Backstage: A Look at the Central Florida Arts and Entertainment Scene

Happy New Year! January is one of the most exciting months of the year for me because there are fun shows to attend nearly every single night! Whether you want to see a Broadway show, or a stand-up comic, or live music, Tampa Bay and Orlando metro both have the hookup in the first month of the year. Let me tell you about a few acts coming to Central Florida in January 2017.

Tue. Jan. 10 & Wed. Jan. 11: Nature’s unpredictable creations are brought to life in an exotic show called Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy. Enjoy the grace of the butterfly ballet, the acrobatics of the hopping frogs, and the choreography of the stretching lizards! The show comes to The Lakeland Center on Jan. 10, followed by a performance at The Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg the next night. (7:30 p.m. both nights; starts at $25 in Lakeland and $29.50 in St. Petersburg; and Read our feature on Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy in this issue.)

Tue. Jan. 10-Sun. Mar. 12: “The funniest show in New York”, Forbbiden Broadway is the longest-running musical revue in the world, sending up showtunes, characters and stories from classic and contemporary Broadway shows. A completely updated show will be presented at Tampa’s Straz Center this winter. (2 and 7:30 p.m. showings; starts at $40;

Wed. Jan. 11-Sun. Jan. 29: Long before Dorothy Gale arrives in the Land of Oz, two girls meet and grow up, eventually becoming two distinctly different witches. The Broadway phenomenon Wicked will be arriving in Central Florida for a two-month stay, with the first stop being the Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando. Wicked is part of the Fairwinds Broadway in Orlando series. (evening and matinee performances; starts at $42.75;

Wed. Jan. 11 & Sun. Jan. 15: Henry Rollins has been described as a “renaissance man”, and it’s hard to disagree! The former lead singer of Black Flag and Rollins Band is a radio host, an author, and a committed social activist (including LGBT rights activism). You’ll have the chance to see him perform live twice, at Capitol Theatre in Clearwater and then at The Plaza Live Orlando four nights later. (8 p.m. for both dates, starts at $29.50, VIP options available, and Rescheduled dates due to Hurricane Matthew.)

Thu. Jan. 12: One of the most popular R&B couples of all time, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr., previously of The 5th Dimension, is ready to perform at The Lakeland Center, featuring backing vocals by “The Next Dimension”. The duo will be singing some of their greatest hits, such as “Wedding Bell Blues”, “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In”, and the #1 smash “You Don’t Have to Be a Star (to Be in My Show)”. (7:30 p.m.; starts at $36; the

Thu. Jan. 12: Mark Cortale presents Matthew Morrison, star of TV’s Glee, in a special Broadway Concert Series show at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota, hosted by Seth Rudetsky. In this format, Rudetsky plays the piano while sharing Broadway and performance memories with Morrison, as he sings his favorite songs as well as tried-and-true standards. (8 p.m.; starts at $21;

Thu. Jan. 12-Mon. Jan. 16 & Wed. Jan. 25-Sun. Jan. 29: 2017 is a banner year for Feld Entertainment’s Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Xtreme. For the very first time, the circus will be led by a female ringmaster, Orlando native Kristen Michelle Wilson! Circus Xtreme showcases the best of the best, and this month you will have two chances to go, first at the Amway Center in Orlando and then at Amalie Arena in Tampa. (evening and matinee performances; starts at $18; and

Wed. Jan. 18 & Sat. Jan. 21: Start with a 12-piece band, add a fabulous lead vocalist (China Forbes), and then throw in musical selections which range from pop to showtunes to eclectic “world music” and you have Pink Martini, a group that can produce a true musical whirlwind. Watch them perform at The Peabody Auditorium in Daytona Beach and then at the Straz Center in Tampa. (7:30 p.m.; starts at $29 in Daytona Beach and $45 in Tampa; and

Fri. and Sat. Jan. 20-21, Sun. Jan. 22 & Tue. and Wed. Jan 24-25: What would eventually become the phenomenon Riverdance was first performed at the Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin in 1994. This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the show’s first world tour, and the awe-inducing Irish folk dancing spectacular comes to Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, The Peabody Auditorium in Daytona Beach, and Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota. (evening and matinee performances; $35-$150;,,

Sat. Jan. 21: Lisa Lampanelli, comedy’s lovable “Queen of Mean”, returns to Central Florida after performing a sold-out show at Hard Rock Live Orlando during Gay Disney Week in 2015. Her new show, at the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, will definitely make you laugh until you cry, but don’t cry because you’re offended — her humor is very much “equal opportunity” offensive! (8 p.m.; $45-$55;

Sat. Jan. 21 & Mon. Jan. 23: Mark Cortale and Chris Marchant devised the all-gay string quartet Well-Strung, which has wowed audiences around the world with their mashups of pop songs performed in the classical style. Edmund Bagnell (1st violin), Chris Marchant (2nd violin), Daniel Shevlin (cello), and Trevor Wadleigh (viola) will perform for Central Florida audiences at The Abbey in Orlando and then two nights later at The Sharon in The Villages. (8 p.m. in Orlando and 7 p.m. in The Villages; $15-$55; VIP options available; and

Tue. Jan. 24-Sun. Jan. 29: Welcome to Berlin’s infamous Kit Kat Klub, where the Emcee, Sally Bowles and a raucous ensemble take the stage nightly so everyone can leave their troubles behind. Of course I’m referring to the plot of the smash Broadway musical Cabaret, which is coming to the Straz Center in Tampa. (evening and matinee performances; starts at $67;

Sat. Jan. 28, Sun. Jan. 29 & Mon. Jan. 30: Atlanta native Gladys Knight started a music group, The Pips, with her brother and their friends, and the rest was history. Listen to the Songbird of the South perform some of her greatest hits, such as “Midnight Train to Georgia” and “If I Were Your Woman”. She will be making three stops: Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota, the King Center in Melbourne, and Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, in that order. (7 p.m. in Melbourne, 8 p.m. in Sarasota and Clearwater; starts at $47.50;,,