Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall Presents Its 2017-18 Line-up

Willie Nelson, George Benson, Audra McDonald and Diana Krall are among the stars headed our way.

By Kay Kipling August 27, 2017

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Broadway stars Chita Rivera and Tommy Tune


The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall has just announced its 2017-18 season, and it’s one of which executive director Mary Bensel says, “The diversity flows throughout the season in so many art forms from magic to comedy to dance and so much more.”

The Van Wezel had previously made public its line-up of Broadway, classical and dance presentations, but with the addition of a host of pop, country, jazz, variety and holiday performances, the schedule now keeps the hall’s lights on most evenings from November through April (especially with non-hall-sponsored offerings from the Sarasota Concert Association, Ringling College Library Association Town Hall, Sarasota Ballet, Sarasota Orchestra and more included).

The first show of the fall will be Neil Berg’s 50 Years of Rock and Roll, Oct. 13. Berg has previously brought Broadway musical revues to the Van Wezel (and will do so again this year, March 13); the rock and roll version features Broadway stars delivering music from such stars as Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Carole King, Stevie Wonder and more.

Country music legend Willie Nelson is next up on Oct. 17, bringing his unmistakable voice and years of hits to the stage in a show billed as “Willie Nelson & Family.” Expect more hits from decades past (such as “Color My World” and “Saturday in the Park”) with rock and roll band Chicago on Oct. 30, featuring four of the original band members and six other musicians.

Continuing into November, the hall presents the season 14 touring version of television hit “So You Think You Can Dance,” Nov. 3; the Celtic Thunder 2017 Symphony Tour, Nov. 15; a cappella group Straight No Chaser with its “Speakeasy Tour,” Nov. 16; long-running pop rock band Three Dog Night, Nov. 18; and jazz saxophonist Dave Koz’s 20th Anniversary Christmas Tour, Nov. 28.

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Leeann Rimes


The holiday season is ushered in by several Christmas-themed shows, including “We Three Kings: An Irish Tenors Christmas,” Dec. 2; “Today Is Christmas,” marking the Van Wezel debut of country star Leann Rimes; 98˚ at Christmas, bringing back together the quartet of Nick and Drew Lachey, Jeff Timmons and Justin Jeffre, Dec. 11; A Charlie Brown Christmas, in a matinee on Dec. 17; Cirque Dreams Holidaze, a holiday stage extravaganza, Dec. 21; and the perennial favorite A Christmas Carol, Dec. 22. One non-holiday show during the month: Buddy, a Broadway musical telling the true story of rock and roller Buddy Holly’s rise to fame, Dec. 5.

The New Year brings the traditional Salute to Vienna concert, Jan. 3, followed by an appearance by Peter Cetera (formerly of the group Chicago), a solo artist since 1986 (Jan. 5); the touring version of the Tony-winning musical comedy A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, Jan. 6 and 7; A Night with Janis Joplin, delivering songs such as “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Piece of My Heart,” Jan. 8; and returning favorite comedian Steve Solomon with Cannoli, Latkes and Guilt, on Jan. 9.

The late great Nat King Cole receives a fitting tribute from fellow musicians Ramsey Lewis and John Pizzarelli in “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” on Jan. 10. Tango aficionados will welcome Tango Fire, featuring this Buenos Aires company under the leadership of German Cornejo, Jan. 12. And the “Legendary 5th Dimension” revives hits such as “Up, Up and Away” and “Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In,” when the group celebrates 50 years of music, on Jan. 15.

Operatic superstar Renee Fleming returns to Sarasota after her acclaimed debut here two seasons ago, blending classical songs, arias and selections from musicals, Jan. 16. Then two mainstays of the Broadway stage, Chita Rivera and Tommy Tune, join forces in “Two for the Road,” summoning up memories of hit shows from West Side Story to Nine to My One and Only, Jan. 17.

January also offers nostalgia with a rock/doo wop concert by The Drifters, The Platters and Cornell Gunter’s Coasters, Jan. 18; and laughs with Musical Thrones: A Parody, a sendup of six seasons of megahit Game of Thrones, Jan. 21. Tapestry, on Jan. 23, pays tribute to the music of Carole King; pop icon Paul Anka returns, Jan. 25; Masters of Illusion brings magic to the hall, Jan. 26; Michael Feinstein celebrates “crooners,” Jan. 28; and Cabaret brings back Sally Bowles and other 1930s Berlin characters, Jan. 30 and 31.

Take a deep breath; we’re only halfway through the season. Here’s a look at shows coming up in February, March and April.

Feb. 1: The U.K.’s modern dance company Balletboyz

Feb. 5: In the Mood, a celebration of the Big Band era.

Feb. 6 Sultry songstress Diana Krall pays a return visit to the hall.

Feb. 7: Travis Wall’s Shaping Sound: After the Curtain, a new show from choreographer Wall.

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Travis Wall's Shaping Sound


Feb. 14: The Beach Boys. Need we say more?

Feb. 15: Grammy-winning guitarist, singer and songwriter George Benson

Feb. 17: Fellow Grammy winner, the soulful Michael McDonald

Feb. 18: Jazz ensemble The Hot Sardines

Feb. 19: Stayin’ Alive, One Night with the BeeGees

Feb. 27: The Moscow Festival Ballet’s productions of Carmen and Romeo and Juliet

March 4: Music ensemble Celtic Woman

March 6 and 7: A wild journey with the classic The Wizard of Oz

March 11: The National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba, featuring Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Gold Medalist Yekwon Sunwoo

March 12: Dance to the Movies, starring Dancing with the Stars pros and more

March 13: Neil Berg’s 109 Years of Broadway

March 14: Audra McDonald In Concert, bringing back the powerhouse singer-actress

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Audra McDonald


March 15: Rick Springfield of “Jessie’s Girl” and “Don’t Talk To Strangers” fame

March 21: The Four Phantoms, featuring leading men from The Phantom of the Opera

March 22: Classic rock fave band America

March 24: Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, with violin virtuoso Joshua Bell

March 26: Peter Pan, the 3D Stage Spectacular, flies into the hall

March 27-April 1: Motown the Musical, celebrating the American sound of the iconic record label with hits from such stars as Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and Smokey Robinson

April 4: Illusionist Rick Thomas: Nothing Happens Until You Dream!

April 5: Comedy show Robert Dubac’s The Book of Moron

April 10-12: Jersey Boys. Again, need we say more?

April 14: Wynonna and the Big Noise, with country star Wynonna Judd

April 15: Jazz trumpeter Chris Botti returns.

April 17: Let It Be, “the show you never got to see The Beatles perform.”

April 18: ABBA The Concert, a tribute to the Swedish phenom.

April 19: The Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma—redefining classical music for 21st-century audiences.

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Yo-Yo Ma


April 22: Comedian Bill Engvall returns.

April 24 and 25: A Chorus Line kicks up a storm on the Van Wezel stage.

April 26: Swiss-based theater troupe Mummenschanz’s latest show, you & me

Of course, more shows will continue to be added later in the season. But for now, tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. Sept. 9 to the public, at the hall’s box office, online at, or by calling (941) 953-3368.  

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