American Stage to stay put a little longer

By JOHN FLEMING, Times Performing Arts Critic
Published May 23, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG -- American Stage expects to remain in its current building at least one more season. After selling the building recently, the theater company had planned to perform most of the 2007-08 season at the Palladium Theater while waiting for its new home to be built on the St. Petersburg College downtown campus.

But in a change of plans, the investment group that purchased the property at 211 Third St. S for $1-million in March has agreed to rent the company its longtime home into next year.

"We think we're incredibly fortunate to be able to stay here," said Todd Olson, producing artistic director of the theater, citing the intimate dimensions of the 150-seat space as an advantage, compared to the 800-seat Palladium. "We might look a little schizophrenic, but we think in the end our patrons will prefer remaining here."

American Stage had already announced its season, which included Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard as the final production in the current theater, followed by a lineup of relatively large-scale shows at the Palladium. The company had printed brochures and started marketing the season.

Now it has revised the season and scheduled a number of plays that better suit the smaller venue, including Gem of the Ocean, the ninth play in August Wilson's 10-play cycle on the African-American experience; Anthony Shaffer's whodunit Sleuth; Betrayal by Harold Pinter; and Moonlight and Magnolias, an homage to Gone With the Wind. Dropped were The Cherry Orchard, A Streetcar Named Desire, the musical Cowgirls and The Foreigner.

American Stage has a record 2,934 subscribers this season, and Olson acknowledged it was concerned that it would lose more than a few of them by moving to the Palladium. "We were bracing for it," he said.

The larger shows planned for the Palladium would have been more expensive to produce, adding to the uncertainty of taking interim quarters.

But American Stage may still have venue problems at some point. The group that owns the property is talking with hotels, said Jeff Wells, executive vice president of Vector Properties. The theater could have to move if a deal materializes in 2008. "We're going month to month next year," Wells said.

At SPC, Susan Reiter, director of facilities planning and institutional services, said the new space is not likely to be ready until January 2009.

Here's the revised 2007-08 schedule: Sept. 7-30, Gem of the Ocean; Nov. 2-Dec. 2, Sleuth; Dec. 7-23, The Big Bang; Jan. 18-Feb. 10, Moonlight and Magnolias; March 7-30, Hamlet; April 11-May 4, Pirates of Penzance; June 6-29, Betrayal; July 18-Aug. 10, Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins.

Subscriptions range from $88 to $231. (727) 823-7529; www.americanstage.org.

Revolving door at orchestra

The arrivals and departures at the Florida Orchestra are proceeding at a rapid pace. Principal flute Andrea Kaplan is expected to go to the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, where she recently won an audition for assistant principal flute. Kaplan has played with the orchestra since the 2004-05 season and was named principal flute in January.

Also departing is James Wilson, principal French horn for 15 years, who will be on leave next season to be a visiting professor at the college of music at Florida State University in Tallahassee. Wilson's wife, violinist Fiona Lofthouse, will also be on leave. The couple have 5-month-old twins. Wilson, who also plays in the summertime Santa Fe Opera orchestra, is still scheduled to appear with the Florida Orchestra next season as the soloist in the premiere of a horn concerto by David Rogers.

On the arrival side of the ledger, the orchestra has a new principal bassoon, Anthony Georgeson, who won the audition this week. Georgeson, 27, with degrees from the University of Wisconsin and Juilliard, comes from the New World Symphony, the professional training orchestra in Miami Beach.

The turnover means there will be auditions into October and November. This week, there have been not only the bassoon audition but also auditions for associate concertmaster, principal second violin and several other chairs in the violin section. The French horn audition is next week.

John Fleming can be reached at (727) 893-8716 or fleming@sptimes.com.