Arts Capital - May 2012

By Charlie Huisking May 1, 2012

Ali Wentworth was in Sarasota recently to visit her mother on Longboat Key. While here, she promoted her new book at Barnes & Noble. “I would have gone down to the courthouse and married him right then.”A New Nutcracker Salutes the Circus As the current arts season winds down, I’m already getting excited about the next one.

I can’t wait until December, when the Sarasota Ballet’s intriguing, circus-themed production of The Nutcracker premieres. Set in the 1930s, the ballet will open in a grand New York hotel, where the young heroine, Clara, meets circus impresario John Ringling instead of the toymaker Drosselmeyer. Rather than dreaming of a world of sugar plum fairies and bonbons, Clara hops the circus train to Sarasota, where she encounters a wondrous world of acrobats, clowns and animals.

This production has the potential to be a huge hit for the ballet, which hopes to take it on tour to a variety of Florida cities and venues—including circus tents. (It’s already scheduled to move to Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater after its Van Wezel debut.) Artistic director Iain Webb beamed like a kid on a cotton-candy high as he unveiled his plans earlier this year. The equally enthusiastic choreographer Matthew Hart and designer Peter Docherty are in the early stages of the creative process, but they’ve already done extensive research into the Ringlings and the circus. I’m expecting a three-ring success. 

Asolo Focuses On American Character The Asolo Rep’s 2012-13 season will be an all-American affair. The shows, all by U.S. playwrights, include Kaufman and Hart’s You Can’t Take It With You, Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles, David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross and two world premieres to be announced later. The season opens with 1776, an inspiring musical about the writing of the Declaration of Independence. Since it opens two weeks after what promises to be a divisive presidential election, the show will “help heal us, and remind us of our collective strength and identity,” says producing artistic director Michael Donald Edwards. 

Wentworth Visits With Fans, Family Normally, the Sarasota Barnes & Noble wouldn’t be on the itinerary of a celebrity author like Ali Wentworth, the actress, TV personality and wife of ABC newsman George Stephanopoulos.

After all, Wentworth had been promoting her new book, Ali in Wonderland, on the air with Jay Leno, Charlie Rose, Bill Maher and the ladies of The View. But she added Sarasota to her tour because it gave her the chance to spend some time with her mother, Longboat Key resident Muffie Brandon Cabot.

Cabot figures prominently in Ali in Wonderland, which chronicles Wentworth’s experiences growing up among the Washington, D.C., elite, as well as her show business career and her marriage. Cabot was Nancy Reagan’s social secretary, and Wentworth’s father and stepfather were both political journalists. So it was normal for people like Jackie Kennedy and Henry Kissinger to drop by when Wentworth was a child. Kissinger even towed her across the family’s swimming pool on occasion. “He was probably bombing Cambodia at the time, but I liked him because he had a nice, wide back to hold on to,” Wentworth said.

During the Watergate era, the family became suspicious that its phones were being bugged. “My siblings were horrified, but I was delighted at the thought of having a built-in audience to perform for,” quipped Wentworth, who was already dreaming of becoming an actress.

After graduating from Bard College, Wentworth fled Washington for Hollywood, where she appeared on such shows as In Living Color and Seinfeld. When a friend tried to set her up on a date with Stephanopoulos in 2001, she initially demurred.

“I said, ‘Well, first of all, isn’t he gay?’” Wentworth recalled. “And secondly, I didn’t care about politics. I was holding out for Hugh Grant or Matthew Perry. Besides, George had dated the entire island of Manhattan by then. But I thought it might be a nice party story to say I once went out with George Stephanopoulos. So I agreed to meet him for lunch. But I didn’t even shave my legs, and just wore some black pants and a white oxford shirt. Not very romantic.”

However, over some “mayonnaisey crab sandwiches,” she found herself enchanted. “I would have gone downtown to the courthouse and married him right then,” Wentworth said.

She didn’t have to wait too long. Two months after the lunch, Stephanopoulos proposed, and they married six months later. His father, a Greek Orthodox priest, performed the ceremony. 

Wearing her blond hair pulled back and sporting an ivory top and blue slacks, the 47-year-old Wentworth combined the look of Grace Kelly with the wackiness of Lucille Ball as she entertained nearly 100 fans at the book signing. Though some might find her and Stephanopoulos an unlikely pair, Wentworth said their marriage works because “on the base level, we agree on everything that’s most important. And we’re different enough that it doesn’t ever get dull. Our pillow talk doesn’t revolve around politics. It’s not like I’m sitting there saying, ‘Oh, tell me more about Mitt Romney!’”

Wentworth has described Ali in Wonderland as a kind of love letter to her mother, who, after working for Nancy Reagan, went on to supervise arts funding for the Ford Motor Company. “She never let anything stop her,” Wentworth said of her mother. “She’s been very successful in many different careers, and she instilled in her children the belief we could do whatever we wanted. She’s also an unbelievably generous and helpful friend, and I think I inherited that from her. I’m a better cook than she is, though. When I just left my children with her for lunch, I thought, ‘Oh, no.’” 

A Turner Museum? An exhibit of works on paper by renowned English Romantic artist William Turner was a big draw earlier this year at Ringling College’s Selby Gallery. Douglass Montrose-Graem, the collector who owns the works, hopes they might someday be on permanent display in Sarasota.

Montrose-Graem wants to open the J.M.W. Turner museum in an urban complex in Sarasota that would also encompass shops, restaurants and apartments. For many years, he operated a Turner museum in Denver, but he closed it when he moved to Sarasota for health reasons.

“In Denver, the museum appealed to the five senses, and that’s what I’d like to do here,” Montrose-Graem says. “We’d have a restaurant, we’d have space for chamber music concerts, ballet performances, lectures. We’d involve all of the local arts groups.”

Montrose-Graem’s collection features more than 1,500 of Turner’s works on paper, including pre-publication proofs and folios, as well as an oil sketch. He says it’s the largest collection of Turner’s work outside of Great Britain.

Montrose-Graem became enamored of Turner’s work when he attended a show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in the 1960s. “It was sensational,” he says. “I was working on Wall Street then, and I decided I’d rather spend my money on his drawings than on stock certificates or savings bonds.” 

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