Arts Capital - March 2012

By Charlie Huisking March 1, 2012

It’s overwhelming enough for a young actor to take on the role of Hamlet for the first time. But to perform the part in both English and Spanish? Well, what a piece of work is that!

Hamlet: Prince of Cuba

That’s exactly the challenge facing Frankie Alvarez, who’s playing the title role in the upcoming Asolo Rep production of Hamlet: Prince of Cuba. As the title suggests, the production is set not in Denmark, but in Havana, at the dawn of the Spanish-American War in 1898. Most of the Sarasota performances, which begin March 23, are in English. But three will be in Spanish, with English surtitles. Additional performances in Spanish will follow in Miami when the production moves there. The translation is by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz.

Actor Frankie AlvarezAlvarez, who grew up in Miami, is the son of Cuban immigrants and grew up speaking Spanish and English. He was picked from 150 actors whom Asolo producing artistic director Michael Edwards considered for the role. “Frankie is extremely passionate and intelligent and fearless,” Edwards says. “I sensed that he had a real hunger to do this, and he’s going to be so exciting to watch.”

Clearly, this production has deep personal meaning for the 28-year-old Alvarez, who views it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “I get to do this dream role, surrounded by my fellow Cubans and Cuban-Americans, in both of my languages, and in a production set in the homeland of my parents,” he says.

This will be Alvarez’s Asolo debut, but not the first time he’s been in the theater. In 1999, while on a trip with a high-school debate team, he attended an Asolo performance of The Count of Monte Cristo. “It had a profound effect upon me,” he says. “I was overjoyed by the show. And I vividly remember how gorgeous the theater was.”

Alvarez did his undergraduate work at Florida State University before getting his MFA from Juilliard. Last summer, he performed at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where Edwards spotted him. Edwards says he’s already getting more satisfaction from the Hamlet project than from anything he’s done during his Asolo tenure. “We are the first theater company anywhere to do a mainstage production of Shakespeare in two languages,” he says. “That’s so exciting. I’m thrilled that we are building bridges to the Hispanic community.”

Alvarez thinks the Cuban setting will underscore the passion that permeates the play.

As opening night approaches, he says he has “no problem admitting that I am equal parts excited and terrified, not very much different from where Hamlet finds himself at times.”


New Ringling Leader Embraces Festival During the first three years of the Ringing International Arts Festival, state funding accounted for a large chunk of the budget. With that money running out this year, many, including me, worried that the festival might be in peril. So I’m thrilled that Ringling Museum executive director Steven High and the board have committed to the future of the cutting-edge event.

High, who was named director last March, attended performances by all of the groups and individual artists in the festival in October, and was impressed by the quality and the diversity. “Some were polished, some of the pieces were still evolving, some were purely entertaining and others more serious,” he says. “Some pushed us perhaps more than we were ready to be pushed, but that’s good, too.”

High thinks the festival makes a symbolic statement of the importance of contemporary performing arts to the museum, and is a perfect launch for Sarasota’s cultural season and for the museum’s year-round Art of Our Time program. “We have so many areas of excellence at the museum, from our European art collection to the circus collection and Ca’d’Zan, and this can be another component we can build into an area of national prominence,” High says.

High has formed a Ringling International Arts Festival Council to develop a fund-raising strategy (nearly $500,000 must be raised for this year’s festival). The program for the 2012 festival will be unveiled a bit later than normal, in April. High promises a few intriguing announcements at that time.

An Unusual Gig for Key Chorale The Sarasota choral group Key Chorale usually performs powerful works by Mozart, Beethoven and such contemporary composers as Dale Warland. But none of them ever created music with snappy lyrics like this:

“From the warehouse to the jobber/To the service center floor/We’re makin’ sure that the customers/ Got everything they need and more.”

That’s the company song of the Aftermarket Auto Parts Alliance, a tune that 90 members of Key Chorale sang with great vigor at the alliance’s international convention in Miami recently. It was one of six songs, including the American, Canadian and Mexican national anthems, that the chorus performed during a 20-minute set. 

Like many arts groups, Key Chorale is facing financial challenges this year. So when the auto parts group offered what Storm called a “substantial fee” for the gig, the singers eagerly accepted. They boarded two chartered buses for the swank Turnberry Isles Resort at 1 p.m., changed into their formal concert attire and took the stage about 6 p.m.

The performance followed a cocktail party, and some conventioneers didn’t exactly give the chorale their rapt attention. “They were an exuberant group,” Storm says. “But they did quiet down for The Battle Hymn of the Republic, and they really cheered like crazy at the end of our performance. A few of the women in the chorale got kisses from audience members as we left.”

The chorale’s buses pulled into Sarasota at 1 a.m. “I think everyone who went had a good time,” Storm says. And he notes that it fit in perfectly with the chorale’s theme this season, “Reaching Out.” The unconventional season has already included a performance with Circus Sarasota, and an April concert will feature the music of Mozart and the pop group Radiohead.

Read charlie huisking’s “Arts & Travel” blog.

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