Season Preview

This Season’s Biggest and Best Shows, Performances, Exhibits, Talks and More

Mark those calendars.

By Kay Kipling November 1, 2023 Published in the November-December 2023 issue of Sarasota Magazine

The 2023-2024 arts season is here, and while theaters, galleries and other arts organizations are still working their way back from the Covid-19 pandemic depression of three years ago, the calendar is pretty much back to normal, with a full slate of music, theater and dance performances and an exciting lineup of visual arts exhibitions planned. Of course, you can’t make it to everything—but you can try, with this guide to some of the highlights headed our way.

Sarasota Ballet dancers Jennifer Hackbarth and Ricardo Rhodes.

Sarasota Ballet dancers Jennifer Hackbarth and Ricardo Rhodes.

Image: Frank Atura


The Art of War

Nov. 17 and 18

The Sarasota Ballet teams for the first time with choreographer Edwaard Liang, whose award-winning works have been performed by such companies as the New York City Ballet and the Mariinsky Ballet. The show is not the only war-related program on the bill. Frederick Ashton’s Dante Sonata, choreographed during the opening stages of World War II, will be presented, and, for a lighter view of the era, the company closes with Paul Taylor’s Company B, romping to the songs of the Andrews Sisters. It’s a trip back to the 1940s in several different styles. At the Sarasota Opera House.

Graziano Celebrated 

Jan. 26-29

That’s Sarasota Ballet resident choreographer Ricardo Graziano, not the boxer-turned-actor Rocky—but you knew that. These performances at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts will not only welcome a world premiere by Graziano (his 11th one-act ballet for the company), but will also reprise his Sonatina (set to music by Dvořák) and In a State of Weightlessness (music by Philip Glass).

Dance Makers 2024 

March 14-17

Sarasota Contemporary Dance promises a wide range of dance styles with this event on its 18th season schedule, from tap choreography by Frances Bradley-Vilier to jazz by Courtney Jones and interdisciplinary work by Andrea Ward. Also, a group work entitled Justice, by Vincent Hardy. There’s a little something for everyone. At the Cook Theatre at FSU Center for the Performing Arts. 

Circus Sarasota returns Feb. 16, 2024.

Circus Sarasota returns Feb. 16, 2024.

Image: Maike Schulz


Circus Sarasota

Feb. 16-March 10

The show under the Big Top near Nathan Benderson Park was not yet fully programmed at press time, but there’s already plenty to spark the interest of circus lovers. You can look forward to the hula hoop artistry of Anton Skopinov, bareback riding from Caleb Carinci-Asch, a quick change act with Duo Minasov, contortion and hand balancing by Noemi España, the nerve-racking Double Wheel of Destiny with Noe España and Marco Ponce Lopez, and diabolo (Chinese yo-yo) dexterity by España’s son, Elan—with yet more to come.

Hamilton comes to the Van Wezel in March 2024.

Hamilton comes to the Van Wezel in March 2024.


Tick, Tick…Boom! 

Jan. 10-28

Of course you know playwright and composer Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer- and Tony-winning smash musical Rent, but before that show made it big, there was this autobiographical piece about a composer and the sacrifices he makes to get his break in theater, working on an impossible deadline and under intense personal pressure. You may have caught the 2021 Netflix version of this show, directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, but we can’t recall a stage production of it locally before; it’s just the sort of show that should appeal to real theater nerds. A Sarasota Players production in the community theater’s temporary space in The Crossings at Siesta Key.

Jimmy Buffett’s Escape to Margaritaville

Jan. 19-Feb. 18

It’s been a rough year for Venice Theatre, which endured major damage to its main theater building during Hurricane Ian. The theater is moving ahead with restoration work, but in the meantime, what could lift the spirits of cast, crew and audience more than this upbeat show with all the familiar tunes from the late, great Buffett? We’re talking “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” and, of course, “Margaritaville,” all wrapped up inside several stories of romantic pairings amid a volcano eruption on a Caribbean island. We’ll drink to that. In the Raymond Center at the theater, which has limited seating, so book soon.


Jan. 30-Feb. 4

Part-time Sarasota resident Tom Kirdahy is a producer of this eight-time Tony Award winner, making its Sarasota premiere at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. With book and songs by Anaïs Mitchell, it’s a contemporary-feeling take on the ancient Greek myth about singer-songwriter Orpheus and his Eurydice, who feels compelled to escape poverty and cold by working underground in King Hades’ factory. Meanwhile, Hades himself is having problems with wife Persephone, who prefers life above ground, where flowers grow. It’s both a love story and something of a social critique—with a reference to climate change thrown in.

The Lehman Trilogy

Jan. 31-March 24

Florida Studio Theatre brings us the Florida premiere of this Tony Award-winning play about three immigrant brothers from Europe who founded a successful investment firm that ran for decades until its dramatic collapse in 2008. Written by Italian playwright Stefano Massini and adapted by Ben Powers for the English-speaking stage, the play features just three actors playing a range of roles, including brothers Henry, Emanual and Mayer. Producing artistic director Richard Hopkins helms this production at the Gompertz Theatre. Remember, it is a century-plus-long saga, so expect a three-hour running time.

Born With Teeth

Feb. 9-March 29

As part of producing artistic director Peter Rothstein’s inaugural season with Asolo Rep, the company presents this Alley Theatre world premiere by playwright Liz Duffy Adams. It sounds intriguing. You get to “grab a drink” at a London pub in the 1590s with William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe, whom we find battling and bantering amid professional rivalries, court scheming and even some high-stakes spy craft. The play’s tone has been described as “iconoclastic” and “punk-edged.” We’ll go for it. Rob Melrose, the Alley’s artistic director, steers this production.


Feb. 28-April 7

We’re almost afraid to include this world premiere musical by Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe artistic director Nate Jacobs and his brother Michael (with additional work on the songs by Nehemiah Luckett, Brennan Stylez and Antonio Wimberly). That’s because this show, based on the true story of a Black woman who shot a white doctor in 1950s segregated Live Oak, Florida, has twice been delayed due to Covid. Will the third time be the charm? And will it be worth the wait? Fingers crossed, and crossed again.


March 7-17

The Broadway revival of this musical by Jason Robert Brown and Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy) closed recently after much acclaim, but you have your chance to catch it here at the Manatee Performing Arts Center. Based on the true and terrible story of the 1913 trial in Georgia of Jewish factory manager Leo Frank for the murder of a young girl, the play follows not just his conviction despite his innocence and his eventual lynching, but the growing bond between him and his wife in the face of it all. This production will be helmed by longtime area director Scott Keys.


March 26-April 7

OK, everybody, it’s here at last! The Van Wezel welcomes Lin-Manuel Miranda’s megahit about founding father Alexander Hamilton and his relationships with George Washington, Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson, wife Eliza and, oh, yes, the American banking system. It’s been a long wait to see it here in Sarasota, but the hall isn’t holding back, scheduling a record-breaking 16 performances of the 11-time Tony-winning show. You know we have to say it: Don’t throw away your shot to be “in the room where it happens.”

Twelve Angry Men: A New Musical

May 11-June 9

Asolo Rep closes its season with this musical adaptation of the enduring Reginald Rose teleplay, film and stage play about a jury facing not only a hard decision, but their own secrets and demons, as well. In this version (with a book by David Simpatico and a jazz-infused score by Michael Holland), as you’d expect, that jury is more diverse than in the 1950s original, with half of them white and half people of color. Producing artistic director Peter Rothstein directs the production, which had its world premiere at Theatre Latté Da in Minneapolis, where the Minneapolis Star Tribune delivered this verdict: “a must-see musical” that is “as close to flawless as it could be.”


May 31-June 30

Urbanite Theatre followers may recall its 2021-2022 season production of playwright Terry Guest’s At the Wake of a Dead Drag Queen, which blended comedy, music and pathos in its depiction of the world of drag in the Deep South. Chicago-based Guest returns to those Southern accents with this world premiere that adds Gothic horror to the mix, with characters named Suga, Big Man and Pickle. It’s set in a creek-side community where a red-eyed monster is wreaking havoc on citizens—who will be next? Directed by fellow Chicago artist Mikael Burke.

Rick Estrin & the Nightcats perform at this year's Bradenton Blues Festival.

Rick Estrin & the Nightcats perform at this year's Bradenton Blues Festival.

Image: Rachel Kumar


Bradenton Blues Festival

Dec. 1 and 2

Tickets for this popular event often sell out before the performance week, but you can always try. After Friday night’s opener, the fest kicks into high gear at the Bradenton Riverwalk Pavilion at Rossi Park on Saturday, with a full day of musicians capped by a set featuring Rick Estrin & the Nightcats—the Blues Music Awards Band of the Year in 2018. Harmonica master and vocalist Estrin is joined by guitar man Chris “Kid” Anderson, keyboardist Lorenzo Farrell and drummer Alex Pettersen to send audiences home happy.

Rotterdam Philharmonic With Pianist Daniil Trifonov

March 3

It’s a romantic Russian evening when the Sarasota Concert Association presents this program, led by chief conductor Lahav Shani, that includes music from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet as well as the composer’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Both are natural pieces for the acclaimed 32-year-old Trifonov to play, given his virtuosic skills and his affinity for other countrymen-composers like Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky. The Times of London has described Trifonov as “without question the most astounding pianist of our age,” so we’re lucky to get him in Sarasota. At the Van Wezel.

Rhapsody in Blue @ 100

March 14-17

Sarasota Orchestra celebrates a century of listening to George Gershwin’s innovative, irresistible 1924 blend of classical and jazz sounds, with Peter Oundjian conducting and guest pianist Michelle Cann (whom the Boston Music Intelligencer has called “a compelling, sparkling virtuoso”) at the keyboards. Cann will also play Piano Concerto in One Movement by Florence Price—the first Black woman recognized as a symphonic composer. Cann has long been a force for having Price’s work heard and appreciated. 

Sarasota Jazz Festival

March 17-23

The annual jazz celebration is back, but in a new venue—the Sarasota Municipal Auditorium, where four nights of concerts will play out following the traditional daytime Jazz in the Park and the Jazz Trolley Crawl. Making the music will be, among others, the Terell Stafford Quintet, singer Dee Dee Bridgewater, the Grace Kelly Quartet, the Wycliffe Gordon Quintet, saxophonists Valerie Gillespie and Houston Person, and the legendary Cuban-born pianist, bandleader and arranger Chucho Valdés and his ensemble.

Crown Jewel Finale

April 26 and 27

The Venice Symphony marks the conclusion of its 50th anniversary season with its biggest concert ever, welcoming soprano Deanna Breiwick (dubbed a “vocal trapeze artist” by The New York Times) and baritone Dashon Burton (a 2021 Grammy winner for Best Classical Solo Vocal Album) to the Venice Performing Arts Center. They’ll be joined by Key Chorale on Ralph Vaughan Williams’ choral masterwork Dona Nobis Pacem, a piece written as a plea for peace in 1936. Also on the program: Hans Zimmer’s Main Title from The Crown, William Walton’s Crown Imperial and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ English Folk Song Suite. A fitting capper to a landmark season.

Deceit Outwitted (L’infedeltà delusa)

March 15-23

You may think of Austrian composer Joseph Haydn more in terms of his symphonies and chamber music than his operas, but he did write a number of the latter, including this comedy, which is receiving its first production by the Sarasota Opera. It centers on the daughter of peasant Filippo, who’s in love with a poor peasant herself. But Dad has his eye on the rich farmer Nencio for her. Not only a premiere for us, it’s the first fully staged professional production in the U.S. in more than 50 years. Frequent Sarasota Opera presence Hanna Brammer is joined by William Davenport, David Walton, Filippo Fontana and newcomer soprano Yulan Piao in the cast. 

Clyde Butcher: Nature Through the Lens is on view through August 2024 at Selby Gardens' Historic Spanish Point campus.

Clyde Butcher: Nature Through the Lens is on view through August 2024 at Selby Gardens' Historic Spanish Point campus.

Image: Clyde Butcher

Visual Arts

500 Years of Italian Drawings From the Princeton University Art Museum

Now through Jan. 21 

Princeton’s main museum building at its New Jersey campus is closed right now, due to construction of a brand-new museum. So it’s perhaps good timing that the university is sharing with The Ringling 95 works of art from its collections, spanning the late 15th century to the early 20th and highlighting such masters of drawing as Il Guercino, Bernini, Tiepolo and Modigliani. They should feel right at home amid The Ringling’s own roster of artists.

Clyde Butcher: Nature Through the Lens

Nov. 11-Aug. 31

Fans of Butcher’s acclaimed nature photography—and there are many—will be pleased to learn that the master of large-format, black-and-white images depicting Myakka River State Park, Big Cypress Nature Preserve, the Everglades and other Florida icons will be honored with an outdoor exhibition at Selby Gardens’ Historic Spanish Point campus. Fifteen of Butcher’s photos of the wild, printed on aluminum, will be on display in the point’s own natural landscape, in partnership with the Clyde Butcher Gallery & Studio in Venice.

Judy Pfaff: Picking up the Pieces

Nov. 19-March 17

We first became acquainted with—and intrigued by—the work of installation art pioneer (and MacArthur Foundation “genius” award winner) Pfaff some 40 years ago, when she had an exhibition at The Ringling. This season, she transforms the third-floor galleries of the Sarasota Art Museum, creating a new monumental, site-responsive piece that incorporates layers of household and industrial materials, as well as blown glass, LED lights and natural detritus. Her inspiration: climate change, after visits to Fort Myers and Sanibel Island following the destruction wrought by Hurricane Ian in 2022. Expect a unique and immersive experience on a grand scale.



Former Congresswoman Liz Cheney

Jan. 16

All political considerations aside, aren’t you curious about what Liz Cheney has to say about things in Washington, D.C., including (we’d assume) her role in investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection? We are. Cheney kicks off  Ringling College Library Association’s Town Hall season with appearances at the Van Wezel at 10:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Here’s hoping the presenters continue their tradition of a Q&A after the speech.

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