On April 22, 2022, the Henry B. Plant Museum will premier an exciting new exhibit on popular celebrities and entertainment in the Gilded Age, focusing on the comic operas, farces, melodramas, and minstrel shows that took center stage at the Tampa Bay Casino. View original programs and theater posters and scan individual QR codes for musical performances. This exhibit is curated by History majors at the University of Tampa under the direction of Dr. Charles McGraw Groh.
In 1896, the Tampa Bay Hotel opened the Casino, a 2000-seat entertainment venue that hosted world-class theatrical productions. It played a central role in Tampa’s new civic identity, allowing a small city with large commercial ambitions to claim a cosmopolitan image.
On display in the Main Hall (North Side) are Casino programs, cigarette cards, playing cards, and other items that present actors as popular celebrities in Gilded Age America. At the time, even the most acclaimed performers toured with their new plays. Although fame allowed artists such as Minnie Maddern Fiske to experiment with serious dramas, the Casino management more frequently catered to Tampa’s penchant for farces and historical melodramas that featured elaborate costumes and set pieces.
Located in the East Hall (Parlor Suite), Casino programs, sheet music, and related materials showcase the musical comedies, operas, and minstrel shows that foreshadowed the modern musical. New York’s elite patronized foreign-language opera in this period, but Tampa audiences preferred comic operas performed in English. The Wilbur Opera Company interrupted these performances to insert popular songs and dance routines, revealing that light opera shared similarities with the minstrel shows that drew large audiences in Tampa.
This exhibit will open in conjunction with Fourth Friday Tampa, from 5:00 to 7:00 pm on Friday, April 22, 2022. A live performance by soprano Katie Terres, tenor Dylan Glover, and pianist Dr. Rodney Shores will begin at 5:30 pm.
Explore Gilded Age entertainment and celebrity at the Tampa Bay Casino.