Fresh from a David Hyde Pierce directed Broadway hit run last year, the Henegar Center It Shoulda Been You serves up a far from traditional wedding comedy. Proving that when it comes to that madcap wedding day, this twistedly twisting plot just might take the (wedding) cake.
Is it a revival of some long-lost screwball classic? No, it's a snappy musical comedy with a strong cast under the sprightly and masterful direction of Hank Rion based on the book and lyrics by Brian Hargrove and music and concept by Barbara Anselmi. The production runs through January 29.
The groom is Catholic. The bride is Jewish. Her mother is a force of nature. His mother is forever polishing off gin on the rocks. A know- it-all, the wedding planner is dressed in a pink suit and is flamboyantly gay. A plus-size older sister deals with fat jokes and quietly despairs in search of her own happy ending. Did I mention the rogue ex-boyfriend who pops up on the day of the wedding looking to cause even more mayhem?
Oh happy days. Two strung out and dysfunctional families battling a mixed marriage where neither side is on board. A non-stop, 90-minute laugh-riot, it's a true ensemble show featuring 15 characters in well conceived roles from old to young. It Shoulda Been You is a wonderful choice by Rion to show off his first-rate cast. And in what has become a familiar pattern, the Artistic Director smartly obtained the rights to the play from Music Theatre International, making The Henegar Florida's first venue to debut the show.
Call it America’s Amazon. A place of immense natural beauty with orchid species and bromeliads (air plants) everywhere. Stillness and serenity reign.
The Big Cypress National Preserve is a mosaic of open sawgrass prairies, lush cypress stands, and pine islands, comprising nearly 730,000 acres. The flow of its freshwaters support the rich marine estuaries that serve as nurseries for life along Florida's southwest coast. Known as "Big Cypress Swamp," it was designated as a national preserve in 1974.
In this rugged terrain native tribes outfoxed military intruders and drain-the-swamp developers thrived for years. From the late 19th century through the 1960s, it was the site of the world's largest cypress-logging industry until most of the trees were cut down. Government entities stepped in and snapped up parcels of lands. "Big" refers not to the new-growth trees but to the swamp, jutting into the north edge of Everglades National Park like a jigsaw-puzzle piece.
Today, nearly half of the swamp makes up this national preserve. The watery wilderness is devoted to recreation as well as to research and preservation. Compared with Everglades National Park, the preserve is less developed and hosts fewer visitors which makes it superb for naturalists, birders, and hikers who prefer to see more wildlife than people.
In the 1920s "merry murderesses" were all the rage. Readers of Chicago dueling newspapers couldn't get enough of high-profile murder cases committed by women.
A half century later legends Bob Fosse, Fred Ebb and John Kander turned Windy City mayhem into the musical Chicago, the longest-running revival and the longest-running American musical in Broadway history. Winner of seven Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical, it's the second longest-running show in Broadway history, behind only The Phantom of the Opera, having played over 8,300 performances.
Vero Beach's Riverside Theatre brings the story to life with a powerhouse presentation on the Stark Stage that runs through January 22. Under Richard Stafford's stellar direction, this production hits all of the themes. It's a robust tale of fame, fortune and acquittal that keeps a pair of conniving women killers from the gallows. It's an evening of all that jazz, one show-stopping song after another. Sensational costumes and set designs abound. Did I mention perhaps the most spectacular dancing you've ever seen?
It's show time at Larsen Motorsports. Call the police. Check. Call the fire department. Check.
The racing crew has rolled the Florida Tech branded jet dragster into the parking lot in front of their building in Palm Bay. Under a perfect blue sky, a helmeted and fire-suited Elaine Larsen climbs into the 1,145 pound vehicle that travels upwards of 300 mph over a quarter mile in 5.5 seconds.
Larsen is test-firing the 5,000 horsepower engine. Within seconds the ground is shaking, the sound ear-splitting as a huge plume of white smoke surges out the tail pipe. Then Larsen hits the afterburner button serving up a series of "fireballs," orange-red blasts of flame 30 feet long. The concussion of air physically staggers our small group watching, a cacophony of noise and flame.
Elaine and husband Chris are co-owners of Larsen Motorsports, a multi-team, national racing organization that has partnered with Florida Tech to design and build jet dragsters. Elaine grew up far from America's speedways on the family farm in Middleton, Michigan.
If you haven't ventured over to downtown St. Petersburg in a while, you're in for a surprise. A big surprise.
Named in 1892 after the hometown of a Russian railroad magnate who helped develop it, over the past decade St. Pete has morphed into one of the top go-to destinations in the Southeast. Once taunted for its green benches, bingo nights and sluggish snowbirds, today St. Pete is a textbook case for urban reinvention.
Evidently, "God’s waiting room" has moved on.
With the city's demographics shifted in a more youthful direction, downtown is thriving thanks to a resurgence of condos on the water and a burgeoning bar and restaurant scene. Anchored by the posh Vinoy Renaissance Hotel, Beach Drive serves up a myriad of cafes and gourmet restaurants from Central to Fifth Avenue NE. The Canopy, perched atop the Birchwood Hotel, provides an escape from the downtown bar scene norm as you look out across Tampa Bay with one of its tropical-inspired cocktails in hand.
Like many of us, Karol (Bo) Bobko was in need of some guidance while attending Brooklyn Technical High School in New York City in the late 1950s. Enter Mrs. Helen Bunger, an English teacher, and her husband, an engineer. As mentors to the teenager, the Bungers had a powerful and positive effect in both finding and advancing Bobko's professional career.
After graduating from the Air Force Academy as a member of its first class in 1959, Bobko received a masters of science degree in aerospace engineering. He went on to become a jet fighter pilot and a NASA astronaut, a veteran of three space flights who logged 386 hours in space. Bobko was a member of the astronaut support crew for the historic Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975, and mission commander of STS-51-J aboard shuttle Atlantis on a top secret space mission in 1985.
"Looking back I was fortunate to have some wonderful mentors who were my heroes," Bobko recalled. "Mr. and Mrs. Bunger got me going down the path of engineering which opened up so many incredible opportunities for me."
What does it take to be a hero? It's the theme that runs throughout new exhibition "Heroes & Legends" at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Designed to be the first stop upon entering the complex, the $20 million, 20,000 square-foot exhibition transports guests back to the early years of NASA's manned space program to explore the concept of heroism utilizing four unique settings.
A dapper Fedora is tugged down over his shoulder-length hair. It's a late April evening and Jacob Velazquez is performing a recital accompanied by a trio of string players from the Space Coast Symphony Orchestra at the Florida Institute of Technology. He stole the show.
Jacob is an 8-year old little boy. He was diagnosed with high functioning autism at the age of four about the same time his piano talents emerged. A year later he was admitted into the National Musicians Guild after perfectly performing ten classical pieces from memory. His parents, Willie and Tina Velazquez, report Jacob learned to play Beethoven's "Sonata Op. 49 No. 2" in just three weeks.
A showman to the fullest extent of the word, Jacob performed a classical and electronic dance music mix, singing, dancing, telling jokes, even mc-ing his concert. For someone so young his onstage presence was remarkable.
"Jacob's a smart, bright kid," says Aaron Collins, conductor of the Space Coast Symphony Orchestra. "He was playing cards before the concert, no jitters, cracking jokes. He was fully engaged. Singing and dancing, he received multiple standing ovations from the audience. Jacob also spoke about his personal experience with autism and his connection to his favorite performer Taylor Swift. All from the heart.
For the past fifteen years I’ve been a contributing writer to a variety of national & regional magazines, prominent daily news-papers and websites. I have written about an array of topics such as arts & culture, chefs, food & drink, business entrepreneurs, travel, history, thoroughbred racing, and the animal and natural world.
I'm currently a regular arts & culture contributor to WFIT's website (the NPR radio station in Melbourne.), Vero Beach Magazine and Florida Today newspaper on a number of topics. Over recent years my work has been published regularly in Blood-Horse, Long Island Boating World and The Hunt and PA Equestrian magazines.
I am a regular contributor to the websites JustLuxe.com and SeeTheSouth.com. JustLuxe is an online magazine featuring the best of luxury lifestyle and travel, while SeeTheSouth features truly unique southern destinations. My travel articles also regularly appear in Florida Today, Long Island Boating world and the Delaware County Times, a major daily newspaper just outside Philly.
I've also contributed a variety of articles to the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, the Delaware County Times, and the Montgomery County Newspapers. I have been an Arts & Culture correspondent for Newsworks, the website for WHYY-TV (PBS in Philadelphia). I have been a correspondent to ESPN.com, America's Best Racing, the Paulick Report and Thoroughbred Racing Commentary.
After spending the past two decades in Wilmington, Delaware, my wife Jane, our Toller retriever Smarty and I have moved to Melbourne Beach, Fla. Located on a barrier island between the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian River, Melbourne Beach sits on the southern end of Florida's "Space Coast." The famed coastal highway A1A runs directly along the Atlantic. Melbourne Beach (pop. 3,000) offers unspoiled beaches with sparkling blue-green waters and thousands of beautiful seabirds and long-legged shorebirds.
Head north 35 miles on A1A and you arrive at Cape Canaveral, for decades our nation's gateway to exploring and understanding our universe. Today, Cape Canaveral is a hub for many of the most exciting new private space projects such as SpaceX, the rocket and spacecraft company founded by Elon Musk (manufacturer of Tesla vehicles). Upwards of 30 launches are planned in 2017.
Back down to earth traveling on two-lane A1A south from Melbourne Beach's compact business area brings you to a series of secluded and undeveloped natural beaches. Bonsteel Park's two-acre beach provides an excellent vantage point to catch glimpses of passing dolphins, while the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge is recognized as the most important nesting area for loggerhead turtles in the western hemisphere. It's also home to the gigantic leatherback turtles.
Nearby is Sebastian Inlet State Park which connects the Indian River Lagoon with the Atlantic Ocean. Its jetty break is recognized as one of the surf world's high-performance hot spots. Three generations of world-class surfers have surfed here, including 11-time world champion Kelly Slater. The 600-acre park is also celebrated for world-class fishing, and plenty of seabirds and wildlife.
Through my writing over the past decade I have traveled to spectacular destinations such as Lake Tahoe, Calif./Nev. and Sun Valley, Idaho; Cody, Wyoming/Yellowstone Park; Saratoga Springs, the Adirondacks, Saratoga Springs and Rhinebeck, New York; Port Clyde and Monheghan Island, Maine; Avalon and Stone Harbor, New Jersey; Middleburg, Charlottesville and Richmond, Virginia.
Other travel adventures have included Tampa and St. Petersburg, Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, Florida; and St. Simons and Jekyll Island, Georgia. My travel articles thoughtfully explore the history of the region along with museums, music and the arts, chefs and restaurateurs, wineries and craft breweries, outdoor and sporting adventures as well as profiling intriguing personalities of those regions.
In addition to my writing career I owned a marketing company where I represented a diversified list of clients in the areas of publicity, marketing and business development-- such as the famed Baldwin's Book Barn, Thoroughbred Charities of America and the Kahunaville restaurant chain. In another life I was the founder, publisher and editor of Life Sports Magazine.
Along with Jane and Smarty I look forward to writing about new adventures in Melbourne Beach, the "Space Coast" and other Florida destinations. That's Smarty below with his pals Willie and Nelson.