TAMPA — The all-female song-and-dance ensemble Entertainment Revue has served as a virtual farm team for Fox TV’s “American Idol” talent competition.
Five former members of the group have been selected through the years as contestants.
But after 25 years of training future stars, some of whom found success on Broadway and in the recording industry, Entertainment Revue came close to the fate of the “Idol” franchise.
Fox announced that next year will be “Idol’s” 15th and final season.
Ensemble founder Cynthia Stevens-Gries also decided to step aside so she could focus on raising her teenage daughter. She had staff to take her place creatively but no one to run business operations.
Then she received an offer from an unlikely source — her ex-husband, Bob Gries, founding owner of the Tampa Bay Storm arena football team and manager of Gries Investment Funds in Tampa.
Gries offered to fully fund and manage the nonprofit Entertainment Revue.
“Bob said it cannot die,” Stevens-Gries said. “He felt Tampa needs it.”
At 8 p.m. today, Entertainment Revue will present a show at the Falk Theater near the University of Tampa entrance titled “The Final Curtain,” the last production under the direction of Stevens-Gries.
Tickets are at www.er25threunion.myevent.com.
“This is not some small neighborhood dance program,” Gries said. “There are dozens of kids from four counties in the program right now who want it to continue. It means too much to them.”
❖ ❖ ❖
All profits raised by the ensemble have always gone toward college scholarships for participants, more than half a million dollars worth through the years.
“That is an amazing gift,” Gries said. “And virtually every good female singer in the last 25 years that has come out of the Tampa Bay area has been a part of it.”
A sampling of that talent will make guest appearances at “The Final Curtain,” also billed as a 25th anniversary show. These include “American Idol” competitor Shannon Magrane; Milly Shapiro, star of Broadway’s “Matilda”; “America’s Got Talent” performer Shevonne Philidor; and Trans-Siberian Orchestra lead singer Chloe Lowery.
Entertainment Revue averages 30 shows annually and over the years has performed on television’s “Today Show” and “CBS This Morning,” in front of three U.S. presidents including Bill Clinton at the Democratic National Convention in 2000, and during halftime shows for the Los Angeles Lakers, Orlando Magic and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“These kids learn to perform in spectacular shows that prepare them for careers as professional entertainers,” Gries said. “Without this program, some of these kids might not get the proper training.”
That Gries would step up to help his ex-wife’s ensemble reflects the cordial relationship they have maintained.
“A lot of people joke we should have a reality show about me, my ex and my future husband,” Stevens-Gries said. “We’re a bit friendlier than other divorced couples.”
❖ ❖ ❖
Stevens-Gries attends most charity events sponsored by her ex-husband, and there are many, including the third “Heart of a Champion” banquet this week where a $1,000 scholarship paid for by Gries was presented to a senior boy and girl athlete from each of 35 Hillsborough high schools.
Recipients excel in the classroom and athletic competition.
Some also help raise siblings and deal with severe injuries. Others dedicated free time to service.
“The best athletes and brightest minds deserve to be honored,” said Gries. “But so do the kids with the biggest hearts. Those hearts will go a long way to helping them succeed.”
Gries also runs the Tampa Bay Volleyball Academy, training and sponsoring 16 teams for girls 10 to 16. One of them is the couple’s daughter.
Last year, seven of the academy’s teams qualified for the national tournament and three won titles.
Stevens-Gries founded the Entertainment Revue on a lark.
She was a performer as a young girl but had no designs on show business as a career. Then in 1989, while studying political science at the University of Tampa, she began teaching singing and dancing to girls at a local after-school program at the request of a friend.
“So technically it’s been 26 years,” she said, a reference to the “25th anniversary” show. “But it wasn’t until 1990 I took the group out of the after-school program.”
She did so at the request of the parents of her students. Their daughters were getting so much out of it, Stevens-Gries said, that they wanted more lessons, rehearsals and shows.
“I realized I had a better skill for leading than performing,” she said.
They began staging shows that featured singing and dancing to mainstream and classic songs, much like on the later Fox TV hit “Glee.”
❖ ❖ ❖
In 1993, Entertainment Revue performed during halftime of the Hall of Fame Bowl in the old Tampa Stadium. In attendance was Gries, then owner of the Tampa Bay Storm.
He was so impressed with Entertainment Revue he asked that they perform at Storm games.
During the course of that season, one of the performers became the team’s good luck charm. When the Storm traveled to Detroit for the title game, she and Stevens-Gries were brought along.
The Storm won the championship — its second — and following the celebration, Stevens-Gries and Gries had their first dinner date.
They married in 1995.
He had sold the Storm in 1994 to concentrate on financial investment. Those he has provided loans to over the years include the Tampa Bay Lightning and more than 70 Five Guys burger restaurants throughout the country.
Stevens-Gries continued to run the Entertainment Revue and it kept growing.
“We are both hard workers and want to win at everything we do,” Gries said.
Still, they came to realize they were less than perfect as a marital match.
The divorce was amicable.
“We didn’t even use separate lawyers,” Stevens-Gries said.
Still, she admits she grew jealous of her ex-husband over the years. He traveled with the volleyball academy and sees their daughter play while she spent most weekends rehearsing with Entertainment Revue.
“I was artistic director, vocal arranger, marketer, choreographer and business manager for the revue,” she said. “I feel awful stepping away but I want to spend more time with my daughter. She’s growing up fast.”