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Your weekend arts forecast: ‘Cats’ is really, actually, honestly back

Bill DeYoung



The touring cast of "Cats," 2021. Photo: Matthew Murphy/The Really Useful Co.

There are those who felt the 2019 movie version of Cats did unspeakable damage to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage musical, which had transformed the West End, and Broadway, in the 1980s and has brought in something like $3 billion.

Said Rotten Tomatoes: “Despite its fur-midable cast, this Cats adaptation is a clawful mistake that will leave most viewers begging to be put out of their mew-sery.”

But the ungainly sights (and sounds) of Dame Judi Dench, Idris Elba and James Cordon in layers of fur and makeup – not to mention the reams of scathing reviews and bad box office – couldn’t kill this kitty.

There’ll be no Cats-bashing in this column, which exists solely to inform and elucidate. And truth be told, this all-singing, all-dancing Cats is impervious to criticism and back-alley catcalls. Cats has nine lives.

The U.K.-based official touring company of Cats is at the Straz Center (Morsani Hall) nightly through Sunday, with a few matinees in the mix.

Yes, the gang is back onstage, rescued from their celluloid prison: Rum Tum Tugger, Mr. Mistoffelees, Grizzabella, Jennyanydots, Bustopher Jones  … all of them.

Details and tickets are here.

Music in Clearwater

Henry Paul is back in the ol’ hometown for the Outlaws’ “Green Grass and Yuletide Jam,” Friday and Saturday – that’s right, two shows – at the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater. Of the current band, just Paul and drummer Monte Yoho remain from the 1970s hit-making era, but Paul was a chief singer and songwriter – so this is pretty much the real deal, a Tampa Bay original. Pure Prairie League opens. Tickets here.

RELATED STORY: ‘Sing like the Eagles, play like the Allmans’: Henry Paul and the legacy of the Outlaws

It’s pretty much pure nostalgia with the Temptations/Four Tops show Friday at Ruth Eckerd Hall. All of the Motown legends’ lead singers have left us, although original Tempt Otis Williams and original Top Abdul “Duke” Fakir are still in their respective groups. Tickets here.

For the 13th consecutive year, “Bowzer’s Holiday Rock ‘n’ Roll Party” plays Ruth Eckerd Saturday. This is a touring oldies show with Jon “Bowzer” Bauman of Sha Na Na reunited with his old bandmates Johnny Contardo and Henry Gross (ask Henry to sing his “dead dog” ballad from 1976), with Peter Noone (of Herman’s Hermits fame) and Gary “Young Girl” Puckett and the Union Gap. Tickets here.

And one of the true gentlemen of bluegrass (in a genre so gentleman-heavy, that’s saying a lot) plays the Capitol Sunday. Ricky Skaggs is in town, with his Kentucky Thunder band. If such things impress you, Skaggs is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame, the Musicians Hall of Fame, the National Fiddler Hall of Fame and the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame. And he has 15 Grammy Awards. Tickets here.

Music in St. Pete

Guitarist Nate Najar returns to the Palladium Friday with his annual Jazz Holiday concert. As always, the band is more than impressive – along with vocalist Daniela Soledade, Joe Porter on bass, Patrick Bettison on piano and Jean Bolduc on drums, it features Adrian Cunningham playing sax, clarinet and flute, trumpeter Bruce Harris and Russ Phillips on trombone. Details and tickets here.

The Florida Orchestra’s Holiday Pops concerts this weekend include lots more than the usual orchestrated carols – the program throws in music from It’s a Wonderful Life, The Polar Express, John Williams’ “Somewhere in My Memory” (from Home Alone) and the like. Bob Bernhardt conducts, with vocals from Texas soprano Mela Daily and the Lumina Youth Choirs. Performances are 8 p.m. Friday at the Straz Center, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday at the Mahaffey Theater, 2 and 7:30 p.m. at Ruth Eckerd Hall. Tickets.

At 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, a specially-chosen crew from St. Petersburg Opera Company will be at Cage Brewing, performing the first Holiday Sparkle shows of the season (the program continues next weekend). It’s a festive and colorful mix of pops and operatic repertoire. Tickets.

Arts ‘n marts (and books, too)

More than 150 artisans, craftspeople and sellers of stuff will be set up alongside of the Pinellas Trail for Saturday’s inaugural Winter Market. The Warehouse Arts District (including The Factory St. Pete) and the historic Deuces Live District will be abuzz with entertainment, food, drink and more alongside the shopping extravaganza. Here’s a map for the 3 to 9 p.m. event:

Yours truly will be inside The Factory, at the St. Petersburg Press booth. Alongside local authors Tom Gribbin (The Last Florida Boy), Kerry Kriseman (Accidental First Lady) and Paul Wilborn (Cigar City), I’ll be there to talk about the upcoming Vintage St. Pete Volume II: Legends, Locations, Lifestyles and take pre-orders (the coffee-table book will be available Jan. 1). Details here.

This dovetails nicely with the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance’s monthly Second Saturday ArtWalk, from 5 to 9 p.m. Artist studios and galleries (some 45 of them) in the Central Arts District, Edge District, Grand Central District, Warehouse Arts District, Uptown Arts District and downtown Waterfront District will be open for visitation (and yes, for your holiday shopping convenience). Details are here.

In the theater

If you’re in the mood for live professional theater, here are your choices. In St. Pete, American Stage is opening Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol; the original musical comedy The Night Before is onstage at freeFall; at Studio Grand Central, the locally-written dramedy The Sister-Mothers of Gulfport is in its final weekend. Across the bay, The Giver closes with Sunday’s performance at Stageworks, while its partner-in-repertory, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, continues through Dec. 19.

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