boomy, but a good sound engineer can now make an amplified performance clean and intimate.

Nearly as important: the Palladium has new AC. “Sometimes it’s a bit too chilly in here,” Wilborn quipped.

The Palladium still maintains its ’20s charm. The lobby is coolly retro; the seats are, shall we say, vintage (but relatively comfortable), the stage is proportionally huge, running about 70 feet from stairway to stairway, and about 40 feet deep. It gives the Palladium the versatility to play a wide variety of performing arts.

“The community programming—ballet, opera, orchestras—that’s still part of our mission, and the big stage gives us plenty of flexibility,” Wilborn says, adding that they use curtains to make the bandstand more intimate when necessary.

Wilborn is especially proud of the Side Door Cabaret, a relaxed, club-style room downstairs that can accommodate up to 200, with tables and chairs and a bar. It has a new, repositioned stage and upgraded sound system.

This Friday and Saturday, bluesman Damon Fowler, a national recording act who lives in the Bay area, and his band Southern Hospitality will play two sets a night. They’ll be joined by singer/guitarist JP Soars and Memphis pianist/singer Victor Wainwright. Tickets are a mere $13-15.

Folks, it’s time to re-experience the Palladium. The venue has become a main attraction for performing-arts-conscious people, and for grown-ups overall.

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