Season Preview 2017

The Ultimate Guide to Sarasota's 2017 Arts and Entertainment Season

In a season packed with drama, dance, music, arts and more, the shows, festivals and concerts you must see.

By Kay Kipling October 30, 2017 Published in the November 2017 issue of Sarasota Magazine

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Approaching the Border will be on view Nov. 5-Jan. 21.

Image: Courtesy Photo 

Approaching the Border

Both timely and timeless, this exhibition at the John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art features video works by five international artists, including Mexicans Emilio Chapelo and Yoshua Okon, Italian/Lebanese artist Christiana de Marchi and the United Kingdom’s K. Yoland. All challenge us to examine our thinking about the U.S./Mexico border. It’s about a lot more than building a wall; the exhibit meditates on the broader meaning of borders and how they shape us. On view Nov. 5 through Jan. 21. 359-5700,


Remember the charming surprise hit movie about a boy and a girl who meet in Dublin and make beautiful music together? This stage version (yes, it features songs from the film) won a pack of Tony Awards; now it opens Florida Studio Theatre’s mainstage season, Nov. 8 through Dec. 31 at the Gompertz Theatre. Set largely in a pub filled with musicians, Once demands that its leads—Ben Williams and Elizabeth Nestlerode—play their instruments on stage as well as sing, act and fall in love. FST audiences will know Williams’ work from last season’s Million Dollar Quartet, where he played Carl Perkins, under the guidance of this show’s director, Jason Cannon. 366-9000,

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The popular Chalk Festival is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

Chalk Festival

The annual celebration of pavement art marks its 10th year this month (Nov. 10-13); its fourth at the Venice airport grounds. Organizers have planned a special museum space showcasing the fest’s history, with a select group of artists invited into a curated selection of artwork and events. Of course, in addition to the professionals at work, attendees can give chalk drawing a try themselves, while also enjoying music, poetry, refreshments and even hot air balloons.


Yes, this play by Simon Stephens takes its title from well-known German physicist Werner Heisenberg, but this work is not about scientific experiments; it’s about human connections. In this case, the surprising one that forms between bull-in-a-china-shop Georgie (played by Mary-Louise Parker on Broadway) and the quiet, much older Alex, who meet amid the bustle of a crowded London train station. Soon Georgie has drawn Alex into a search for her missing son, and a journey that will take them to some life-changing places. Onstage at Florida Studio Theatre’s Keating Theatre Dec. 13 through March 4. 366-9000,

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The cast of A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder

Image: Joan Marcus

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder

The Sarasota premiere of this 2014 Tony Award winner brings to town the hilarious story of Monty Navarro, the unacknowledged heir to a British fortune and title—if only he knocks off the eight annoying relatives who stand in his way. Based on the classic film starring Alec Guinness, Kind Hearts and Coronets, Guide derives a lot of its fun from the conceit of having one actor play all the proposed victims, no matter what their age or gender. And of course the music—by Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak—helps, too. Jan. 6 and 7 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. 953-3368,

The Mountaintop

Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe presents an area premiere of this Katori Hall play about the imagined meeting between a maid at Memphis’ Lorraine Hotel and the hotel’s most famous guest—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the night prior to his assassination in 1968. There’s more than first meets the eye here as the mysterious “maid” debates with King on racism, poverty and civil rights, and Hall manages to mix some humor into her serious subjects. Directed by Chuck Smith, the production stars Abdul-Khaliq “A.K.” Murtadha as King (you may remember him in that role in Asolo Rep’s The Great Society and All the Way) and Emerald Rose Sullivan as Camae, the maid. Interestingly, this is the first show that WBTT has done about King in its 18-year history. Jan. 10 through Feb. 18; 366-1505,

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Chita Rivera will perform songs from her hit Broadway shows with dancer-actor-choreographer-director Tommy Tune.

Chita & Tune: Just in Time

If you grew up a Broadway baby, you’ve followed the careers of dancer-actor-choreographer-director Tommy Tune for years, from Seesaw to Best Little Whorehouse in Texas to My One and Only and Grand Hotel. Legendary singer-dancer-actress Chita Rivera’s resume spans even farther, all the way back to starring as the original Anita in West Side Story, and includes showstopping roles in Bye Bye Birdie, Sweet Charity and Kiss of the Spider Woman. Separately, they’re exciting enough; together, performing songs from their hit shows accompanied by a trio of Broadway musicians, they’re dynamite. Onstage Jan. 17 at the Van Wezel. 953-3368,

Kotler-Coville Glass Pavilion Opening

The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art has been in expansion mode lately, with the openings of its Asian art center a couple of seasons ago and the new Keith D. and Linda L. Monda galleries for contemporary art last year. Now, sometime during January, the museum will officially open this 5,500-square-foot pavilion devoted to the exhibition of American and European studio glass. Fittingly, the building’s design, by Lewis + Whitlock, uses glass as a principal material, making it possible to see inside the gallery from the outside. Transparent, and tempting. Opening date TBA at press time; stay tuned to


It’s not very often you get a chance to see a play by absurdist theater master Eugene Ionesco staged in Sarasota, especially not directed by Tony winner Frank Galati, who says this play “has been for a very long time a part of my history. It’s one of those works of dramatic literature that are precious.” In a small French village, the townspeople are gradually transforming into rhinoceroses; one man refuses to conform, and must face an existential loneliness. But it’s not as heavy as it may sound. “Ionesco is a clown,” reminds Galati. “It’s a funhouse. He uses the wonder of the theater as his medium for communicating rage, panic and desperation.” Check, check and check. Onstage Feb. 7 through April 14 at Asolo Rep. 351-8000,

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Sylvia Zerbini's Liberty Horses

Circus Sarasota

Having dazzled audiences at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C., last summer, our hometown circus prepares to entertain us loyal locals once more, Feb. 9 through March 4 at the Big Top at Nathan Benderson Park. The line-up boasts the usual satisfying mix. Ringmaster Joseph Bauer Jr. keeps things moving, as quick change artists Vladimir and Olga Smirnov, Sylvia Zerbini and her Liberty Horses, juggler Kris Kremo, lasso act AJ Silver, tightwire artists JuJu (Julia Figuiere and Julien Posada), hand balancers KVAS (Vladimir Kostenko and Anton Savchencko), a dog act TBA, and superstar aerialist Dolly Jacobs and partner Rafael Palacios demonstrate their skills. It’s a don’t-miss for true Sarasotans. 355-9805, 

RCLA Town Hall 2018

The Ringling College Library Association’s lecture series this season brings five intriguing speakers to town, with topics ranging from politics to medicine to the gender gap in technology. It’s hard to pick just one as a favorite, but we’re definitely curious to hear what presidential historian and author Jon Meacham has to say on the topic of presidents past—and present—on Feb. 12 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. Meacham has written about presidents from Jefferson to Jackson to George H.W. Bush, and his perspective on more recent occupants of the White House should be illuminating.

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Sarasota Orchestra Masterworks 5

Orchestras, ensembles and choral groups all over the country are planning concerts honoring the 100th anniversary of the birth of composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein this season. We’re most excited about the Sarasota Orchestra’s Feb. 22-25 performances of his Serenade after Plato’s Symposium, because it’s being played by violin legend Midori, who’s been wowing audiences ever since her New York Philharmonic debut back in 1982 at the age of 11. She’s backed here by conductor Michael Balke and the orchestra’s musicians. Also on the program: works by Rossini and Beethoven (Symphony No. 6, Pastorale), which should make for a gloriously romantic evening. 953-3434, 

Bullets Over Broadway

Another first for the area, this musical version of the Woody Allen film about a young playwright whose first Broadway show is financed by (gulp) a gangster takes to the Players stage Feb. 22 through March 11. It’s part of a season artistic director Jeffery Kin has chosen highlighting a show biz theme; he calls it “the pinnacle show” of the year. And director Jared E. Walker says it has everything he looks for in a musical: “jazz, gangsters, pretty girls, tap dancing, love and mayhem.” We’re in. (BTW, auditions are Nov. 18, in case you think you’ve got what it takes.) 365-2494, 

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Still Life at the Penguin Cafe

Image: Bill Cooper

Sarasota Ballet: Dreams of Nature

Two company premieres highlight the ballet’s March performances. The first, Sir Frederick Ashton’s The Dream (set to music by Mendelssohn), was originally part of a Royal Ballet celebration for the quarter centenary of Shakespeare’s birth, adapting A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a focus on the four mixed-up lovers of the play. The second, David Bintley’s Still Life at the Penguin Café, is set to music by Simon Jeffes, and tells the tale of a host of animals seeking shelter from a storm—all of them endangered species. Bintley calls it “a metaphor for the salvation of animals, and humans, too.” March 2 and 3 at the Van Wezel, with full orchestra. 359-0099, 

Sarasota Opera: Norma

For years, the Sarasota Opera avoided the compositions of Vincenzo Bellini—not through any fault of the 19th-century Italian, but because his work seemed too similar to that of Giuseppe Verdi as the company worked its way through its Verdi Cycle. Now, however, we’ll see and hear the first-ever Bellini opera on the opera house stage, with this 1831 piece. It offers a tour-de-force role for the soprano portraying Norma, a Druid priestess (Joanna Parisi, last seen here in Madama Butterfly), and also welcomes the Sarasota debut of tenor Cameron Schutza as Norma’s Roman love interest, Pollione. Onstage March 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20 and 24 at the opera house. 328-1300, 

Saraosta Opera: Tiefland

Another Sarasota Opera premiere this season, this one by German composer Eugen d’Albert. It’s a rare American production (only two stateside since 1908!), based on an 1896 Catalan play about poor Marta, the unwilling mistress of a wealthy landowner who’s married off to shepherd Pedro, who promptly falls in love with her. It’s a passionate example of early 20th-century verismo opera (relating to real, poor, ordinary people instead of kings and nobles), starring returning soprano Kara Shay Thomson (Tosca, Fidelio) as Marta, with three male artists—baritone Aleksey Bogdanov, tenor Ben Gulley and bass Branch Fields—making their Sarasota debuts. March 10, 15, 18, 21 and 25. 328-1300,

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Motown the Musical

Image: Joan Marcus

Motown the Musical

What is the hold that Motown songs have on our hearts? Could be where we were and who we were with when we first heard them; could be the way they blend rhythm and pop sounds so well in both ballads and up-tempo tunes; could be the star power of the acts—the Supremes, the Temptations, Smokey Robinson, etc.—who performed them. You get all that, plus the story of the man behind Motown’s success, Berry Gordy, in this song-packed musical, making its Sarasota premiere with eight performances, March 27 through April 1 at the Van Wezel. 953-3368, 

Women Laughing Alone with Salad

If you’ve ever watched TV’s Shameless or Hulu’s Casual, you’ve seen the work of writer Sheila Callaghan. But Callaghan’s raucous comedy, onstage in a regional premiere at Urbanite Theatre, April 6 through May 6, gives her free rein to express her more personal obsessions in a “gender-bending feminist fantasia with balls,” according to Urbanite’s press materials. The piece takes off from those stock advertising images we’ve all seen of slender models laughing happily over bowls of mixed greens, but it develops into a free-for-all exploring the expectations society places on women’s bodies. Urbanite’s co-artistic director Summer Wallace will act; Asolo Rep education and outreach specialist Ria Cooper will direct. 321-1397,

The Grapes of Wrath

Venice Theatre winds up its mainstage season, April 10-29, with its ambitious production of this John Steinbeck epic, adapted by Sarasota’s own Frank Galati and a Tony winner on Broadway back in 1990. The production, which includes music by composer Michael Smith, may be a challenging one, as it takes the struggling Joad family from the Oklahoma Dust Bowl to California looking for a better life at the height of the Depression; there are considerable technical, size and dramatic demands here for a community theater. But we’re betting VT, under the direction of Kelly Wynn Woodland, can pull it off. 488-1115,

Sarasota Film Festival

Can it really be 20 years since we all started packing the lobby of the Hollywood 20, gaping at the red-carpet stars, and getting all gussied up for the creatively themed parties of the film fest? Yep. This year’s 20th anniversary edition takes place April 13-22, but you know that at this early date that’s about all we can tell you. Head to for updates as the April event nears. 

Much Ado About Nothing

Last season’s FSU/Asolo Conservatory production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in the idyllic setting of Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, was a sellout. We’re betting more of the same for this year’s Shakespearean romp, featuring resistant lovers Beatrice and Benedick sparring amid the natural beauties of the gardens. The entire ensemble of second-year graduate actors performs, April 18 through May 6. 351-8000, 

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Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma

The Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma

Fans of classical music will applaud the long overdue return of cellist Yo-Yo Ma to the Van Wezel stage—especially when accompanied by the musicians of the Silk Road Ensemble, which he founded in 2000. The ensemble represents dozens of nationalities and artistic traditions, from Spain and Japan to Syria and the United States. Their most recent album, Sing Me Home, won the Grammy for Best World Music Album, demonstrating their success with their mission to create a new, shared musical language. Onstage April 19. 953-3368,

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Here’s one of those musicals that draws freely from classic Broadway tunes—by George and Ira Gershwin, no less—and original comic material by the likes of Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse, but adds its own modern take (via playwright Joe DiPietro). The story, set in the Roaring ’20s, is about a slightly disreputable playboy marrying without love to keep his fortune. But then, natch, he falls for a female bootlegger on the lam. Cue a colorful cast of characters including a senator, a police chief and a duchess, and relish Gershwin tunes including “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” and the title number. Onstage in a local premiere, April 26 through May 13 at the Manatee Players’ Stone Hall. 748-5875, 


Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens’ musical adaptation of E.L. Doctorow’s mesmerizing look at America in the early part of the 20th century is a sweeping tale, combining storylines related to immigrants, race, class, the changing roles of women and much more. On Broadway, it was a massive show; at Asolo Rep, Minneapolis director Peter Rothstein has reimagined the piece in a highly theatrical way that both adapts it for the smaller Asolo Rep stage and reveals its true heart. A collaboration with Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre, running here May 4-27. 351-8000,

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