BY ALLEN A. BUCHANAN, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – From the “Chocolate Nutcracker,” to the “Nutcracker Twist,” to “The Family Blessing,” Jai Hinson and her ARTZ 4 Life Academy has been thrilling Bay area audiences for the past 20 years.
The Mahaffey Theater came to life Dec. 23 with the fantastical sights and sounds of local talent celebrating cultural diversity.
The musical extravaganza kicked off with Mayor Rick Kriseman presenting a key to the city to world-renowned dancer and former Pinellas County Center for the Arts Gibbs High School student Briana Reed.
Among her many accomplishments around the world, Reed had the honor of speaking to former First Lady Michelle Obama’s mentees of the White House Leadership and Mentoring Initiative at the Kennedy Center. She is currently on the dance faculty at the Harlem School for the Arts in New York City.
Created, produced and directed by Hinson and co-directed by Wayne Bascomb, this year’s production was yet another stellar performance that introduced to the stage many young aspiring performing artists from the Tampa/St. Pete metro area.
The theatrical performance was originally written about a homeless young boy’s dreams taking him to mythical lands in search of assistance, but this year the story had a different message. The protagonist, now a young girl named Aliyah played by 10-year-old Pharyn McCrae, was confronted with cancer and the possibility of losing her grandmother.