Season Preview

The Best Plays, Shows and Exhibitions in Sarasota This Season

Artistic directors have planned all sorts of exciting shows and performances for us.

By Kay Kipling Published in the November-December 2022 issue of Sarasota Magazine

Take a deep breath as we launch into the 2022-2023 arts season—one that we all hope will not be afflicted by the Covid-19 pandemic disturbances of the past two years. Artistic directors have planned all sorts of exciting shows and performances for us, and, as of press time, they will take place without the mask or vaccination restrictions that have affected attendance in recent years. Let’s look at some of the highlights.

Dance

The Sarasota Ballet, In the Night

Dec. 16 and 17

While it was a disappointment that the premiere of Sir David Bintley’s The Spider’s Feast for this slot has been postponed, the company premiere of dance master Jerome Robbins’ In the Night, set to four nocturnes by Chopin, should provide an engaging substitution. Dating from 1970, the piece focuses on three different couples at different stages of their relationships, and originally starred New York City Ballet eminences Patricia McBride and Peter Martins. In the Night joins the ballet’s popular Les Patineurs by Sir Frederick Ashton in performances at the Sarasota Opera House, just in time for the holidays.

Sarasota Contemporary Dance's Dance Makers

Sarasota Contemporary Dance's Dance Makers

Sarasota Contemporary Dance, Dance Makers

Jan. 26-29

Sarasota Contemporary Dance’s annual production featuring new, imaginative dance pieces created by choreographers from around the country is always interesting. This year, the range from jazz dance (performed to music by Miles Davis) to syncopated Afro-Cuban movement and dramatic solo and duet works sounds especially promising. Featured dance makers are Gilliane Hadely, Lisa del Rosario, Melissa Cobblah Gutierrez and Sarasota’s Tania Vergara Perez. All performances take place at the Cook Theatre, FSU Center for the Performing Arts.

The Sarasota Ballet, Shades of Spring

Jan. 27-30

The ballet joins forces for the first time with acclaimed choreographer Jessica Lang on Shades of Spring, making its first Sarasota appearance after the company presented it in a world premiere last August at New York’s Joyce Theatre. The music of Joseph Haydn is supported by sets and projection designs by Roxane Revon and costumes by Jillian Lewis, with floral and other natural references. The piece was called “fresh, inventive and pretty” in a New York Times review.

Momix: Alice

Feb. 8

Modern dance-illusionist company Momix has been a frequent visitor to the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall over the years, dazzling audiences with a creative mix of movement, music, lighting, videos, costuming and imagination. Lewis Carroll’s classic tale Alice in Wonderland is a natural choice for the troupe, led by founder Moses Pendleton. The show allows the dancers to shrink and grow just as Alice did, by means of props, ropes and their own bodies. Follow them down the rabbit hole for a magical, transformative evening.

Visual Arts

Gods and Lovers: Paintings and Sculptures from India

Nov. 12-May 28

The Ringling looks eastward for this show, which raids its own collection, along with several private Florida collections, to present small-format works, often created as book leaves or albums for contemplation by elite patrons. Royal courts from all over the vastness of India are represented here, dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Also on view: Hindu and Jain sculptures going as far back as the ninth century collected by the Ringlings themselves in the 1920s.

Tiffany: The Pursuit of Beauty in Nature

Feb. 12-June 25

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens has been on a roll with its annual Goldstein Exhibition, which examines the work of major artists through their connection to nature. This one—the first of its type to be presented in a botanical garden—juxtaposes Louis Comfort Tiffany’s famous stained-glass window, vase and lamp designs with horticultural displays in the gardens’ Tropical Conservatory and throughout the grounds of its downtown Sarasota campus. Kaleidoscopic vignettes of flowers and foliage will play with light, color and material, while guests will also learn about the history of the Tiffany firm.

A Beautiful Mess: Weavers and Knotters of the Vanguard

Feb. 25-June 25

This exhibit at the Sarasota Art Museum sounds beautiful indeed, with vibrant, contemporary textile work ranging from wall hangings to installations to monumental pieces all on view. Created by 10 female artists using a variety of techniques (twisting, tying and braiding rope, yarn, clay and twine), the show finds them pushing the boundaries of their individual mediums while giving us exquisite visions. The traveling exhibit originated with the Bedford Gallery of the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, California.

Sandy Cameron

Sandy Cameron

Music

Mahler: A View of Heaven

Jan. 5, 7 and 8

While Yo-Yo Ma will be the big star at the Sarasota Orchestra’s March gala this season, there’s much to appreciate in the full concerts of its Masterworks series. Case in point: these performances conducted by Peter Oundjian and featuring renowned violinist and area resident James Ehnes and soprano Laquita Mitchell, whose voice will soar on Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, depicting a child’s view of heaven. Ehnes, who will play Sibelius’ only (and famously demanding) Violin Concerto, was a close colleague of late orchestra music director Bramwell Tovey, to whom the whole season is dedicated.

Cinematic Romance

Feb. 3 and 4

Fall in love all over again while listening to the Venice Symphony’s renditions of great love themes from such movies as Casablanca and Gone With the Wind. You might also fall for guest violinist Sandy Cameron, who was dubbed “brilliant” by The Washington Post at her debut at the age of 12. Cameron has since gone on to stardom in a career that includes collaborations with composer Danny Elfman, whose Edward Scissorhands Suite she’ll play here, along with the tango from Scent of a Woman. Her previous performances have featured her wearing black leather, hair down and “dancing and playing up a storm,” according to one critic.

Get Happy: Michael Feinstein Celebrates the Judy Garland Centennial

Feb. 7

Any chance that you get to enjoy the work of two American music masters at once is a welcome one. In this one-night-only show at the Van Wezel, pianist-singer Feinstein pays homage to the late great Judy Garland, whose daughter, Liza Minnelli, is the executive producer, as well as a close friend of Feinstein’s. You can anticipate a journey through Garland’s often tempestuous life, filled with revealing stories, film clips, previously unheard musical arrangements and a few surprises.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra

March 1

You won’t want to miss one of the country’s most celebrated orchestras, performing in Grammy-winning music director Riccardo Muti’s final season with the company. The maestro leads his musicians in a program that will include Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8 and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, at the Van Wezel, in a Sarasota Concert Association offering.

Behzod Abduraimov

Behzod Abduraimov

Emperor

March 16-19

Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, dubbed the “Emperor,” makes a fine showcase for Uzbekistan-born pianist Behzod Abduraimov, who won the London International Piano Competition in 2009 at the tender age of 18. Also on the Sarasota Orchestra Masterworks program: Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5, which was composed in 1944 and premiered in January 1945 in Moscow. Prokofiev himself conducted that performance, which was interrupted by artillery fire that marked the moment the Red Army crossed into Germany. Let’s hope nothing quite that dramatic marks these concerts.

Thérèse

March 17-25

Jules Massenet’s opera, centered on a love triangle during the upheaval of the French Revolution, first bowed in 1907, but it did not receive a performance in the United States until 1972 and has been seldom seen here since. The Sarasota Opera presents it for the first time, with frequent guest artist mezzo-soprano Lisa Chavez (top) starring as the title character, torn between former lover Armand (Andrew Surrena, center) and husband André (Sean Anderson, bottom), to whom she owes everything. Let’s just say that any story taking place during the Reign of Terror is unlikely to end well for a heroine.

Talks

Town Hall

Maria Ressa, Jan. 17; Jose Andrés, March 13

You can’t go wrong with ordering a subscription to the full 2023 lineup of speeches in the Ringling College Library Association Town Hall series, but we’re especially impressed with courageous Filipina journalist Ressa, a 2021 Nobel Prize winner acclaimed for her work in exposing the abuses of power by her country’s president; and Andrés, the chef-restaurateur whose nonprofit World Central Kitchen feeds millions in need due to humanitarian, climate and community crises—most recently, in war-torn Ukraine and even right here, following Hurricane Ian.

Hand balancer Oleg Izossimov

Hand balancer Oleg Izossimov

Circus

Circus Sarasota

Feb. 10-March 5

The circus is celebrating its 25th anniversary this season, and it’s welcoming some first-time performers to the Big Top. Among them: aerial silks artist Alan Silva, aerial straps performers Tetiana Yudina and Maryna Tkacheneko, hand balancer Oleg Izossimov and unicyclist Wesley Williams. But you’ll also see some familiar faces with returning ringmaster Joseph Bauer Jr., equestrian trainer Sylvia Zerbini and comedian Al Calienes. Plus, of course, there’s juggling, dogs and a tightwire act to keep us all entertained.

Theater

Cabaret

Nov. 16-Dec. 31

“Willkommen” to the Asolo Rep’s season opening production of this Kander and Ebb musical based on Christopher Isherwood’s tales of Weimar Berlin and the habitués of the Kit Kat Klub. No word at press time on casting for singer Sally Bowles, Isherwood stand-in Cliff Bradshaw, or the leering MC, but directing and choreographing will be the returning Josh Rhodes, who has previously helmed Evita, The Sound of Music and Guys and Dolls. Also: A few members of the Asolo Rep audience will enjoy cabaret-style seating right in front of the stage to make their experience even more authentic.

Miracle on 34th Street: A Live Musical Radio Play

Dec. 1-11

As the holidays approach, we’re feeling nostalgic for this classic tale of a department store Santa who assures all that he is the real Kris Kringle—especially when it’s told in the form of a live radio broadcast, complete with sound effects and lots of carols. Lance Arthur Smith adapted the original 1940s Lux Radio Broadcast of the film, whose stars—Maureen O’Hara, John Payne and Edmund Gwenn—all contributed their voices to the radio presentation. Jon Lorenz added some original songs and arrangements, and voilá! It’s The Players Centre’s holiday gift to the community.

What the Constitution Means to Me

Dec. 7-Feb. 26

Florida Studio Theatre brings us the Florida premiere of playwright-screenwriter-actor Heidi Schreck’s award-winning show, onstage in the Keating Theatre. The 2019 Obie winner and Pulitzer Prize finalist stems from Schreck’s own teenage days as a debater, when, as a student of the Constitution, she first began to explore the challenges of understanding Americans’ rights and freedoms—especially for women and minorities. Schreck, who has also written for the TV shows Nurse Jackie and Billions, will not appear in Sarasota herself, but a local teen of color will be co-starring with the lead actress, under the direction of associate director-at-large Kate Alexander.

Flyin’ West

Jan. 4-Feb. 12

This Pearl Cleage work, based on a true story, follows a group of four African American women making new lives for themselves as they leave the segregated South and find homes in the all-black town of Nicodemus, Kansas. The show was first promised to us by the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe for the 2019-2020 season, but that production was doomed by Covid. Chuck Smith, resident director at the theater and Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, will direct this drama leavened by flashes of humor.

Next to Normal

Jan. 19-29

The Manatee Players takes on a big challenge with a production of this 2008 rock musical by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt, which presents an unflinching look at a family affected by the mental illness of its matriarch. The Broadway run won three Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for drama. It’s a piece bound to resonate in the hearts and minds of anyone touched by mental health issues, grief or suicidal thoughts. Mature subject matter is prevalent here, for sure, but it should be said, there is hope in the show, which includes the song “Let There Be Light.”

Silent Sky

Jan. 19-March 5

Lauren Gunderson has earned a reputation as “the most produced playwright in America” during more than one recent theater season. Now this Gunderson play, based on a true story, takes the Asolo Rep stage. It’s directed by Seema Sueko, who also brought it to life in a Ford’s Theatre production in Washington, D.C. Set in the 1900s and 1910s, Silent Sky introduces us to real-life astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, who made significant discoveries while working at the Harvard Observatory, despite the difficulties she faced as a woman in a male-dominated field.

Disney's Aladdin

Disney's Aladdin

Disney’s Aladdin

Jan. 24-29

If you’ve been longing to see the stage musical adaptation of the classic 1990s Disney film starring Robin Williams as a genie, your wait is over. The Van Wezel’s Sarasota premiere of the show is good news for family audiences, who will hear not only their fave songs from the film (“A Whole New World,” “Friend Like Me”), but a raft of new ones by Alan Menken and Tim Rice. Critics raved about the Broadway show and its extravagant production values, so make your own wish to see the story here now.

Roe

March 3-19

You may think you’ve heard all there is to know about the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case, but, with the recent overturn of the decision, it’s worth a visit to this play by Lisa Loomer, which had an Asolo Rep production in 2018. The show focuses on the women behind the case, especially young lawyer Sarah Weddington and plaintiff Norma McCorvey, aka Jane Roe. The guest director for this Venice Theatre Stage 2 production is Lee Mikesko Gardner, artistic director of The Nora Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a company that promotes a feminist perspective. (Please note: Venice Theatre suffered major damage during Hurricane Ian and, as of press time, had not announced how it would handle its upcoming productions. Check with the theater directly before making plans.)

Mean Girls

April 11-16

The Van Wezel offers a Sarasota premiere of this hit musical adapted by Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock alum Tina Fey from her own 2004 screenplay, with hubby Jeff Richmond stepping in as composer and Nell Benjamin writing the lyrics. Central character Cady Heron grew up in the wilds of Africa, but nothing has prepared her for the true predators she finds in her new school in suburban Illinois—the mean girls of the title, led by “Queen Bee” Regina George. Who will come out on top?

That Must Be the Entrance to Heaven

June 9-July 9

Downtown’s Urbanite Theatre presents regional premieres regularly, but this play by Franky D. Gonzalez is the first ever world premiere specially commissioned by the theater itself. It centers on four Latino boxers, all chasing a world title in attempts to reach their personal versions of paradise. But not all of their hardest battles take place in the ring. Gonzalez, a staff writer for the fourth season of Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, has had his work presented by the Goodman Theatre, the Dallas Theater Center and many other companies and is an award winner for his representations of Latino voices onstage.

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