Previews: HITS! THE MUSICAL at Straz Center

A nationwide cast of 29 singers and dancers, ages 10 to 22, will perform for one afternoon only on April 2.


Hits! the Musical is coming to the Straz Center for one afternoon only - Sunday, April 2. The show features a nationwide cast of 29 singers and dancers, ages 10 to 22, who will perform some of the biggest hits from the past 50 years.

Directed by Cynthia Nekvasil and executive produced by Damon Elliott, Thaddeus M. Bullard, Bob Gries, and the legendary Dionne Warwick, Hits! the Musical is a high-energy, family-friendly show that will appeal to audiences of all ages. It boasts spectacular lighting, 500 costume changes, a 30-foot-tall tri-level set, and an extraordinary cast.

Bob Gries, Executive Producer

Last summer, Gries and the Hits! team visited 31 major cities throughout the US, searching for cast members for the new touring musical. They had the tough decision to reduce 7,000 hopefuls to 70, inviting them to Tampa for a three-day audition. With only 22 spots available for singers and dancers on the tour, they finished auditions with 29 talented young people they refused to remove. The team knew adding more talent would create more expenses and require more coordination, but it was the right decision. Fifteen standing ovations from 15 cities later, show after show, prove their intuition was on target.

Before retiring, Director Nekvasil had a program in Tampa for over 30 years called Entertainment Revue. Hits! the Musical credits its inspiration to this program for young women ages 6-18, which produced many Broadway and recording stars. When the two were married, Gries regularly attended the program, always saying it was so extraordinary that it could go to Broadway or Vegas. Still, Nekvasil was satisfied keeping it local to Tampa. Last year, Gries convinced her to take the essence of the show, a ten-million-dollar variation, nationally.

"This is the largest musical of its kind, only featuring young people going around the country doing one-night-only shows," said Gries. "We have the most exceptional 29 performers you can find in the country. I was insistent that there would be no adults in the show. We feature the greatest young people from throughout the country. The audience cheers after every single number that our show does. This is an extraordinarily sophisticated big musical medley like you would see for the Grammy's opening number. We licensed 80 of the greatest songs of all time. You will know every single song in the show."

The show's first act pays tribute to Hollywood and Broadway, followed by a rock medley. The second act revisits the sounds of the decades - 1960s to 2000s.

"You sit there at any age, remembering all the songs and those moments in your life," said Gries. "When Dionne Warwick saw it for the first time, she said, 'this is one of the most brilliant things I've ever seen in my entire life, and I'm 82 years old, and I've seen just about everything.'"

Gries said that the audience's reception to the show has been incredible. Upon each closing bow, patrons exclaim that the show belongs on Broadway and that, or a Vegas residency, is his ultimate goal.

"You'll be amazed at what young people can do. Our young performers sing as well as anyone on Broadway. People say because of the show's energy; there's not a single time they are not entirely engaged. In ten minutes of music, there are probably 12-15 different numbers and songs woven together. By the end, people say, 'I've never seen anything like this.'

"I'm going to go on record as saying, 99.9% leave this show saying that they loved seeing it and are amazed by it."

Gries said that local Miami resident seventeen-year-old Kaylie Molina is one of the extraordinary young dancers patrons would see on tour.

"She is magic on the stage. There are ten dancers in total, and when they do some of these big dance production numbers, they are as good as anything you'd see on Broadway today. People are sitting in the audience, mesmerized, watching them."

Dancer Kaylie Molina

Molina said she cried when she discovered she had been cast in the show, with the announcement captured on her Instagram. While she'd been in the entertainment industry since age 14, getting cast in a touring musical was her goal.

"I always dreamed of being in a musical and touring the country - two of my dreams in one."

She was called back the same day to come to the Tampa auditions.

Molina loves being in the family atmosphere of the tour, acting as a mentor to the younger cast members and a mentee to the older ones.

"I love getting to hang out with the many different age groups. Since we all love what we do, I love learning from and watching others, getting inspired by everyone."

Molina is excited to return to her home state. She said that show is nostalgic and takes you through a rollercoaster of emotions, and she can't wait for her family and friends to see it.

"I started the tour in cities I didn't know, and finally, I'm home - getting text messages and calls from people saying I can't wait to see you. People are saying that they are going to bring signs. It makes me want to cry a little bit because I'm so happy to have such supportive people. I just love Florida so much."

Not only is Molina a talented dancer, but as someone of Puerto Rican Latino descent, fluent in Latino dancing and Ballroom, she was invited to help choreograph "Living La Vida Loca" with choreographer Grady Bowman. She improv'd dance steps, and Bowman added the moves he liked to the number to teach to the other dancers.

As a dancer, she hopes that after seeing the show, patrons realize how much effort and precision go into each dance performance. "Our job is physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding. Some people think what we do is just dance - that's easy. But the point is to make it look easy. We're artists, creators, and athletes - dance is a sport - and we help bring everything to life. We create a story for the audience to feel and think about. I just want people to understand how hard we work."

When asked what they'd like the audience to be thinking about on the drive home from the show, Gries responded first.

"I want people to talk about how great these young people were, no matter their age. They work exceptionally hard. They can accomplish great things and inspire a lot of people. This is a celebration of the greatest of our young people."

Molina added, "The show takes you back and makes you feel so many different emotions. It's the story of how music has changed. It brings you back in time. I want people to talk about how they lost themselves. They forgot what was happening in their personal life and enjoyed every moment."

Get tickets at Learn more and see the full cast at

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