"I don't know much about art," the old saying goes, "but I know what I like." So much variety exists in Sarasota's jam-packed arts scene this season that almost everyone, no matter what their tastes, can come away satisfied. But faced with such a wealth of opportunities, making choices can be daunting, even for experienced arts aficionados. We've stepped in to help with this selection of 20 of the season's top, not-to-be-missed plays, performances and exhibitions. Some are new, never-before-seen attractions for our area; some are classics you just can't see or hear too often. They're in no particular order, but each has its own appeal for lovers of stage, screen, music, dance and the visual arts.
1. For the romantics among us, the Ringling Museum of Art's exhibition Waking Dreams: Art of the Pre-Raphaelites promises to be just that: a dream. Mysterious maidens with long, flowing hair...jewel-like colors.themes from medieval legends.these are some of the trademarks of Pre-Raphaelite art, which flourished in Victorian Britain beginning in the late 1840s. The Ringling show presents works from the Delaware Art Museum's Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft Pre-Raphaelite Collection, one of a handful in the United States that focuses on the period; it includes paintings by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, Edward Burne-Jones, John Ruskin and John Everett Millais. On view Jan. 28 to April 2.
2. From the sublime to the kinda icky: the Golden Apple's production of the Broadway smash Urinetown, a Sarasota premiere. Don't let the name put you off, though; the show got great reviews (and Tony Awards) in New York. Its unlikely premise: In a city suffering from unending drought, private bathrooms are outlawed, and everyone must pay to use public latrines run by UGC (Urine Good Company) or be hauled off to Urinetown-a place from which no one ever returns. Yes, it's a satire, but it's also a love story and may even have a message of sorts about our crazed consumer way of life. Plus it's got a lot of fun songs, from the opener (Privilege to Pee) on. For those with an offbeat sense of humor, and probably not for small children. Onstage Jan. 17 to March 2.
3. One you should take the kids to: Disney's Beauty and the Beast. This musical hit about Belle, her hirsute hero (aka Beast), the unbearably egotistical Gaston and those singing, dancing kitchen utensils is also on the Golden Apple schedule this season, but it turns up first in its area premiere at Venice Little Theatre, Nov. 15 to Dec. 7. Director Murray Chase is bringing in famous Flying by Foy experts and working with a pyrotechnics pro to pull off the magical special effects, but says it's just as important to bring out the heart of the piece, "a story of love and redemption." They've already extended the show's originally scheduled run due to box office demand, so call now!
4. Another one for the kids: this year's production from Circus Sarasota, Feb. 3-26 at the Sarasota Fairgrounds, on Tuttle just south of Fruitville. Artistic director Pedro Reis was still booking acts at press time, but he did reveal some new names to build excitement for Life Is a Circus: the aptly named Crazy Wilson Dominguez, who will tempt fate with trampoline leaps and running somersaults atop a 42-foot-tall wheel; French Canadians Damien Boudreau and Geneviève Cliché, who've starred with Cirque du Soleil and take acrobatic experience to a new level with their hand-balancing routines; and Russian spouses Vladimir and Olga Smirnov, who manage those instantaneous costume changes no one can ever figure out. Plus Reis is bringing back the name that means circus to Sarasota, with The Flying Wallendas and their seven-person pyramid; and, of course, Sarasota's own aerialist supreme, Dolly Jacobs, returns, too.
5. Selby Gallery, at the Ringling School of Art and Design, has earned a reputation for presenting thought-provoking shows, not only from faculty, students and local artists, but from beyond Sarasota's environs. That tradition continues when the gallery brings to town The Louisiana Project from conceptual photographer Carrie Mae Weems. Weems, the daughter of Mississippi sharecroppers, often deals with political themes, gender relations and race; this show, on view March 10 to April 7, combines photographs, projections and installations drawn from New Orleans' multi-ethnic, storied past-perhaps especially poignant considering the city's recent devastation.
6. Prior to the Weems show, Selby continues its occasional Sarasotans Collect series with the third installment, curated by Mark Ormond, and it promises to be a beauty: The Art of Glass features works from some of the world's greatest glass artists, including Dale Chihuly, Harvey Littleton, William Morris and Miriam Di Fiore. And it's all from the collections of Sarasotans who are passionate about the color, flow and feel of this fragile art form. Drink it in Jan. 6-27.
7. Opera aficionados rally around downtown's Sarasota Opera House every winter for a feast of fine music and spectacle, and one of the draws that make our opera company unique is artistic director Victor DeRenzi's fervent dedication to presenting every single operatic work ever created by Giuseppe Verdi, through the ongoing Verdi Cycle. That's made for some interesting unearthings in the past; this season's "lost" Verdi is I Masnadieri, which presents a tale of erring youths, bandits, sibling rivalry and doomed love. (It's from a play by German dramatist Friedrich von Schiller, and you know what fun he is.) I Masnadieri (The Robbers) boasts an outstanding overture, fine arias and rousing choruses (Nell'argilla maldetta and Le rube, gli stupr), all conducted by DeRenzi. Trivia note: The 1847 world premiere, attended by Queen Victoria, starred legendary Swedish nightingale Jenny Lind. Performances are Feb. 25, 28 and March 2, 5, 8, 11 and 18.
8. Another treat for classical music fans: the Florida West Coast Symphony's "gigantic" Mozart-Mahler concert, with performances Jan. 27-29. The whole theme for this symphony season is "Music.Larger than Life," and the Mozart-Mahler pairing certainly delivers, with Wolfgang's "Jupiter" Symphony (No. 41 in C Major, K. 551) and Gustav's "Titan" (Symphony No. 1 in D Major), both conducted by artistic director Leif Bjaland. The maestro will also discuss highlights of these works of size and splendor in a Classical Conversation Jan. 26 at Holley Hall.
9. Most of the Sarasota Ballet's season offers reprises of some of the company's biggest successes, appropriate for a 15th anniversary year. But one new production, choreographed by artistic director Robert de Warren, is a tribute to the 250th birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Set to follow the dance troupe's performance of Anne Frank Feb. 10-13 at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, Episodes ties together three pieces loosely based on the composer's own life, set to one of his violin concertos, the Andante from his Piano Concerto No. 21 in C (also known as the theme from the film Elvira Madigan) and the first movement of his 40th symphony.
10. The Players of Sarasota offer something different from their usual musical theater season this month: The Legend of Yin & Yang, a world premiere musical that plays off the company's growing cultural exchanges with China. This latest co-production brings together award-winning acrobats, singers and dancers from the People's Republic with local talent in shows set for Nov. 10-13 at the Police Athletic League's Sailor Circus arena on Bahia Vista. (The show will also tour in four Chinese cities.) What's so unusual about this offering, says artistic director Burton Wolfe, is that the Chinese-American production will alternate lyrics in English and Mandarin rather than relying on surtitles, something China's Minister of Culture calls "a breakthrough concept."
11. For baby boomers, there's a ton of nostalgia wrapped up in about 19 minutes of music with Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant. Don't believe it's been 40 years since the incidents that inspired the epic song occurred? Believe it, because Guthrie is bringing his 40th Anniversary Massacree Tour (featuring special guests Abe Guthrie, Gordon Titcomb and the Massacree Band) to the Van Wezel, at 8 p.m. Feb. 1. Arlo will also include other of his hits, like City of New Orleans, Coming into Los Angeles and The Motorcyle Song, but the centerpiece of the evening will be.you guessed it. Sometimes you really can get anything you want.
12. There's more nostalgia at work with another Van Wezel offering, the hit Broadway show Movin' Out, which pulls together Billy Joel tunes (River of Dreams, Captain Jack, Only the Good Die Young), Twyla Tharp choreography and a storyline about young friends who grow up and suffer loss during the Vietnam war era. It's been called "energetic, exuberant and totally invigorating"; and as the Van Wezel's big theatrical showpiece of the season, it's in town for eight performances over Feb. 7-12.
13. TV watchers may recall Regina Taylor as an actress (Lilly Harper on I'll Fly Away, Anita Hill in Strange Justice), but lately she's been scoring even more success as a playwright, especially in works devoted to the African-American experience. The Asolo brings a Taylor play to Sarasota for the first time with Crowns, a celebration of character, culture and gospel that centers on black women and their church hats. It's inspired by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry's book of photographs, which provides the framework for a touching, often joyful look at Southern women and their forebears, told through oral histories and glorious gospel music. On the mainstage May 13 to June 11.
14. The Asolo also brings another new play by a female playwright to its audiences with Trying, by Joanna McClelland Glass, which ended its off-Broadway run starring Fritz Weaver last winter. Trying is inspired by Glass' own experience as personal secretary to the aging Francis Biddle, a chief judge of the Nuremberg trials and Attorney General under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Their relationship is tentative at first, but eventually blooms into a friendship from which both reap lasting benefits. Also on the mainstage, Jan. 6 to April 8.
15. Meanwhile, over at the Asolo's Jane B. Cook Theatre, the FSU/Asolo Conservatory M.F.A. students sink their teeth into Five by Tenn, five short playlets by the late Tennessee Williams. Several were unpublished during his lifetime, but all bear the distinctive Williams stamp. Summer at the Lake is about an exasperating mother and her miserable son; The Fat Man's Wife about an unhappily married older woman and an infatuated young man; Adam and Eve on a Ferry, a comic piece involving fellow writer D.H. Lawrence; And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens, the story of a New Orleans drag queen; and I Can't Imagine Tomorrow, a show originally written for TV, about two needy people having desperate conversations. Onstage March 1-19.
16. Florida Studio Theatre scored a hit a few seasons back with Pulitzer Prize-winner Donald Margulies' Dinner with Friends; now they're bringing to the mainstage Margulies' latest, Brooklyn Boy, which just closed in New York last spring. It's about, well, a boy from Brooklyn (Margulies' native borough) who becomes a successful writer but whose personal relationships are all dying or dead. A visit home to the old neighborhood acts as a catalyst of sorts for, hopefully, starting a new life. Onstage Dec. 7 through Feb. 4.
17. Another FST offering: Moonlight and Magnolias. This one should reach out and grab anyone who's ever wept over Scarlett and Rhett in Gone with the Wind (and who hasn't?). It's a screwball comedy by Ron Hutchinson (who may be better known to most for his TV writing, including the miniseries Traffic) about the making of the classic film. Hutchinson places macho director Victor Fleming, troubleshooting screenwriter Ben Hecht and legendary producer David O. Selznick in a room for a week rewriting the epic's screenplay while fueled by nothing much beyond peanuts and bananas. Sounds like an anything-goes dream come true for the actors. Onstage Feb. 8 to April 8.
18. For the Manatee Players, Stephen Sondheim's musical Follies, set at a reunion of showgirls in a theater about to be torn down, carries special resonance: It could very well be the last musical presented on the Riverfront Theatre's venerable stage before that building, too, bites the dust next year. (The company has been raising funds for its new theater, and groundbreaking is supposed to take place no later than December 2006.) Follies features some of Sondheim's best-and most-heard-tunes, including Losing My Mind, I'm Still Here and Broadway Baby; it's onstage May 11-28.
19. This year's Sarasota Film Festival takes place in the spring rather than the winter, trying to avoid competition from all those other festivals, like Sundance, etc., so we'll see if it makes it easier to score films, directors and those really big stars we all want to ogle. It's hard to pin down much info this far ahead of time, but you can count on a mix of international feature and documentary films, a symposium here and there, kids' movies and, of course, the parties, darling-the full-house Night of 1,000 Stars, Filmmakers Tribute Dinner and more. The lines start forming at the Hollywood 20 on March 31, and we'll be needing Visine by the fest's end on April 9.
20. If you just can't wait that long for a foreign film fix (we know we can't), thank the movie gods that the Sarasota Film Society's Cine-World Festival is just around the corner, Nov. 4-13. Besides showing some of the latest in French and international films and American indies, SFS will also host several lectures and a spotlight series focused on a particular director, to be named. It's always fun to mingle in Burns Court with a gaggle of fellow film fanatics-and to catch the latest sleeper hit way before most folks have even heard of it.
Here's where to call to make your reservations.
Art Center Sarasota: 365-2032
Asolo Theatre Company and FSU/Asolo Conservatory: 351-8000
Backlot Arts: 363-9300
Banyan Theater Company: 358-5330
Circus Sarasota: 355-9335
Florida Studio Theatre: 366-9000
Florida West Coast Symphony: 953-3434
Gloria Musicae: 954-4223
Golden Apple Dinner Theatre: 366-5454
Jazz Club of Sarasota: 366-1552
John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art: 359-5700
Key Chorale: 921-4845
La Musica International Chamber Music Festival: 364-8802
Longboat Key Center for the Arts: 383-2345
Manatee Players Riverfront Theatre: 748-5875
Players of Sarasota: 365-2494
Sarasota Ballet of Florida: 552-1032
Sarasota Concert Band: 364-2263
Sarasota Film Festival: 364-9514
Sarasota Film Society/Burns Court Cinema: 955-FILM
Sarasota Opera: 366-8450
Sarasota Poetry Theatre/SoulSpeak: 366-6468
Sarasota Pops: 351-8000
Selby Gallery at Ringling School of Art and Design: 359-7563
Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall: 953-3366 or 953-3368
Venice Art Center: 485-7136
Venice Little Theatre: 488-1115
Venice Symphony: 488-1010
Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe: 363-9300
Executive director Ann Logan joined the Sarasota Ballet in February and is already putting the organization on sturdier financial footing. The company has never had an executive director before (her duties were formerly part of the artistic director's job), and Logan, 54, had never worked in performing arts before (her experience is mainly in visual arts), but together, she and the company are defining a fresh business vision.
Logan scrapped the ballet's independent ticket booth and placed ticketing in the hands of the Asolo Theatre Company, "so people can buy tickets seven days a week at better hours, or online whenever they want," she says. She's also helped restructure the board of trustees to be more involved, refined the budgeting process and hired a new chief financial officer.
Logan has a B.F.A. from Rhode Island School of Design and did development, fund raising and arts management consulting in New York City. "But my real passion is as an artist," she says. "I work in fiber-knitting, felting and weaving." She's especially taken by Sarasota's combination of small-town flavor and big-time art ambition. "This is a place where you can make a difference," she says. -David Higgins
"Voice is like wine. The process is slow," explains tenor Israel Lozano, who will perform in the Sarasota Opera's Fall Concerts this month and play Rodolfo in La Bohème in February. "The body is changing, so every time you sing, it's a little different."At 30, Lozano still hasn't grown into his mature voice. "In the opera they say I'm a baby," he jokes. Born in Madrid, Spain, Lozano won a national karaoke contest at the age of 18. He studied at the Superior School of Spain and the Peabody Conservatory, and in 2003 completed the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program, where he met and performed with his mentor, Plácido Domingo.
He's played Rodolfo twice before, with the Los Angeles Opera and the Palm Beach Opera, and relishes the role. "When people fall in love, they become two people, one with their friends and one with their lover," he muses. "When something involves you so much, when you're on stage, a part of your brain turns off."
Bohème junkies can look forward to his aria: Puccini wrote it unusually high-pitched, and many tenors take it down a few notches, but Lozano will perform it in the original key. -David Higgins
Metamorphosis seems an appropriate name for the new gallery opened in Towles Court by Jonathan and Toni Greene, who moved to Sarasota from Fort Lauderdale. Jonathan, 34, says he went through a metamorphosis himself after his father died in September of 2004, deciding to expand his focus beyond his law career.
The couple had always been interested in art, and after Toni took a class at the Ringling School of Art and Design, she met artist Tim Jaeger, who introduced the two of them to other artists in town. Last February the Greenes bought what had been the Plum Door Gallery and ripped out the kitchen, restored the floors, repainted the walls and opened their first exhibition. (Jaeger is one of their artists, selling well in his first show there.)
Jonathan says when they bought the building they weren't sure what they would do with it, but there's no question of their commitment now. As president of the newly formed Towles Court Business Alliance, he says a marketing plan, a Web site and a membership program are top priorities. And the couple (who has two children, Benjamin, four, and Chloe, two) anticipates renting a 500-square-foot space in a building behind theirs that would also be a gallery. The metamorphosis continues.-Mark Ormond
Theater, says Michael Edwards, "was a bug that bit strongly." The theater bug attacked Edwards, who will replace retiring Asolo artistic director Howard Millman in July, when he was in the chorus of a college production of Lysistrata. Six months later he was president of his school's drama society.
A director of both theater and opera whose productions have won accolades from Sydney to London, Edwards says that in Sarasota, "I've found my artistic home." The former competitive sailor (in his native Australia), just coming off four years at wintry Syracuse Stage, looks forward to enjoying Sarasota's water and weather. Still, he jokes as he and his partner search for a house, "How the hell are we going to afford to live here?"
In an unusual arrangement, Edwards will work here this season, familiarizing himself with the company and community, before he performs his first official task: choosing the plays for the 2006-07 season. Though his own tastes lean toward "adventurous, risky, stimulating," he knows the season "can't be a steady diet of that. You have to keep people entertained and engaged." His goals? To "improve on what's here, lift the artistic game and bring everyone with me."