To say that arts organizations, and their audiences, are eager to get back into “normal” mode after the long, long hiatus the pandemic has caused would be quite an understatement. Everyone who loves music, dance, theater and the visual arts hungers for that day when we are once again checking our calendars to make sure we can enjoy all the shows and performances we want to.
But we’ve learned over the past 20 months that we can’t take anything for granted. So, with a big disclaimer that all of the information presented here is subject to change, here’s an arts preview for a—fingers crossed—lively and lovely season.
Bramwell Tovey Concerts
Oct. 30, 2021; also April 1, 2 and 3, 2022
The Sarasota Orchestra has been without a full-time, official music director for months since the departure of Anu Tali. In August, though, the organization announced new music director designate Tovey, who has conducted prestigious orchestras around the world and led the BBC Concert Orchestra, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and more. While he didn’t plan the coming season, he will take up the baton for two special concert occasions. The first, Tovey: The Adventure Begins (with violinist James Ehnes) is set for Oct. 30 at the Sarasota Opera House; the second, the season-closing Masterworks offering "Breaking Boundaries" in April at the Van Wezel, features works by Ravel, Richard Strauss and Mendelssohn, and welcomes guest violinist Angelo Xiang Yu. It’s a step towards the orchestra’s future.
Fantasy, Firebird and Fabiola
April 22 and 23, 2022
The fantasy in these Venice Symphony concerts at the Venice Performing Arts Center stems from musical excerpts from How to Train Your Dragon and Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries; the Firebird is, naturally, Igor Stravinsky’s groundbreaking The Firebird Suite. And the Fabiola—well, that’s violinist Fabiola Kim, who’s been hailed by The New York Times as a “brilliant soloist” with “extraordinary precision and luminosity.” She’ll bring that into play on her rendition of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ much-loved The Lark Ascending, inspired by a poem by British writer George Meredith. The spirit should soar along with the bird.
The Daughter of the Regiment (Le fille du regiment)
Feb. 19, 23, 26 and March 1, 3, 6 and 18, 2022
Tragedy may be the stuff of some of the greatest operas, but honestly, after the year we’ve had, we’re looking forward to more light-hearted work onstage at the Sarasota Opera House this season. Gaetano Donizetti’s colorful comedy, set in the Tyrol during the Napoleonic Wars, fills the bill. Its story of young foundling Marie, taken in and raised by a French regiment, and of her love for young officer Tonio has a happy ending, and that’s welcome. BTW, Tonio will be sung by tenor William Davenport, who starred as Rodolfo in last year’s Sarasota Opera production of La bohème. No word at press time on casting for Marie.
Sarah Brightman: A Christmas Symphony
Dec. 14, 2021
Soprano Brightman made her West End debut in Cats in London back in 1981 (prior to marrying its composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber, for a time). She also originated the role of Christine in The Phantom of the Opera a few years later, and has since become the world’s best-selling soprano, with a voice that can easily switch from classical to pop and back again in one evening’s performance. But, strangely, she’s never before appeared at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. That will be rectified when she performs A Christmas Symphony, accompanied by full orchestra and choir, in a concert blending traditional Christmas music with some of her own faves. That should help to brighten the holidays.
Harry Connick Jr.
Jan. 27, 2022
Singer-actor-composer-TV host Connick has been winning hearts at least since he lent his voice to the soundtrack of When Harry Met Sally, in 1989, crooning standards like “It Had To Be You” and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” Since then, of course, he’s starred on stage and screen, written musical scores, and raised money for his native town of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Now he can help raise some money for a local cause—the Van Wezel Foundation and its educational outreach—as the featured performer at the foundation’s glittering annual gala at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. Swoon-worthy.
A Comedy of Errors
March 25 and 26, 2022
The world premiere of Sir David Bintley’s version of Shakespeare’s farce about two sets of identical twins separated at birth should play entertainingly off the original’s slapstick, puns and merry mishaps due to mistaken identity. A commission by the Sarasota Ballet, the full-length work features music by Australian composer Matthew Hindson in his third collaboration with choreographer Bintley, whose Scottish Dances and Still Life at the Penguin Café are also part of the Sarasota company’s repertoire. It’s a chance to get to know the ballet’s new dancers, too. At the Van Wezel.
The Letter V
April 29 and 30, 2022
The company premiere of choreographer Mark Morris’ piece set to Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 88 in G will help to close out the Sarasota Ballet season at the Sarasota Opera House. (The title comes because Haydn’s symphonies were once designated by letters of the alphabet; this one was “V”). Surprisingly, perhaps, it’s the first time the company has presented a Morris work, although it does welcome the Mark Morris Dance Group to town this season as well. In a review of the Houston Ballet’s production, The New York Times’ Alastair Macaulay noted that composer and choreographer share the same qualities: “high spirits, terrific humor, a strong inclination to the pastoral and a keen instinct for structural experimentation.” We’re eager.
The Cuban Project
April 28-May 1, 2022
Sarasota Contemporary Dance co-founder and artistic director Leymis Bolaños-Wilmott mines her own family’s personal history, as well as those of many others, in this premiere piece focused on the displacement that Cuban-Americans felt after thousands fled the regime of Fidel Castro in the late 1950s and early 1960s. “Mi Historia, Tu Historia, y Nuestra Historia (My Story, Your Story, Our Story)” explores their stories through movement and live music, in the Cook Theatre.
Feb. 11-March 6, 2022
The circus is back after last year’s cancellation, and while the Big Top will still be going up at Nathan Benderson Park, it will have a new spot there—on the park’s island by the finishing tower rather than behind the University Town Center mall. Contracts were still being signed at press time, but many of the artists who will take to the tent have appeared on TV’s America’s Got Talent, as well as thrilling audiences all over the world. Crack open the popcorn and get ready for thrills and laughter.
At the Wake of a Dead Drag Queen
Oct. 29-Dec. 5, 2021
Downtown’s Urbanite Theatre plans to begin its season with the regional premiere of this play by Chicago-based Terry Guest, which welcomes guests to a wake for drag star Courtney Berringers (played by Donovan Session; also starring as “Vickie Versailles” is Shea Peterson), who has died of complications from AIDS. But don’t expect the experience to be gut-wrenching. The play, which is receiving its third full production with San Francisco’s Rhinoceros concurrently with Urbanite’s, is billed as a celebration, “with no black frocks, no perfumed flowers and definitely no crying.” We are up for that. Atlanta-based director Damian Lockhart heads the show, and audience participation is part of the deal.
Jan. 20-Feb. 6, 2022
Everybody loves the Little Tramp character actor-director-writer-producer Charlie Chaplin created well over a century ago. But do you know the story of his troubled childhood, his frenzied romantic life, and the political beliefs that made him an exile from America? All that, plus the making of legendary films like Modern Times and The Great Dictator, is wrapped into this musical with a score by Christopher Curtis, onstage in a Manatee Players production at the Manatee Performing Arts Center. An area premiere, and a touching reminder of a silver screen genius.
Nov. 17, 2021-Jan. 1, 2022
Fingers crossed that all can move ahead as planned with this season opener for Asolo Repertory Theatre, as Covid continues to hover like a villain over live theater. Perhaps the “tribal” rock musical, with book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado and music by Galt MacDermot, could transfer naturally enough to the out of doors if need be, given its free-spirited form and 1968 vibe? No details at press time on casting, but director and choreographer will be Josh Rhodes, who’s previously helmed The Sound of Music, Evita and Guys and Dolls here. He’ll be up to the challenge as long as Equity union rules allow.
April 15-May 11, 2022
Please, please, please let this long-delayed (due to Covid) world premiere production finally take the stage this season at Asolo Rep! We’ve been waiting for it ever since we first heard a couple of songs by the award-winning team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime, Anastasia) many months ago at a sneak preview. Frank Galati’s adaptation of James Agee’s autobiographical novel A Death in the Family (and the Tad Mosel play All the Way Home based on it) is sure to deliver plenty of heart in its moving story of a family’s loss and a community’s coming together. We need it now.
The Play That Goes Wrong
Opening Jan. 19, 2022
We are so ready to laugh out loud with this London and Broadway hit by Henry Lewis, Henry Shields and Jonathan Sayer, playing at Florida Studio Theatre’s Gompertz Theatre. Here’s the setup: Back in the 1920s, it’s the opening night of the show The Murder at Haversham Manor, and it’s bedeviled by an unconscious leading lady, a corpse that can’t play dead, and actors who trip over everything including their lines. This sort of outrageous comedy is a lot harder than it looks for the cast to pull off, but it’s super easy for the audience to sit back and forget their own worries for a couple of hours.
Nov. 2-21, 2021
Remember the classic morality tale Everyman we all read sometime back in high school or college? The one where the protagonist (read: mankind) must account for the deeds of his lifetime to attain salvation at death? Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (whose Gloria was a memorable production at Asolo Rep a few seasons ago) has put a contemporary spin on the story, with this hook: A lottery system determines what role each cast member plays each night, so every actor must be prepared to perform any of the characters. Intriguing....and a learning experience for the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training MFA students who will bring it to life.
Jan. 12-Feb. 24, 2022
Originally set for the 2019-20 season, this world premiere musical by Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe artistic director Nate Jacobs and his brother Michael centers on the true story of a 1952 murder in Live Oak, Florida. It was there that a black woman, Ruby McCollum, shot and killed a white doctor, for reasons that were muddied during a trial set in the segregated South. More than 60 years later, is it possible to arrive at a truth that takes her whole story into account? We hope to find out.
March 18-20, 2022
Speaking of songwriting team Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (see Knoxville), they, along with the late Tony Award-winning playwright (and part-time Sarasota resident) Terrence McNally, are responsible for this Broadway musical about the supposed Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia. Did she survive the killings of her royal family, and could she be the amnesiac orphan Anya whom two con men are preparing to play that role? This adaptation of the 1997 animated movie adds characters and a lot of new songs to the original; it should prove a family favorite in a touring production this spring at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.
The Last Five Years
March 4-April 3, 2022
There are certainly many bigger, splashier modern musicals around than this intimate two-hander with book, music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown (who also worked on the stage version of Bridges of Madison County). But we’ve loved this show, a Drama Desk winner based loosely on Brown’s own disintegrating marriage, ever since we first saw it, and we think you will, too. There’s a gimmick: His story is told in chronological order from when the couple first meets; hers is told backwards, starting at the end of the relationship. But mainly, there’s a lot of honestly rendered emotion. Onstage in Venice Theatre’s Stage II series.
Jan. 19-30, 2022
It’s been a while since one of the many versions of this Gerard Alessandrini spoof of the hit Broadway productions everybody knows has popped up on a local stage, and we’re ready to laugh—with love—at the comic twists spun on songs from Wicked, Les Miz, Phantom of the Opera, etc. It seems like perfect fodder for the Players Centre for Performing Arts’ new, smaller home at Studio 1130 at The Crossings at Siesta Key, where you can feel involved close up to the actors.
Feb. 21, 2022
The Ringling College Library Association Town Hall series has a strong lineup this season, with football’s Tony Dungy and politics’ Chris Christie among the speakers at the Van Wezel. But we are most interested in what Farrow, who won the Pulitzer Prize for public service for his New Yorker reporting on alleged sexual abuse by longtime Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, has to say about men, women and bad behavior. He’s smart, he’s committed, he’s witty—you could say we are fans.
Dave Barry & Alan Zweibel
Jan. 11, 2022
You just have to figure you’re going to laugh a lot when these two humorists combine for an event in the People of the Book Author Lecture Series presented by the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee—hopefully in person as planned, but they could be just as funny on Zoom. Barry is known to all as the longtime Miami Herald newspaper columnist who’s also penned numerous works of fiction; Zweibel was an original Saturday Night Live writer who went on to It’s Garry Shandling’s Show and Curb Your
Enthusiasm credits as well as Billy Crystal’s 700 Sunday Nights. We’re talking comedy gold here, people.
Hard Bodies: Contemporary Japanese Lacquer Sculpture
Oct. 31, 2021-Jan. 23, 2022
Artisans have used the sap of the lacquer tree to create everyday items for centuries, often crafting them for beauty as well as purpose by incorporating precious stones and other materials into their works. But over the last few decades, some contemporary artists have found different, innovative ways to make large-scale sculptures gleaming with that lustrous lacquered surface. On view at The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art: 53 pieces by 16 artists, all gleaned from the Clark Collections of the Minneapolis Institute of Art (the only collection in the world devoted to this form), so that we, too, can see lacquer with new eyes.
Judith Linhares: The Artist as Curator
Nov. 27-April 2, 2022
Painter Linhares, whose works are in such collections as the Whitney, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and many more, creates vibrant figurative and narrative canvases, often blending influences from expressionism to Mexican modern art to her native Bay Area of California. In this show at the Sarasota Art Museum of Ringling College, she presents not only her own work but that of five other artists she selected. One arts writer has described her pieces, which sometimes depict long-limbed nude figures and wild animals in a kaleidoscope of colors, as “funny, strange and disconcerting.” Be prepared to engage.
Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith: Flowers, Poetry and Light
Feb. 13-June 26, 2022
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens’ Jean & Alfred Goldstein Exhibition Series has brought us delightful and unexpected creations related to plants and flowers by artists from Paul Gauguin to Andy Warhol to Roy Lichtenstein. But for the first time ever, the series presents the work of a living artist—singer/songwriter/poet Smith, whose lyrics and poetry touching on nature will combine with photographs of orchids, hyacinths and irises by her longtime soulmate, the late Robert Mapplethorpe. Better yet: Smith is expected to present a lecture and performance in the gardens on Feb. 15. Of course, per tradition, there will be living horticultural creations to view throughout the gardens