press/reviews

Feature article on Michael by Times Performing Arts critic John Fleming in the TAMPA BAY TIMES July 5, 2012.

 

Meet Michael Raabe, director of 'Cabaret' at Freefall and Tampa Bay's music man of the moment

By John Fleming, Times Performing Arts Critic
In Print: Thursday, July 5, 2012
ST. PETERSBURG

Michael Raabe is music director of the moment in Tampa Bay area theater. At Freefall Theatre, he is playing piano and leading the band in a smashing production of Cabaret, fast on the heels of his doing the same, but in a very different kind of show, for American Stage in the Park performances of The Rocky Horror Show.

"With Rocky, our goal was just to rock out," Raabe says. "For Cabaret, I'm proud of the orchestrations and vocal arrangements I did."

Todd Olson, producing artistic director of American Stage, loved the way Raabe led the band in the park this year. "He seems so laid back, and then his band is so sharp and dynamic," Olson says. "It's just his talent and what he hears that makes him so good."

Other musicals Raabe has worked on in the past year or two include Grey Gardens and Man of La Mancha at Freefall and Pump Boys and Dinettes at New American Theater.



On Sunday night, he turns his hand to performing a concert with singer Sara DelBeato. On the Cabaret set, the duo will delve into the songs of summer with a program they call "Too Darn Hot!"



"We'll do some Beach Boys songs, like God Only Knows," he says. "We'll do some interesting mashups, putting songs together like The Boy From Ipanema with Blister in the Sun by the Violent Femmes."



Raabe, 33, grew up in Watertown, a farming community in northeast South Dakota, and his story is like that of many a stagestruck kid.



"My friends loved Metallica and stuff, and I had discovered the Andrews Sisters, Ella (Fitzgerald), Sinatra," he says. "I was in all the shows at Watertown High School. I played the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, Cosmo Brown — the Donald O'Connor role — in Singin' in the Rain. I took piano lessons from this wonderful lady who realized I was not interested in the classical stuff and let me play jazz and pop and Broadway. My first recital I did Great Balls of Fire in this church."

He would make the trip to the Twin Cities to see Broadway tours, such as Beauty and the Beast, and the first major show he saw in New York was The Drowsy Chaperone, an affectionate spoof of musicals. "I remember crying at the end," he says. "It was a great introduction."



In 1999, Raabe moved to the Tampa Bay area to work at Busch Gardens as a performer, and he continues to be the vocal director at the theme park. He tries not to treat the commercial shows there any less seriously than a Stephen Sondheim musical. 



In Florida, he finally saw in person one of his unlikely inspirations, the venerable popmeisters Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme. "What I loved about being in Florida is that so many pop standard acts come through," he says. "The first time I saw them, at Van Wezel Hall, a friend and I from Busch drove there with a sign in the car that said 'Steve and Eydie or Bust.' Yes, they do some cheesy stuff, but musically, they're big inspirations. I have always loved their Broadway covers."

Raabe's work on Cabaret is notable for its inventive touches. One example is the trio in Hawaiian shirts that he and director Eric Davis added to pop up in a doorway to sing harmonies in It Couldn't Please Me More, with its pineapple lyrics. "One of my favorite moments in the show is I Don't Care Much, with just David (Mann, playing the Emcee) and piano," he says. "I'm trying to get everything I can emotionally out of it. It just feels very raw, very truthful."

Next season, Raabe is signed on for John & Jen, an Andrew Lippa musical at Freefall, and the American Stage park production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. He winds up the season doing musical direction for the rock musical Spring Awakening at Freefall.

Is there a dream musical that he would like to do? "Gypsy," Raabe says after thinking a moment. "It's great material and there's stuff open to interpretation. I want to do a cabaret show of the whole score of Gypsy."

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

show reviews

 
THE PURSUIT OF SNAPPINESS - New American Theater

"One hour of mashed up music bliss with a voice as smooth as butter and a bass line that will leave you snapping."

- Virginia Johnson (Bay News 9)

 

Michael Raabe, singer and pianist and Tito Vallejo on upright bass made a dynamic duo in last nightʼs performance, The Pursuit of Snappiness. The Pursuit of Snappiness, presented by the New American Theater Cabaret, was witty, entertaining, and a perfect way to spend a Friday night. With open seating around tables, a cash bar, and great music, the atmosphere was casual and relaxing.

Raabeʼs clever take on famous songs of the past and present, mixing and meshing rhythms with lyrics, was both comical and a refreshing take on familiar music. Mixing such famous songs as Abbaʼs “Money Money Money” with “If I were a Rich Man” from The Fiddler on the Roof, the duo showed real innovative talent. Equally importantly, Raabe showed an understanding for his audience. With everything from ZZ Top to Disney songs, there was a something for everybody. Through this inclusiveness, the duo were able to create some truly hilarious juxtapositions, combining “Friend Like Me” from Disneyʼs Aladdin with Christina Aguileraʼs “Genie in a Bottle” into one flowing jazz tune. These twists in familiar songs along with Raabeʼs exceptional comedic timing make the night a laugh riot and a great time for people of all ages.

Even within the humor, the positive energy coming from the performers and their insightful takes on even the most familiar tunes was enough to leave you thinking. Between the primarily comic pieces were slower, more inspirational pieces such as Sondheimʼs “No One is Alone” and “ʼTill There was You” that not only showcased the musiciansʼ talents, but served as a perfect counterweight to all the comedy.

- Melanie O'Neill (Tampa Performing Arts Examiner)

PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES - New American Theater

Raabe, who plays keyboard and accordion and is musical director, is especially good in the unlikely showstopper, The Night Dolly Parton Was Almost Mine, a ballad about the geeky L.M.'s "first love in country music."  in a way it's little more than a corny novely song, but it's sentiment is surprisingly affecting.

- John Fleming (St. Pete Times)

 

GREY GARDENS - freeFall Theatre

The singers of Grey Gardens offer us one wittily complex song after another, all backed by a note-perfect band led by music director Michael Raabe.

Grey Gardens is a terrific, artistically daring show, one of the best you'll see anywhere. If you want quality, here you've got it. Buy a ticket and see for yourself.
- Mark E. Leib (Creative Loafing)



THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW - American Stage In The Park

Rocky Horror benefits from the best band in town, with music director/keyboard player Michael Raabe leading Paul Stoddart (guitar), Joe Grady (bass) and Burt Rushing (drums). These guys rock hard, and sound designer Kyle Easley deserves credit for a mix in which each instrument can be heard clearly.

-John Fleming (Tampa Bay Times)



American Stage in the Park presents what may be the best Rocky Horror ever... Led by the androgynous Frank N. Furter (played with boundless enthusiasm by Matthew McGee), this Rocky Horror Show is a wildly spinning sexual kaleidoscope that delights virtually from its first moment, and doesn’t rest until its audience has been carried away by its velocity. I’ve seen several other stage versions of Rocky over the years, but this one easily beats them all...  The four-piece band — Michael Raabe, Paul Stoddart, Joe Grady, and Burt Rushing — is superb... So: once more into the Time Warp, friends. Rocky Horror wants you back.

And this just may be your best time ever.

- Mark E. Leib (Creative Loafing)

FIDDLER ON THE ROOF - freeFall Theatre

From the initial signature violin solo onward, the music never falters. And that's key for Fiddler, whose score (music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick) is one of the most familiar in musical theater. You may be tempted to sing along with Tradition; Matchmaker, Matchmaker; If I Were a Rich Man; and Sunrise, Sunset, but please don't. The cast is full of remarkable voices.

Musical director Michael Raabe, who has worked extensively at Freefall since it opened in 2010, deserves double-bravos for his efforts, including the selection of musicians. Their work is top-notch.

- Janet K. Keeler (Tampa Bay Times)

 

freeFall's "Fiddler on the Roof," the iconic musical based on a story by Sholem Aleichem, is a delight, with a revelatory performance by David Mann as Tevye. The staging by Eric Davis, the music direction by the great Michael Raabe and, especially, the performance by Mann make the overly familiar 50-year-old musical a treat.  

- Marty Clear (Bradenton Herald)

DISENCHANTED!  - Straz Center For The Performing Arts

The musical, tautly directed by Fiely Matias, is mostly about not living up to a fairy-tale standard of superficial excellence. The three-man band, led by Michael Raabe, couldn’t be better. There are a little more than a dozen songs, and the show’s performers handle them with great professionalism.  Maybe there’s more than one way of living happily ever after. And maybe this act of theater, subversive as it is, can point in that direction.

- Mark Leib (Creative Loafing)

 

The singing is glorious and the comic timing is spot on.

Costumes by Vanessa Leuck and the work of the band led by Michael Raabe, who's best known for his work with freeFall Theatre, are other highlights. "Disenchanted," is completely entertaining, clever from start to finish and, at its best moments, intellectually stimulating.

-Marty Clear (Bradenton Herald)

 

Kudos to Musical Directior Michael Raabe, who also leads the excellent, well balanced, 3 piece band on piano, with Bobby Brennan on electric bass and Burt Rushing on percussion.  I will see this one AGAIN and AGAIN! THIS IS A HIT!

-Jimmy Ferraro (BroadwayWorld.com)

THE WIZ - American Stage In The Park

Glance at the musicians on stage, who get downright dirty with The Wiz's bass grooves and jazzy riffs. Keyboardist Michael Raabe has a whole stank-face shoulder roll going on, proving even the band is having a funky good time.

- Stephanie Hayes (Tampa Bay Times)

 

The show’s high points are the soul-stirring belt-outs of “Ease On Down the Road” and other choice numbers backed by Michael Raabe and his funktastic band.

- Julie Garisto (Creative Loafing)

THE BURNT PART BOYS - freeFall Theatre

If freeFall is doing a musical, then you owe it to yourself to see it. Right away.

THE BURNT PART BOYS... is a major treat, a hidden bluegrass gem that should not be missed. But what else do you expect from the freeFall folk who are perhaps the most creative purveyors of theatre magic in the state?

The live six-member band, led by the marvelous Michael Raabe, is outstanding. And they help turn THE BURNT PART BOYS into such an amazing experience. This is another don't-miss musical that we have come to expect from this wondrous theatrical company. It deserves a packed house every night. It's not an overstatement to say that freeFall continues to be the theatrical jewel in the Bay Area crown.

- Peter Nason (Broadwayworld.com)

 

Eric Davis’ direction is unabashedly open-hearted, and the six-piece band, led by Michael Raabe, couldn’t be better. As usual, freeFall offers spectators a first-class production.

- Mark Leib (Creative Loafing)

 

*2014 Tampa BroadwayWorld.com Award for Best Musical Direction

INTO THE WOODS - freeFall Theatre

You need to rush over to freeFall in St. Petersburg to see one of the great musical theatre experiences I have ever had...this is the definitive version of INTO THE WOODS.

The music is superb. The onstage four-piece orchestra, led by musical magician/pianist Michael Raabe and featuring Burt Rushing's percussion, Mary-Cathryn Zimmer's cello and Diane M. Volpe's violin, is stellar.

- Peter Nason (Broadwayworld.com)

 

Special mention must be made of music director Michael Raabe. There are many excellent music directors working regularly in this area, but I have now seen Mr. Raabe oversee such wildly different works as Burnt Part Boys with its strong Appalachian sound, Spring Awakening with its rock score, and now Into the Woods. Mr. Raabe and percussionist Burt Rushing sit center stage, and it serves as a reminder how much the percussion adds to the overall production. Also part of the band are Mary-Cathryn Zimmer on cello and Diane M. Volpe on violin.

-William S. Oser (TalkinBroadway.com)

 

*2015 Tampa BroadwayWorld.com Award for Best Musical Direction

BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY - freeFall Theatre

I doubt you will ever see a better production of BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY.  freeFall has now staged a wonderfully galvanizing version of it. It's a truly exciting piece of theatre. Michael Raabe's musical direction rocks, literally, and his musicians should all be applauded: Dick Lange on the 12 string guitar; percussionist Burt Rushing; Paul Stoddard on the electric guitar; Kenny Walker on bass; and Todd W. Olson on keyboard (he also conducted the show). 

- Peter Nason (Broadwayworld.com)

 

Freefall makes interesting, inventive use of its space as usual, with some musicians in the center and the rhythm section on a fire escape. The music directed by Michael Raabe is tight and well-blended.

- Stephanie Hayes (Tampa Bay Times)

 

The live band is terrific. This one’s a winner. It’s good to see our society’s insanity captured so forcefully, and shown to us like a mirror on our nature.  

- Mark Leib (Creative Loafing)

 

 

DISENCHANTED! - (Off-Broadway) Theatre At St. Clements

Musical director Michael Raabe excellently accompanies everyone and often adds to the comedy.  He also did the marvelous musical arrangements along with Robert Meffe.

- Darryl Reilly (TheatreScene.net)

 

The costume’s by Vanessa Leuck were a hoot especially the Snow White and Rapunzel. The band (Michael Raabe, Bobby Brennan, and Gregg Monteith) was well done as was Matt West’s choreography.

- Suzanna Bowling (Times Square Chronicles)

 

 

 

 

 

 

MAME - freeFall Theatre

Michael Raabe proves once again why he is the best musical director in the area. The voices were gorgeous, great harmonies. Raabe's piano work was exquisite, and the onstage three-piece orchestra worked wonders (with Irving Goldberg's bass and Burt Rushing on the drums).

- Peter Nason (Broadwayworld.com)

 

Crackerjack musical accompaniment by a three-man onstage band led by pianist and musical director Michael Raabe.  This production shimmers, gleams, and glitters.

-Mark Leib (Creative Loafing) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PETER AND THE STARCATCHER - freeFall Theatre

Musicians Michael Raabe on piano and Burt Rushing, who plays a slew of percussion instruments, deserve special mention. The pair supply a running gallery of sound effects worthy of an NPR radio show, consistent with the numerous fun elements of this show.

- Andrew Meacham (Tampa Bay Times)

 

I was seated on the stage left side, so I had a great view of musical director Michael Raabe, assisted by Burt Rushing on percussion, playing music by Wayne Barker. It is impossible not to notice the joy Mr. Raabe brings to each performance.

- William S. Oser (TalkinBroadway.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

PETER AND THE STARCATCHER - freeFall Theatre

Musicians Michael Raabe on piano and Burt Rushing, who plays a slew of percussion instruments, deserve special mention. The pair supply a running gallery of sound effects worthy of an NPR radio show, consistent with the numerous fun elements of this show.

- Andrew Meacham (Tampa Bay Times)

 

I was seated on the stage left side, so I had a great view of musical director Michael Raabe, assisted by Burt Rushing on percussion, playing music by Wayne Barker. It is impossible not to notice the joy Mr. Raabe brings to each performance.

- William S. Oser (TalkinBroadway.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM - freeFall Theatre

The band, under the brilliant musical direction of Michael Raabe, is wonderful: Diana Belcher and Bobby DeAngelis on reeds; Marta Bukacek on violin; John Chatterton on the cello and glockenspiel; Irving Goldberg on bass; and Thomas Guthrie, along with Raabe, on keyboard. The show sounds sensational, and all the elements rightfully come together.

- Peter Nason (Broadwayworld.com)

 

The cast members are wonderfully supported by a seven-person band... and led by musical director Michael Raabe, who is sensitive to every musical nuance.

- Jay Handelman (Sarasota Herald-Tribune)

 

Michael Raabe contributes mightily as music director, leading a fine seven-piece ensemble with his usual delight for the task at hand.

- William S. Oser (TalkinBroadway.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA - freeFall Theatre

Watching this beautifully realized production, I sat in awe, knowing that this is what we go to the theatre for. To learn, to grow, to be entertained, to empathize, to laugh, to cry, to understand, and to love. The music is luxurious, heavenly. It makes you melt in love, and music director Michael Raabe is to thank for this. His musicians do outstanding work: Michael Amos on cello, Marta Bukacek on violin, Meredith Coffman on harp, Irving Goldberg on bass and Raabe himself on the piano.

- Peter Nason (Broadwayworld.com)

 

Musical director Michael Raabe, who always does fine work for freeFall, here rises to new heights. I don't know his musical abilities outside of his work in this theater, but this is a challenging score and he leads the small orchestra with great nuance and deep understanding for its modal/melodic drive.

- William S. Oser (TalkinBroadway.com)

The masterful collaboration between director Eric Davis and musical director Michael Raabe evidences itself most strongly in the ensemble musical numbers.

- Cathy Salustri (Creative Loafing)

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE - freeFall Theatre

Director Eric Davis and musical director and arranger Michael Raabe have carefully kept all the fun but given this humorous operetta an intergalactic setting with some updated references to things like “star faring” instead of seafaring, that work without destroying the nature of the original. With a few new lyrics, and musical arrangements that weave in sounds of everything from the themes to “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” to songs by Queen and a number of other pop/rock hits, the production has a contemporary, high-energy vibe that suits the story.

Davis once again cleverly provides a modern twist on a classic show with intelligence and a sense of fun. It all seems to fit naturally. The synthetic sound of Raabe’s electric keyboard perfectly suits the new arrangements and style provides an extra a lift to a show that offers lots of surprises and really sends you soaring.

- Jay Handelman (Herald-Tribune)

freeFall's futuristic 'Pirates Of Penzance' will steal your heart.  Eric Davis' adaptation of the Gilbert and Sullivan classic, is one of the most striking in a while. The concept alone feels like a giant leap for mankind, an exquisite mash-up of a 19th-century operetta with Star Trek culture, with 1960s go-go dancers thrown in. This musical changes all previous impressions of everything it touches, from the perfect iambic librettos of A.S. Gilbert to Star Wars and Star Trek irreverently mangled together. The result is silly and spectacular and fun.

The most emphatic change, though, is surely the musical arrangement by Michael Raabe, who leads an on-stage, four-piece band. Thanks to him, most of the music beamed aboard comes from the rock genre. This production features almost too many inventive touches to list. Some of the most forceful include the layering of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody on top of the Major General's song.

The dimensions of the musical blend seamlessly, bringing the timeless humor of the operetta alive and making all sorts of unlikely situations entirely believable. The skill level of the performers is high and work to serve the story. The story's treatment and dozens of playful twists combine for the kind of experience that has not happened before but will again, at least until the end of the run.

- Andrew Meacham (Tampa Bay Times) 

As directed and adapted by the endlessly resourceful Eric Davis, and re-composed by the shamelessly talented Michael Raabe, this parody — infused with Star Wars and Star Trek, Queen and ABBA — is escapist fluff on steroids.  Personally, I prefer a little substance to my entertainments; Pirates offers none. What it does provide is untiring theatrical and musical ingenuity, along with top acting and singing. Depending on your needs, it’s either stunning or superfluous.  A dozen songs by Arthur Sullivan — most of them turned into rockers by Raabe — are intoned by the freeFall cast’s crackerjack vocalists (there are also some thrilling harmonies).

- Mark Leib (Creative Loafing)

All through the production, music director Michael Raabe's mash-ups between mostly 80's synth-pop and the classic Gilbert and Sullivan melodies surprisingly work wonders. In some ways it acts as the strange merging of Space Invaders and Name That Tune.  It's terrifically smart and beautifully executed.

(Michael Raabe,) whose music is just wonderfully outlandish and awe-inspiring. He has quite a rollicking group of musicians to work with: Burt Rushing on drums, Paul Stoddart on guitar, and Kenny Walker on bass. They appear (with Raabe on the keyboards) in pirate garb onstage, and boy do they rock!

freeFall Theatre has turned Gilbert and Sullivan into modern rock stars, and after all these years, they are still alive and kicking (to quote a Simple Minds title from the 1980s).

- Peter Nason (Broadwayworld.com)

 

 

 

PETER PAN - freeFall Theatre

Peter Pan debuted in 1904. It's been adapted as a 1953 stage musical, and in two subsequent versions on NBC, most recently in 2014. None of those efforts match the purity of intent in Freefall Theatre's Peter Pan, a smarter, smaller play perfect for Freefall's intimate space.

The most stunning contributions to the show are the original songs by music director Michael Raabe. Marissa Toogood, as Mrs. Darling, sets the tone with a lullaby to put the kids to bed, about being "safe at home." That sets up dreamlike adventures to follow, the stomping skullduggery of pirates, swing-era harmony by mermaids in drag and much more.

- Andrew Meacham  (Tampa Bay Times)

The freeFall Peter Pan is beautiful to see, splendidly acted, funny and vibrant. Michael Raabe’s musical direction is impeccably effective. The three-piece band, led by Raabe, includes Daniel Schwab’s poignant violin and Bert Rushing’s expressive drums.

- Mark Leib (Creative Loafing)

Broadway spectacles can be so tricked out with dazzling visuals and effects they don’t leave much for the imagination, but great theater still can — and does — as evidenced by freeFall Theatre, which is inviting audiences to fill in the blanks with old-fashioned fanciful delight. The acclaimed company is presenting two productions about literature’s most beloved symbol of youth minus the bells and whistles — Peter Pan and its 21st century prequel, Peter and the Starcatcher. Exquisite sound effects by Michael Raabe — who composed the score — and Burt Rushing on percussion make both shows special. Tinkerbell is the tiniest player; a little flicker like a lightning bug, but somehow emerges as memorable character, as well, thanks Raabe’s twinkly musical effects.

- Julie Garisto (Creative Pinellas)

The most impressive thing to watch was Michael Raabe creating all the wonderful sound effects as well as playing and directing the music. He may have been seated at piano off to one side but his work was central to the success of this version of Peter Pan.

- Marie J. Kilker (totaltheater.com)

 

 

HAIRSPRAY - American Stage In The Park

Michael Raabe's musical direction is tight, glorious, as one would expect from the preeminent musical director of our area. He has assembled one incredible band: Along with Raabe on keyboards, there's David Estevez also on keyboards, Dave Pate on reeds, Paul Stoddart on guitar, Kenny Walker on bass, and the incomparable Burt Rushing on drums.

- Peter Nason (Broadwayworld.com)

 

Musical director Michael Raabe leads a vibrant band slightly hidden at the back of the stage and providing terrific support without overwhelming the singers. You can clearly hear every word. But it was also clear Sunday night that many in the large crowd already knew those lyrics as they were singing along from the opening “Good Morning Baltimore” to the rousing finale of “You Can’t Stop the Beat.” You almost don’t want that beat to stop.

- Jay Handelman (Herald-Tribune)

The American Stage production is tiptop. The six-man band, led by Michael Raabe, couldn’t be better, and of course the coherence of the musical wouldn’t exist without the inspired direction and choreography of Shain Stroff.

- Mark Leib (Creative Loafing)

Michael Raabe directs the music end of things in his usual sensational way. He is able to convincingly direct the music for many musicals with many diverse styles. My only quibble is that Michael is at the back end of the stage; one of my favorite things when attending one of his productions is to enjoy how much he loves doing what he is doing.

- William S. Oser (TalkinBroadway.com) 

 

 
MAN OF LA MANCHA - Orlando Shakespeare Theatre

In short, this “Man of La Mancha” looks and sounds fantastic — and that goes beyond the technical effects. Music director Michael Raabe has turned the acting ensemble into a choir, brimming with a rich sound. Not just the leading players display vocal prowess; the supporting actors are in great voice, too — led off by Victor Souffrant’s opening cry of anguish, resiliance with a hint of triumph.

There’s a reason the only song most people remember from “Man of La Mancha” is “The Impossible Dream” — it so far outshines any other musical number in the show — but these performers make you appreciate the lesser-known songs, especially “Little Bird, Little Bird” and “I’m Only Thinking of Him.”

- Matthew J. Palm (Orlando Sentinel)

 

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THE FANTASTICKS - freeFall Theatre

Led by music director Michael RaabeGrace Choi sings like an angel as Luisa, and as her love interest, Matt, Cameron Kubly looks like an Every Boy, a poster child of doomed love and the victim of a world that mistreats him. Their duets, in songs such as "Metaphor," "They Were You" and "Soon It's Gonna Rain," were thrilling.

The show starts with the overture, thrillingly played as a duel on three pianos by the two actors portraying the fathers of two young lovers who are separated by a wall. Michael Ursua as Hucklebee and Paul Helm as Bellomy. They do double-duty as the fathers and as the key musicians; it's incredible to see them choreograph their moves and play the pianos that galvanize the show. They are the lifeblood to this production. (Meredith Coffman is the third musician, a harpist who provides the soul to so many of the songs.) This is an instance where less is certainly more, and this choice (a band made up of only two pianists/cast members and a sole harpist) really helps with the theatricality of the piece. They are as much fun to watch as the actual production, and their duet, "Plant a Radish," became the show-stopper of the day... a masterpiece and the finest single moment of the musical.

- Peter Nason (Broadwayworld.com)

the music resounds as the strongest aspect of the show. Grace Choi performs admirably as Luisa, with the kind of power that makes her innocent fantasizing in Much Morestand out, an early promise. Her subsequent duet with neighbor Matt (Cameron Kubly), Metaphor, rings with triumph.  The show benefits greatly by the fact that Michael Ursua as Hucklebee and Paul Helm as Bellomy are also first-rate pianists who can act and sing. They play the bright overture on opposite sides of a hexagonal stage, leap onto it to play their roles or play together on a third piano. With that much talent afoot, it’s hard to go wrong.

- Andrew Meacham (Tampa Bay Times)

 

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MAMMA MIA! - American Stage In The Park

Vocally, the performers here are top of the line, with beautiful harmonies from the leads and the ensemble. It sounds exquisite. Michael Raabe's musical direction is superb, and his band is as tight as tight can be: With Raabe and Jeremy D. Silverman on keyboards; Paul Stoddart on guitar; Joe Grady (or TJ Glowacki) on bass; and the unbeatable Burt Rushing on drums.

- Peter Nason (Broadwayworld.com)

...a musical is nothing without a stellar band and a fantastic musical director. Michael Raabe keeps his band tight, always delivering each song with their own special flare. Watching Raabe and Jeremy D. Silverman on the keys is just about as fun as watching the production itself. They are completely in it; jamming out to every group number and solo. With Paul Stoddart on guitar, Joe Grady on bass, and Burt Rushing on drums, it’s truly the dream team. 

- Hannah Lehrer (Blake School Of The Performing Arts)

Sitting pretty close to stage right, I was able to see the talent and humor of Music Director/keyboardist Michael Raabe. From the first note, he was hard not to watch. I have not seen someone having such a good time doing, well, anything. He became an integral part of the performance but no spoilers — just keep a corner of an eye on him.

- Stephanie Powers (Creative Pinellas)

 

 
PIPPIN - freeFall Theatre

Michael Raabe once again showcases his genius as musical director, and the music surely soared. Kudos to Raabe on keys, the inimitable Burt Rushing on drums, Paul Stoddart on guitar, and Julia Tretyakova on cello. It's a stunning quartet.

- Peter Nason (Broadwayworld.com)

Looking for a night of vibrant vocals, spunky choreography and gorgeous music? freeFall Theatre's production of "Pippin" will feed your need with a show that dazzles your senses. “Pippin” brings powerhouse talent, high-octane performances and equally impressive musical direction and choreography to the theatre’s intimate space. Musical director Michael Raabe manages concert-hall quality accompaniment via a passionate and stirring team of musicians.

- J.A. Jones (The Weekly Challenger)

Davis and musical director Michael Raabe have created an enthralling Pippin, working wonders with a six-member cast.

- Bill DeYoung (StPeteCatalyst.com)

 

 
WAR OF THE WORLDS - freeFall Theatre

Music Director and co-author, Michael Raabe... displays protean versatility. All told, there are 46 different songs woven into delightful mashups sung to a fair-thee-well by the quartet of live performers. They caress Raabe’s delicious harmonies reminiscent of Manhattan Transfer with obvious zeal. There are delightful arrangements that riff on “friends,” “rain,” and all things “happy.” Stolen musical themes run the gamut from the Beatles to Broadway to the Spice Girls. Raabe continually upends expectations by delivering melodies in surprising idioms. Jazz appears when you least expect it plus there’s incongruous use of maracas and a Patagonian rainstick.

Heather Baird sexily coos a mashup that uses Rosemary Clooney’s “Come On-a My House” as a springboard for all things candy, while Eileen B. Lymus belts out a Dolly Parton “9 to 5” mix. James Martin Roberts charms, and Robert Spence Gabriel lends his ukulele skills for a Mr. Rogers Neighborhood remix. Surprise is the order of the day.

- Jon Palmer Claridge (Creative Loafing)

Set in 2021, the adaptation by artistic director Eric Davis and music director Michael Raabe is a fresh, witty, delightfully searing hour-long romp that brings War of the Worlds right up to this moment. 

Raabe’s score is an impressive mashup of medleys, swing re-imaginings of contemporary songs, from the Doors to Beyonce. There’s a mashup of theme songs from Friends and Golden Girls and music from the Spice Girls. It’s clear he had a blast arranging it. Raabe and fellow bandmates Burt Rushing, Kenny Walker and Melanie Downs play live, socially distanced from inside the theater. 

The radio show also includes vintage-style commercials that promote local businesses, another way in which the show is a love letter to Tampa Bay. The energetic show flies by and ends on a surprisingly sweet, emotional note. The audience showed their appreciation with an ovation of honking horns.

- Maggie Duffy (Tampa Bay Times)

The refreshing thing about this production, though, is that nothing about it feels particularly limited by the circumstances in which we’re living. Certainly Raabe and Davis’s script threads COVID as well as the climate crisis into the narrative, but the show holds up as a unique theatrical adventure at any time: before, during and after a pandemic. The show is anchored by the live quartet of announcers/performers cheekily played by Eileen B. Lymus, James Martin Roberts, Robert Spence Gabriel and Heather Baird, and supported by an off-stage band, and a variety of virtual correspondents who tune in via screens placed around the space. Genre/era-spanning musical mash-ups cleverly arranged to contribute to the vintage vibe, digital animations and vignettes keep the audience keyed into the absurdity of it all.

If this production is how freeFall deals with significant challenges and obstacles, it should not be surprising that the company stands out as one of the reasons little St. Pete is emerging as an artistic powerhouse.

- Jeff Donnelly (The Gabber)

 

 
SCOTT AND PATTI - GET A REAL JOB! - freeFall Theatre

The estimable freeFall crew spins a tale “combining live musical performance, audio storytelling, and multimedia elements” into a 70-minute, disco-fueled hallucinatory act that grabs both your heart and your funny bone and doesn’t let go. Both singers have real vocal chops, with strength across their entire range and plenty of breath control to sustain the money notes from Michael Raabe’s lively mashups and arrangements. Each shines in solo moments, but there are also plenty of delicious harmonies to savor.

Raabe and his crackerjack band deliver the “lounge lizard” arrangements with an electricity that explodes through your car stereo. And the eclectic song list taps into Broadway and Top-40 redux for a cavalcade of greatest hits woven together to support the jokes, which bounce around popular culture like a game of billiards.

- Jon Palmer Claridge (Creative Loafing)