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Florida Orchestra brings Elton J, Billy J and ‘Final Fantasy’ to the Mahaffey stage

Bill DeYoung



Donald Paulton plays piano and sings with Canada's Jeans 'n Classics, performing Friday with The Florida Orchestra. Photo provided

There’s certainly a difference between a tribute band, and a band that plays only the music of a specific artist. It’s not just the splitting of hairs.

Hair, however, is often part of the definition – a tribute act will comb, coif and be-wig itself to “look like” the artist in question, along with costumes, props and stage mannerisms. The idea being that if you squint (or take out your contacts) you’re actually in the room with the early Beatles, 1970s-era Fleetwood Mac, or ABBA, or Kiss or whoever else it may be.

Any musician or singer with talent can reproduce the sound of a record (the really good ones, in fact, often play the hits with more panache, and more accuracy, than the aging originals themselves). A live orchestra can make it heart-pounding.

The cheese factor starts when there’s cosplay and fakery involved.

The Canada-based Jeans ‘n Classics is, despite that regrettable name, a “classy” group of tribute artists. It consists of singers, and instrumentalists, that do the tribute thing without artifice, and without costumes or posturing, in front of symphony orchestras. The organization has been doing it across America – just playing, and playing it well – for 23 years.

Jeans ‘n Classics joins forces with The Florida Orchestra for Friday’s concert, spotlighting the music of Elton John and Billy Joel, at the Mahaffey Theater. Daniel Black has conducting duties.

British guitarist Peter Brennan, who arranges the tunes, has produced orchestral shows for Supertramp alum Roger Hodgson, and Martin Fry of ABC, among others. He is the founder of Jeans ‘n Classics.

The pianist – who’s also one of several onstage singers – is Donald Paulton, once a member of Lighthouse, one of Canada’s most enduring jazz/pop groups.

Don’t expect to see anybody on the Mahaffey stage pretending to “be” the Rocket Man or the Piano Man. Squinting is not required.

Tickets and information are here.

Arnie Roth will conduct the “Final Fantasy VII” concerts. Photo: TFO

TFO’s even-bigger weekend event also bears a clumsy title: Final Fantasy VII Remake. It’s a unique orchestral experience, however, as the music is from an internationally beloved role-playing video game.

It’s Nobuo Uematsu’s compositions from the Japanese-created Final Fantasy VII, which has sold zillions of copies since its 1997 debut. In 2020, PlayStation started rolling out Final Fantasy VII Remake, a new series based on the original concept.

The concerts, Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon at the Mahaffey Theater, are set to thunderous, high-definition video scenes from the game, beamed to a screen behind the live orchestra.

The conductor on the Final Fantasy VII Remake national tour is Arnie Roth. The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay will join TFO for “Hollow,” the theme from Remake.

Tickets and information are here.


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