Iconic, 81-year-old Tampa Theatre, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is one of those hometown gems that can easily be taken for granted by locals.
So, any reason to experience the architectural archetype for “Florida Mediterranean,” your basic pastiche of Italian Renaissance, Byzantine, Spanish, Mediterranean, Greek Revival, Baroque and English Tudor, should do. In fact, any excuse to ensconce yourself amid the alcoves, tiles, mirrors, statuary, stairways, history and ambient light — and under that star-bedecked ceiling — should suffice.
And as good a vehicle as any would be the (3 p.m. Sundays) Summer Classic Movie Series, now in its 14th year. It began May 27 and runs through Aug. 26. The featured fare ranges from “Top Hat” and “The Thin Man” to “Gone With The Wind” and “The Great Gatsby.” The last three are: “Casablanca” (Aug. 12), “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” (Aug. 19) and “The Thief of Baghdad” (Aug. 26).
Basically, something for anyone wanting to escape unforgiving humidity, bad indoor baseball and too many contemporary movies obviously aimed at a target market of 14-year-old boys.
If you’ve never sampled the summer series at Tampa Theatre, consider putting it on one of those sempiternal “to do” lists. Especially when it’s sub-Sahara hot around here.
“It transports people back to another era,” explains Tara Schroeder, now in her 15th year as Tampa Theatre’s community relations manager. “It’s one of our best draws; we love it.” So much so that for the last six years Tampa Theatre has even added an “Audience Costume Craze,” which encourages patrons to dress in period fashion. “The Great Gatsby” and “Blazing Saddles” were so designated this summer.
And Schroeder also loves the attendance figures. Whereas an average screening in the balconied, 1,446-seat “specialty film house” would attract an audience of 75-100, the summer series’ movies average 700-800.A prime example was last Sunday’s “Hard Day’s Night,” the recently restored print of the 1964 Beatles mockumentary. Attendance, which included my wife Laraine and I, was 714. (That evening’s indie film, “Crazy Love,” did about 700 less.)
We are reminded that rare Grand Dames such as Tampa Theatre were built for cinematic grandeur and must not be relegated to museum status or commercial conversion. They must be experienced collectively — with the life force that is a critical-mass live audience.
Which is certainly the case on any give summer Sunday, including this one. And, yes, we were transported. Alas, murder and cancer have halved the Beatles over the years, but this was 1964 — for everybody. We were all young and carefree and immortal and at the freeze-frame pinnacle of our young adulthood, including those of us who were spastic on the dance floor. And who cares that we didn’t realize then that “Hard Day’s Night” could have been retitled: “The Beatles meet Benny Hill.”
Frenetic and silly worked much better then, to be sure, but the music remains timeless. The Beatles were generational avatars who were gifted musicians and lyricists, a parlay that is much less in favor today.
And even when the sound system malfunctioned, as it did several times, the baby-boomer crowd was more than understanding. Way more.
Fortunately, these brief outages were mostly concert scenes and the crowd responded by seamlessly singing along — “