Hot Tickets

This Season's Top 24 Must-See Exhibits, Shows and Talks

World premieres, family favorites, international superstars—it’s an arts and entertainment season to celebrate. Mark your calendars now.

By Kay Kipling November 1, 2019 Published in the November 2019 issue of Sarasota Magazine

Il Divo


Van Wezel 50th Anniversary Concert, Jan. 5

Fifty years ago, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall opened with a performance of Fiddler on the Roof and changed Sarasota’s arts scene forever. Our small city became big news, eventually welcoming international stars like Vladimir Horowitz, Beverly Sills, Leonard Bernstein, Duke Ellington and countless more. This celebratory concert is no different, bringing to the Sarasota stage for the first time the classical crossover male quartet Il Divo, a group that’s earned more than 100 gold and platinum awards in more than 30 countries. And yes, besides the music, there will be cake after the show. (941) 953-3368, 

Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Feb. 12

The Sarasota Concert Association celebrates its 75th anniversary in grand style with a stunner of a concert by the CSO at the Van Wezel, led by conductor Riccardo Muti. The world-renowned orchestra will present the same all-Prokofiev program it’s performing at Carnegie Hall this month: the composer’s Symphony No. 3 and selections from Romeo & Juliet (a popular choice this arts season!). It’s the first time the orchestra has graced a Sarasota stage since 2007, and the first appearance here for Muti, so anticipation among classical music lovers is high. (941) 225-6500,

Sarasota Orchestra Masterworks, March 12-15

Longtime Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart leads the orchestra in works by Kodály (Dances of Galánta), Beethoven (Piano Concerto No. 4) and Bartok (Concerto for Orchestra) in concerts at the Neel Performing Arts Center and the Van Wezel. Superstar Jeremy Denk (“a pianist you want to hear no matter what he performs,” according to The New York Times) lends his talents to the famously challenging Beethoven Concerto, which the composer himself performed as soloist at its premiere back in 1808. Big shoes to fill. (941) 953-3434,

La Wally, March 7, 10, 12, 15, 18, 22

The last time Alfredo Catalani’s seldom-produced opera La Wally was presented by the Sarasota Opera 30 years ago, the lead of the mountain girl Wally, whose heart is broken by the man she loves, was performed by Stephanie Sundine. Now Sundine returns to the piece as its stage director, with husband Maestro Victor DeRenzi conducting. Italian soprano Teresa Romano makes her Sarasota Opera debut in the role. It’s a whole new production visually, with set design by Steven C. Kemp and costume design by Howard Tsvi Kaplan. But the tragic ending stays the same. (941) 328-1300, 

Sarasota Jazz Festival, March 8-14

The jazz fest swings into its 40th anniversary with a full roster of concerts, most of them taking place March 12, 13 and 14 at the Sarasota Municipal Auditorium. (The popular Jazz Trolley also hits 10 Sarasota nightspots March 11.) Director-host Ken Peplowski plays each night, including with headliners Manhattan Transfer (“Operator,” “Java Jive”), featuring the vocal harmonies of Alan Paul, Janis Siegel, Cheryl Bentyne and Trist Curless, March 14. Also onboard: famed Venice-based pianist Dick Hyman, La Lucha, Clairdee, Houston Person and more. March 14 presents performers on four stages, offering a mix of blues, Latin, contemporary and classic. More special events TBA. (941) 366-1552,

Listen to the Earth, April 19

There’ll no doubt be a plethora of celebrations around the country of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in April 2020. This one, commissioned and presented by Choral Artists of Sarasota, features the world premiere of part-time Sarasota resident James Grant’s choral cantata, based on the writings of astronauts who’ve seen our planet from a unique point of view, and the ecological works of John Muir and Robert W. Service. Baritone Marcus DeLoach joins the ensemble in concert at the Sarasota Opera House under the baton of artistic director Dr. Joseph Holt. BTW, Tony-winning actress Jane Alexander will speak at an event tied to Choral Artists’ Earth Day initiative the day before, too. (941) 387-6046,

Come From Away, at the Van Wezel April 28-May 3.

Image: Courtesy Photo 


Bright Star, Nov. 6-Jan. 3

Florida Studio Theatre opens its season with this Steve Martin-Edie Brickell musical—a tale of love and redemption set in the Blue Ridge Mountains just after World War II. Editor Alice Murphy (Meredith Jones, Patsy in last summer’s Always...Patsy Cline at FST) meets returning serviceman and aspiring writer Billy Lane and tries to help him get started. But she herself is haunted by her earlier doomed romance with Jimmy Ray Dobbs (Blake Price, who played killer Monty Navarro in the national tour of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder). More than half of the show’s actors serve as instrumentalists, too, and the bluegrass/country score is a winner. (941) 366-9000, 

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Dec. 13-15

You don’t have to be a Carole King fan to enjoy this stage hit about her rise to songwriting fame, and her sometimes unhappy personal life with husband and partner Gerry Goffin. But then, really, who doesn’t have fond memories of at least a few of King’s songs? “One Fine Day,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “I Feel the Earth Move,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman”—her creations are part of the soundtrack of our lives. The show earned raves on Broadway for its “snazzy stagecraft,” too. At the Van Wezel. (941) 953-3368,

Caroline, or Change, Jan. 8-Feb. 16

Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe kicks off 2020 with this Tony Kushner piece as its first show in its newly renovated theater. Kushner, so acclaimed for his epic Angels in America, went deeply personal with this story of an African-American maid, Caroline, and the Jewish family, the Gellmans, she works for back in 1963 in rural Louisiana, where Kushner grew up. Jeanine Tesori’s score mixes blues, gospel and klezmer; it will be sung by Jannie Jones (familiar to Florida Studio Theatre audiences as well) in the lead, with Tommy Lelyo and Charlie Shoemaker alternating as young Noah Gellman, who forms a bond with Caroline. Directed by Jim Weaver. (941) 366-1505,

Sender, Jan. 10-Feb. 16

Urbanite Theatre’s co-artistic director Brendan Ragan admits that Chicago-based playwright Ike Holter’s Sender, which Ragan is directing, “should come with a giant asterisk because it’s got a large amount of adult content” as it takes an uncensored look at a representative group of millennials and the lengths they’ll go to in order to escape growing up. Also described as “witty, foul-mouthed and razor-sharp,” Sender is one of seven plays in Holter’s Rightlynd Saga, all set in Chicago’s fictional 51st Ward. Maybe leave the kids at home for this one. (BTW, Holter was also a staff writer for FX’s recent Fosse/Verdon series.) (941) 321-1397,

Matilda, Jan. 16-Feb. 2

It’s an area debut for this Tony-winning musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved story of the magical Matilda—who has telekinetic powers, negligent parents, and a love for reading and her teacher, Miss Honey—and the Manatee Players have got it. (Venice Theatre will also stage the show in May as part of its “Generations” programming.) The multi-award-winning show features songs by Tim Minchin (Groundhog Day); no word yet on the lucky girl who gets to play Matilda, but artistic director Ricky Kerby directs and choreographs, backed by veteran musical director Rick Bogner. (941) 748-5875,

Lifespan of a Fact, Jan. 24-March 19

Here’s one of those plays that seem “ripped from the headlines” in its telling of a true story. It centers on millennial fact-checker Jim Fingal, whose questions on a creative nonfiction magazine essay by a well-known writer, John D’Agata, lead to a pitched battle between “truth” and “accuracy,” even as the magazine itself struggles to survive. Fingal and D’Agata are real people (portrayed by Daniel Radcliffe and Bobby Cannavale in the recent Broadway production), and their conflict resonates in a media landscape where cries of “fake news” dominate the chatter. Asolo Rep associate director Celine Rosenthal makes her mainstage directorial debut here. (941) 351-8000, 

Head Over Heels, Feb. 19-March 8

Another area premiere, this one for the Players Centre for Performing Arts, now in its 90th season. Set to the music of the Go-Go’s (“We Got the Beat,” “Heaven is a Place on Earth”), the plot is loosely derived from a 16th-century play written in iambic pentameter by Sir Philip Sidney (?!). It tells the tale of a kingdom that seems perfect, but is at risk of losing everything if it’s not willing to accept change. Managing artistic director Jeffery Kin says he loves the fact that “it’s a classic story that deals with acceptance, loving who you are and accepting those who may be different from you.” Plus, it really does have a beat. Brian Finnerty directs; Michelle Kasanofsky is musical director. (941) 365-2494,

Knoxville, April 10-25

Asolo Rep’s world premiere of this musical based on James Agee’s autobiographical novel A Death in the Family has a lot of things going for it. Among them: its creators, which include the songwriting team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Anastasia, Ragtime, Once on This Island) and adapter-director Frank Galati (Ragtime, The Grapes of Wrath). Add to that choreography by Josh Rhodes (who also worked on Asolo’s Evita and Guys and Dolls), and, of course, the heart-tugging beauty of the original story of Agee surrogate, the boy Rufus, and the loss he suffers in 1915 Knoxville. This one is bound to get some national attention. (941) 351-8000,

Chicago, April 17-May 3

It’s hard to believe, but Venice Theatre, marking its 70th season this year, has somehow never done a production of this popular Bob Fosse musical set in the hard-drinking, crime-filled Windy City of the 1920s. That omission will be rectified with the mainstage season closing out with this tale of those murderous babes Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly and their razzle-dazzle lawyer, Billy Flynn. Too early to know who’s doing the shimmies and soft shoes onstage, but VT’s artistic director Allan Kollar will helm the show, with Geena Ravella adapting Fosse’s trademark choreography and the very busy Michelle Kasanofsky as music director. (941) 488-1115,

Come From Away, April 28-May 3

Another Broadway musical making its Van Wezel debut, Come From Away tells the true and inspiring story about what happened immediately after 9/11, when 7,000 stranded air passengers converged on the small town of Gander in Newfoundland, Canada. Personal tales of how they were welcomed, housed and fed by the town’s residents (the mayor, a police constable, a teacher and more) intertwine with songs by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, as relationships are formed that last far beyond those first dark days. Warning: New York Times critic Ben Brantley wrote, “even the most stalwart cynics may have trouble staying dry-eyed.” (941) 953-3368, 

Julie Andrews


An Evening of Conversation with Julie Andrews, Nov. 14

Andrews, whose career has spanned an incredible eight decades (she started in vaudeville as a kid in the 1940s), is one of those few stars for whom the word “legendary” really does seem to apply. She’ll relive some of the memories in her appearance at the Van Wezel with her daughter and co-author, Emma Walton Hamilton, where audience members will get to ask her their questions. And while she will not be singing, with a video montage of her work likely to include clips from stage (My Fair Lady, Camelot) and screen (Victor/Victoria, Mary Poppins), the hall will definitely be alive with the sound of music. (941) 953-3368, 

Rick Steves, Feb. 11

When the 40th anniversary Ringling College Library Association 2020 speaker line-up was announced last spring at the Van Wezel, the audience reacted with gasps of pleasure at the name of travel guru Steves. Popular as host of his own public television series, Rick Steves’ Europe, and the author of more than 50 European travel books, the easygoing Steves helps visitors connect with their destinations in a “temporary locals” sort of way, instead of just following the tried-and-truth path of most mainstream tourists. Wonder where he’ll steer his Sarasota audience next. At the Van Wezel. (941) 309-5100, 

Visual Arts

Sarasota Art Museum: Vik Muniz, Dec. 14-March 9

After years in the making, the Sarasota Art Museum of Ringling College (SAM for short) opens its doors at the reimagined Sarasota High School building in December. Several exhibits mark this inaugural season, including some long-running site-specific installations. But the retrospective of the work of Vik Muniz is, in the words of executive director Anne-Marie Russell, “an ideal choice to introduce our new audiences to photography, appropriation, drawing and art that is fundamentally about looking and seeing.” The Brazilian-born Muniz works with unconventional materials like diamonds, peanut butter and jelly and trash, often to re-create famous images and then photograph them, raising questions about authenticity and reality. Can you believe what you see?

Syd Solomon: Concealed and Revealed, Dec. 15-April 26

Any longtime Sarasota art lover recognizes at once the memorable images painted by arts colony leader Solomon, who moved here in 1946 with his wife, Annie. The “Abstract Impressionist,” as he called himself, produced a prolific body of work in his lifetime, much of it demonstrating his fascination with the sea and shore. This retrospective at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art—where his was the first work of contemporary art to be collected, back in 1962—looks at many of those major canvases while also paying tribute to his career as a graphic artist and experience as a camouflage designer during World War II. (941) 359-5700,

Salvador Dalí: Gardens of the Mind, Feb. 9-June 30

With The Dalí Museum right next door in St. Pete, it was only a matter of time before Marie Selby Botanical Gardens partnered with the institution to present the next in its series of art exhibits tied to plants and nature. (Past artists represented have been Marc Chagall, Paul Gauguin and Andy Warhol.) This show will feature 10 colorful photolithographs of flowers by Dalí in FlorDalí, along with images from Venice-based photographer Clyde Butcher’s Visions of Dalí’s Spain, at the Gardens’ Museum of Botany & the Arts. Expect a truly surreal display of tropical plants in the Tropical Conservatory and gardens to accompany the art, too. (941) 366-5731, 

Danielle Brown and Ricardo Rhodes in Sir Frederick Ashton’s Romeo & Juliet


Romeo & Juliet, March 27 and 28

The Sarasota Ballet launches into full romantic mode with its premiere of the Shakespeare tale, choreographed in 1955 for the Royal Danish Ballet by Sir Frederick Ashton to music by Sergei Prokofiev, now onstage at the Van Wezel. There’s a lot of back story to this production—Peter Schaufuss, who owns the performance rights to the ballet, has personal ties, since his mother danced as the original Juliet and his father as the original Mercutio. (He himself played a young child as an extra in that first production.) Besides that, Schaufuss’ son, Luke, who has danced both Romeo and Mercutio, is joining the ballet as a principal dancer this season. A family affair, indeed. (941) 359-0099,

Circus Sarasota


Circus Sarasota, Feb. 7-March 1

A Circus Sarasota favorite, the clown Renaldo, is a returning performer this season, but the 2020 line-up mostly brings new acts to the Big Top at Nathan Benderson Park. There’s juggling with Get the Shoe! (yes, the act is centered around a pair of shoes); equestrian excitement with The Alanian Riders, who derive their feats from the military tactics of the Russian Cossacks; flag pole artistry with soloist Dima Shine; hand balancing and acrobatics from Ethiopian troupe Dire Boys; trapeze daring with both Duo 19 and solo swinging trapeze star Kaely; and flipping, somersaulting and more above the ground from Trio Dandy. (941) 355-9805, 


Sarasota Film Festival, March 27-April 5

You didn’t really expect any film titles, star names or other details about the annual event this far ahead, did you? That’s not the way it works in film festival land, but you know you can count on brand-new features, shorts, documentaries and filmmaker talks, along with a soirée and a red carpet or two. (941) 364-9514, 

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