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Your weekend arts forecast: Journey to the center of Rick Wakeman

Bill DeYoung



Rick Wakeman - pianist, prodigy, composer, myth, legend ... comedian. Photo provided.

In the glory days of progressive rock, Yes reigned supreme. Masters at blending shifts in mood and structure with complicated time signatures and – most crucially – interesting melodies and lyrics, the British quintet defied commercial logic and cultivated many millions of fans. And sold many millions of records.

Yes, of course, still exists, although the members come and go with regularity, forming offshoot bands, working as solos or otherwise, and (as in the case of drummer Bill Bruford) retiring from music altogether. These aren’t young men any more.

Which brings us to the title of keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman’s current one-man trek across the globe, the “Grumpy Old Rock Star Tour.” Wakeman, who wasn’t the first piano player in Yes, but remains its most famous, brings his show to Clearwater’s Capitol Theatre Saturday.

Wakeman plays this concert solo at a grand piano, weaving into the proceedings songs and stories from his illustrious career as a studio sideman, an extremely successful solo artist and a member of the Yes family.

The man who created some of the most beautiful, and dead serious, music of the 1970s and beyond, has become a standup comedian. He’s a regular on the BBC TV series Grumpy Old Men, hence the title.

“When I play, I take playing seriously,” Wakeman told Rolling Stone recently. “But I don’t take myself serious. I’ve had so many bizarre things happen to me in my life and I tell the stories onstage. The moment you start to take yourself seriously, you’re in trouble.”

His onstage patter includes memories of playing synthesizer on David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and piano on “Life on Mars.” As a studio cat, he arranged and performed the stately piano on “Morning Has Broken” by Cat Stevens.

Then there were the themed Rick Wakeman albums – keyboard-centric dramatics such as The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Journey to the Center of the Earth and The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

Can you say excess? Journey was recorded and performed with the London Symphony Orchestra; King Arthur toured with a real, live ice show.

These days, it’s back to basics for the prodigy from Perivale, West London.

I’m just as known for comedy in the U.K. as I am for music, which is ridiculous, really,” Wakeman said in that Rolling Stone interview (in full here). “It’s a piano show and I’ve always liked piano shows because everything I write is on the piano. It’s always great to take pieces of music you’ve been involved with different artists and play them on the piano because that is how they started.”

Tickets are here.

Holiday fun

Speaking of music legends with bizarre things in their past, Michael Jackson’s long-form video for the song Thriller (“I’m not like other guys”) lives on as a Halloween tradition. Thriller will be re-enacted – well, the dancing and singing parts – on the Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg front plaza today (Thursday, Oct. 24) at 7, 7:30, 8 and 8:30 p.m. Jesse Miller has choreographed a large group of locals to do the stiff-legged dance, in full zombie regalia and graveyard makeup (to terrorize y’all’s neighborhood). This is the second year the MFA’s done this – admission is free to watch. Bring the fam.

In other Halloween news, Tampa’s Jobsite Theater has done the department store thing and started plugging one holiday before the previous holiday has even come and gone. Larissa Fasthorse’s hilarious The Thanksgiving Play opens Friday and will run through Nov. 17 (the week before Thanksgiving). More on this one tomorrow in the Catalyst.

And now, this

St. Pete, you will have noticed, got a lot more colorful this week as artists from around the region, the nation and the world put brush to bucket as part of the 5th annual SHINE Mural Festival. The work continues through Saturday (Oct. 26); this map will tell you where each artist is creating. Saturday’s finale event takes place at The Factory, in the Warehouse Arts District (Fairfield at 28th Street, to be specific) from 2 p.m. till sunset. Among other things, the event will feature the unveiling of a massive “Inside Out” panel of photographic portraits of St. Petersburg residents, wheat-pasted on a wall.

Saturday at the Mahaffey Theater, The Florida Orchestra has a program of Latin pops music, “from bossa nova to mambo and more,” conducted and hosted by Matt Catingub, with vocalist and actor Christina Souza. Tickets for both the matinee and evening performances are available here.

Theatrically: Be sure to see playwright/actor Roxanne Fay’s tour de force Thrice to Mine at thestudio@620 Friday and Saturday, or the astonishingly affecting Vietgone all weekend at American Stage. And freeFall’s creepy, spellbinding interpretation of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw ends with Sunday’s matinee.

Finally, the Blues Brothers Band got nothing on Little Jake & the Soul Searchers, the eight-member rhythm ‘n’ blues machine rolling into the Palladium Theater Saturday night. Be there or be square.

  • Are you a performing arts space, large, small or in-between, an art gallery, a bookshop or any place where public cultural events take place? Please put us on your email list – we can’t publicize you if we don’t know what (or who) you are! The address is bill@stpetecatalyst.com. Thanks!




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