Season Preview

24 Shows You Must See This Season

Our top 24 picks (in no particular order) in drama, dance, musicals, opera, art—and more

By Kay Kipling October 27, 2016 Published in the November 2016 issue of Sarasota Magazine

Guys and Dolls

For director/choreographer Josh Rhodes, bringing this Frank Loesser musical about gamblers Sky Masterson (Cole Burden) and Nathan Detroit (Chris Hoch) and their “dolls,” Audrey Cardwell and Veronica Kuehn, to life is a matter of bringing Damon Runyon, the writer whose stories provide the basis for the show, to the front. “I’ve always loved him,” Rhodes says. “His language is so eccentric and funny. That’s what I wanted to make sure of with the casting—that the actors understood his language. It’s like Shakespeare.” The show opens the Asolo Rep season in razzle-dazzle style, Nov. 18 through Jan. 1. Don’t bet against it.

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Urbanite Theatre co-founders Brendan Ragan and Summer Dawn Wallace have taken turns directing and appearing onstage with their company, but this production, running Jan. 27 through March 12, marks the first time the pair takes the stage together. The work, by playwright Aaron Loeb (who’s also a video game designer), centers on a group of corporate consultants working on a mysterious project that gradually blurs the lines between right and wrong. The San Francisco Chronicle called it “devilishly funny and demonically dark.”

Clever Little Lies

Florida Studio Theatre has scored before with works by Joe DiPietro (Over the River and Through the Woods; I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change), who deftly mingles entertainment with genuine emotions. This season the company tackles his latest, about the turmoil that arises when a young husband confesses his adulterous affair to his father. Greg Mullavey and Marlo Thomas starred as the man’s upset parents off-Broadway; no word yet on casting for FST’s production, which runs Dec. 14 through March 4 in the Keating Theatre.


Guys and Dolls director Joshua Rhodes also choreographs the world premiere of this musical by Glenn Slater and Wendy Leigh Wilf (School of Rock, Tangled), a co-production with Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre at the Asolo Rep May 6-28. It’s set in Greenwich Village, 1959, where the tragically unhip Walter, who longs to be a beatnik, finds unexpected fame with his sculpture Dead Cat. Rhodes says he’s not casting dancers here so much as “comedians who dance. The Beat period was a legitimate one, but there were also a lot of posers. Within the show’s dance numbers, they are trying so hard to be cool; we’ll be making fun of their poses somewhat.”

Billy Elliot: The Musical

Venice Theatre kicks its season into high gear with this multiple Tony Award winner about a British boy who just wants to dance, despite the objections of his coal-mining father and brother, who are both in the middle of a long strike. With songs by none other than Sir Elton John and a book by Lee Hall (who also penned the script for the 2000 film), VT’s production is directed and choreographed by Dewayne Barrett and features Carson Maschmeier and Patrick Higgins alternating the ultra-demanding role of young Billy. On the mainstage Nov. 8 through Dec. 4.

Million Dollar Quartet

Take a trip back to 1956 Memphis in this high-energy musical by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, which takes its cue from a moment in history: the night Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins jammed at legendary Sun Record Studios. It opens Florida Studio Theatre’s mainstage season Nov. 9 through Jan. 1 in the Gompertz, and it stars Joe Boover as Presley, Joe Casey as Cash, Brandyn Day as Lewis, Ben Williams as Perkins and Joe Ditmyer as Sam Phillips, the man who brought them all together. 

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Sense of Beauty

A Feast for the Senses

Get medieval with this Ringling Museum exhibition, slated for Feb. 4 through April 30, dedicated to the art and experience of medieval Europe. Curated by Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum in partnership with The Ringling, the exhibit features more than 160 objects—paintings, tapestries, metalwork and manuscripts—to summon up the spirit of the period from 1300 to 1500, when work was meant to be touched, smelled and heard as well as to be seen.

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Steve Martin

Steve Martin and Martin Short

Steve started out with a rubber arrow around his head; Martin used to tweak his cowlick into the point of an arrow while dancing wildly as character Ed Grimley. Both comedians have come a long way since those days, with frequent appearances on Saturday Night Live and a bunch of movies under their belts, including Three Amigos with fellow comedian Chevy Chase.

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Martin Short

Their gift for interacting with each other for laughs will still be evident when they team Feb. 10 at the Van Wezel, as part of the annual Van Wezel Foundation Gala. In a show with the tongue-in-cheek title “An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life,” the two swap stories, take questions from the audience, and maybe even insult each other a little bit—all in fun, doncha know. Steve will also pick up the banjo to play along with the Grammy-winning Steep Canyon Rangers, known for their bluegrass sounds. Count on a few surprises from these quick-thinking funnymen.

Circus Sarasota

Can you believe it’s been 20 years since Pedro Reis and Dolly Jacobs brought the Big Top back to town? This year’s production, Feb. 10 through March 5, celebrates in fitting style with the return of Sarasota’s own Nik Wallenda and the legendary seven-person pyramid—a feat sure to keep you too petrified to breathe. Jacobs, too, returns with partner Rafael Palacios in their dazzling aerial act. Also on the bill: comic trio Fumagalli, Chinese pole acrobats Leosvel & Diosmani, hand-balancing contortionist Oleysa Fedotova, hula hoop artist Alesya Gulavich, Risley act the Sami Brothers, and the tango-juggling display of Menno and Emily Van Dyke.

The Love of Three Kings

Taking a break from his beloved Verdi, Sarasota Opera artistic director Victor DeRenzi will conduct (and wife Stephanie Sundine will direct) the opera’s new production of Italo Montemezzi’s passionate story of Princess Fiora (Elizabeth Tredent), forced to marry Manfredo (Marco Nistico), the man who conquered her country. As it happens, she’s secretly in love with Avito (Sarasota newcomer Antonio Coriano), but even though he’s blind, King Archibaldo (Kevin Short) has his suspicions about the romantic couple. Trouble awaits. Onstage March 11, 14, 16, 19, 22 and 26.

The Bridges of Madison County

The Manatee Players intended the Feb. 9-26 slot in its season to be filled with Honeymoon in Vegas, but perhaps no one was too disappointed when that fell through and was replaced by this recent Broadway version of the heart-tugging book about the unlikely romance between an Italian-born housewife and a photographer taking pictures of all those Iowa bridges. The show has a book by Marsha Norman (The Secret Garden) and a Tony-winning score by Jason Robert Brown (The Last Five Years) that blends folk, pop, country and opera.

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Big Fish

The Players Centre for Performing Arts is taking a fresh approach to its production of this musical adapted from the Tim Burton film about a traveling salesman and his estranged adult son. Artistic director Jeffery Kin and show director Michael Newton-Brown are steering their version in a “troupe in a trunk” direction, with just 12 performers handling all the roles with the aid of puppetry, masks, acrobatics, projections and “stage magic.” Kin says it may be a season stealer. Onstage Feb. 15 through March 5.

Twyla Tharp

Dancer-choreographer Tharp celebrates 50 years of making exciting dance happen (129 dances in all, plus movies, Broadway, ballets and even figure skating routines) with an evening of new work, Feb. 15 at the Van Wezel. On the program: Preludes and Fugues, set to J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, and Yowzie, a humorous piece danced to a jazz score utilizing songs by Jelly Roll Morton and “Fats” Waller. In Tharp’s own words: “Preludes and Fugues is the world as it ought to be, Yowzie as it is.”

New Galleries at The Ringling

The museum’s commitment to modern and contemporary art is underscored by the opening of the new Keith D. and Linda L. Monda Gallery of Contemporary Art, as well as the first permanent installation of the museum’s collection of works created by artists working in the 20th and 21st centuries, both on Nov. 4. The flexible Monda gallery space occupies 2,400 square feet; along with the other two modern galleries and the 2017 opening of the Kotler-Coville Glass Pavilion, the museum will devote more than 9,500 square feet in total to contemporary work. More art for all.

David Sedaris

If you’ve ever laughed out loud while reading Sedaris’ pieces in The New Yorker or any of his books of essays (Me Talk Pretty One Day, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls), you won’t want to miss him in person when he makes his Sarasota debut at the Van Wezel on April 19. Sedaris’ humor, often autobiographical about his family, his homosexuality or his life in England with his partner Hugh, is both personal and on target about human nature in general.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

What better setting could there be for Shakespeare’s romantic comedy about four young lovers lost in the woods, amid fairies and “rude mechanicals,” than enchanting Marie Selby Botanical Gardens? The entire company of the FSU/Asolo Conservatory’s second-year graduate students will perform, bringing to life Puck, Titania, Bottom and the rest, April 12-29, under the direction of Shakespeare specialist Jonathan Epstein. “The course of true love never did run smooth,” but at least it will be lovely.

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Bradenton Blues Fest

Who would have thought that once-sleepy little Bradenton would become such a home for the blues? Then again, the Bradenton Riverwalk is a great setting to listen to the likes of this year’s line-up, which welcomes headliner Chicago blues and soul guitarist, singer and songwriter Ronnie Baker Brooks. Also heading to town for the fest: the Golden State/Lone Star Revue, delivering Western-style blues, Victor Wainwright & the Wildroots, Jason Ricci, Larry McCray, Sugar Ray and the Bluetones, the Slam Allen Band, and Ilana Katz Katz performing between sets. Starts at 11 a.m. Dec. 3.

Selby Gardens Chagall Show

Organizers of Marc Chagall, Flowers and the French Riviera: The Color of Dreams promise some “jaw-dropping” displays when you enter the gardens starting Feb. 12 (through July). Mediterranean-inspired plantings, personal artifacts and photos from the Chagall estate, and five color-filled stained glass images by the artist, some as large as 12 feet, all figure into the exhibit, taking viewers to the South of France as Chagall knew it. Plus, special events take place throughout the run, from “Chagall Nights” to Sunday afternoon concerts and Family Saturdays.

Sarasota Orchestra’s Tchaikovsky to Tüür

While two works by Tchaikovsky are on the bill for the orchestra’s Masterworks program Feb. 2-5, what may be most intriguing about the performance is the American premiere of Erkki-Sven Tüür’s Symphony No. 6 (Strata), composed for music director Anu Tali by her fellow Estonian. Tüür is a prolific composer who began his career in the 1970s as leader of a progressive rock band, but he’s been inspired by everything from Gregorian chants to 12-tone compositions to electronic music in his career. Be prepared for something different.

The Piano Lesson

Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe has presented this August Wilson piece about an African-American family torn over the legacy of an heirloom piano before, but as the company continues to reach out and work with new directors and actors, it will be interesting to see how this version compares. Goodman Theatre resident director Chuck Smith, who helmed last season’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, returns to direct; among the cast members are Earley Dean and Cecil Washington Jr. (last year’s Sam Cooke in a bio of the singer’s life) in the pivotal role of Boy Willie. Onstage Jan. 11 through Feb. 18.

Sarasota Ballet’s Ashton Premieres

Sarasota’s ballet company, now marking its 10th season with artistic director Iain Webb, keeps soaring higher, as evidenced by the critics’ enthusiasm for their recent performances of three pieces by Sir Frederick Ashton at New York’s Joyce Theater. The troupe continues to bring the late choreographer’s works to American audiences, often for the first time, with American premieres of his Scenes de Ballet, March 10 and 11 at Van Wezel, and Apparitions, set to music by Liszt, April 28-30 at the Sarasota Opera House. Both will be accompanied by full orchestra; the March performances also reprise Ashton’s beloved The Two Pigeons.

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Kinky Boots

Each season, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall pulls out all the stops to book one touring Broadway show for more than a night or two. This year, it’s six-time Tony Award winner Kinky Boots, in its Sarasota premiere. Cyndi Lauper, the original “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” pop star, crafted the songs for this story about a man trying to keep his family’s footwear factory afloat. Enter Lola, a larger-than-life drag star who needs some new stilettos. With a book by Harvey Fierstein, adapted from the hit movie, itself “inspired by true events.” Onstage April 25-30.

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Kofi Annan

Ringling College Library Association  Town Hall Lecture Series

The Town Hall season is capped off March 22 by Kofi Annan, the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations, founder and chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation, and Nobel Peace Prize winner, along with the U.N., in 2001. A lifetime spent in pursuit of human rights, peacekeeping and meeting the needs of the poor and vulnerable, especially in his native Africa, qualifies Annan to address some of the biggest issues confronting the world today. The series always sells out, but sometimes single tickets become available close to speech dates; try calling 925-1343.

Violins of Hope

The violin is more than an instrument for making beautiful music with this event sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee. It’s a symbol of hope, comfort and resistance, as 16 violins—played by Jewish musicians during the Holocaust, some of them in concentration camps—come alive once more in concerts featuring alumni from the Perlman Music Program/Suncoast and State College of Florida’s Presidential String Quartet. Thanks to Amnon Weinstein, who has lovingly restored the violins, we have the chance to learn the stories of their original owners, too. Concerts Feb. 1-16; a complete schedule will be available here.

Sarasota Film Festival

Film fanatics wait all year long for the festival to announce its line-up of movies, stars, parties and more, and this far in advance of the March 31-April 9 dates, waiting is all we can do, too. But you can at least mark your calendars.

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