The Straz Center of Tampa: 25 years of star performances

wtatangelo@bradenton.comSeptember 9, 2012 

During the past quarter century, the Straz Center has elated audiences with everything from concerts by jazz great Miles Davis to world premieres of musicals that landed on Broadway.

Tampa Bay's top performing arts complex, which serves more than a half million people each year, celebrates its 25th anniversary Wednesday. (The same day tickets for the Straz's 2012-13 season go on sale.)

Formerly the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, a significant gift in 2009 made it the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

The building in downtown Tampa features four state-of-the-art theaters. They range in size from the 130-seat Shimberg Playhouse to the 2,600-capacaity Carol Morsani Hall.

The Straz Center is the largest performing arts center in the Southeast. More than 12.5 million patrons have come through its doors since first opening in 1987.

During the inaugural season, about 500,000 people attend nearly 600 performances, including the world premiere of the musical, "Teddy & Alice." Produced by Hinks Shimberg, the show moved to Baltimore and then, Broadway, where it opened in November and ran through January of 1988.

Here are some more Straz Center highlights from the past 25 years.

Jay Leno (Nov. 21, 1987): Big-chin comic makes appearance at the center same year he started subbing for Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show."

"Les Misérables" (Nov. 1988): Touring production of dramatic musical based on classic novel came to the center a little more than a year after show opened on Broadway, where it would run through 2003.

Miles Davis (April 29, 1989): For a mere $19.50, jazz (and rock) fans had the opportunity to witness the legendary trumpeter.

"Forever Plaid" (Oct. 1993): Off-Broadway musical revue opened at the Jaeb Theater to great acclaim, becoming the longest-running musical in Florida.

"Madama Butterfly" (May 3, 1996): Center President Judy Lisi established Opera Tampa, which mounted its first opera under the baton of world-renowned maestro Anton Coppola.

"Sacco & Vanzetti" (March 16-18, 2001): Opera Tampa produced the world premiere of a new opera by Coppola.

Jerry Seinfeld (Dec. 10-11, 2005): Although the final "Seinfeld" episode aired in 1998, its star's stand-up performance in Morsani Hall seven years later became the most successful single-artist engagement in the center's history.

"Wicked" (Jan. 10-Feb. 5, 2006): All three weeks of performances brought in more revenue than any other week in the center's history.

"Cigar City Chronicles -- A Musical History of Tampa" (Feb. 16-April 19, 2007): "With only seven actors, 24 songs and two hours of stage time, (coauthor) Claude McNeal plans to recap more than a century worth of highlights," the Herald wrote about the world premiere of the Tampa history musical.

"Menopause The Musical" (May 19- Sept.10 2007): The show that

debuted in Orlando and played off-Broadway, grosses more than $1 million, making it the most successful engagement ever at the center's Jaeb Theater.

Liza Minnelli (Oct. 6, 2007): The Queen of Broadway performs to a sold-out 20th anniversary gala audience in Morsani Hall.

"Jersey Boys" (Feb. 13 - March 15, 2008): The Florida exclusive engagement of the Tony Award-winning Best Musical played five record-breaking weeks in Morsani Hall.

"Wonderland -- Alice's New Musical Adventure" (Dec. 5, 2009): The new musical by Frank Wildhorn ("Jekyll & Hyde," "Bonnie & Clyde"), had its world premiere in the center's Ferguson Hall then in April of 2011 opened at the Marquis Theatre on Broadway.

Janet Jackson (Dec. 4, 2011): The $330,717 gross of the superstar's sold-out performance smashed the Straz Center's long-standing record for gross of a single performance.

"The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" (Aug. 28-31, 2012): Winner of 16 Emmy Awards, Comedy Central's popular satirical TV program broadcasts from Ferguson Hall during the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

Details: Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa; 813-229-7827 or www.strazcenter.org.

Wade Tatangelo, features writer, can be reached at 941-745-7057. Follow Twitter.com/wtatangelo.

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