Critic's Choice

By staff November 1, 2002

You may think you need to be of an artistic temperament to make the most of Sarasota's crowded cultural season. Well, yes-but just as importantly, you need to be organized. Otherwise you'll find yourself missing out on that dance premiere because you were still raving to your friends about that hot new play while you should have been scoring tickets to the opera season before all the good seats were get the picture.

Take a tip from me. The calendar is your friend; make good use of it. Some people utilize handy day planners they carry with them at all times; I still rely on two big calendars with lots of room to scribble upcoming shows and events on, one at the office and one at home. When conflicts arise, I know early on and am prepared to shift things around, so that one week in January or March when every arts organization insists on opening a new show is somehow manageable.

Forewarned is forearmed. Here's an overview of some of the artistic season's highlights so you can get to work on your calendar. And I'll see you at the, play.oh, you know what I mean.


This is when the cultural season officially kicks off, and there's a lot of good stuff crammed into the month to give thanks for. The Asolo gets under way Nov. 1 with its production of Inherit the Wind, a still timely examination of issues of faith and science that pits veteran actors Bradford Wallace and John Arnold against each other in courtroom battle. That's on mainstage; over in the Jane B. Cook Theatre the FSU/Asolo Conservatory season revs up with David Hare's The Blue Room (yes, that's the one Nicole Kidman bared all for in London), an adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler's turn-of-the-century La Ronde about various sexual encounters and liaisons. It runs Nov. 27-Dec. 15.

It's something of a family affair when the Golden Apple brings back Mame this month. Ben Turoff directs mom Roberta MacDonald in the lead, and patriarch/producer Bob Turoff is bringing in friends Bill and Susan Seaforth Hayes (of Days of Our Lives fame) to play Mame's husband Beau and best friend Vera. That plays throughout the holidays, so if you "need a little Christmas".

The Florida West Coast Symphony has a couple of exciting events this month. The orchestra teams with vocal ensemble Key Chorale to present Beethoven's Ninth, the Ode to Joy masterpiece, Nov. 8-10. And the Florida String Quartet presents a world premiere by Sarasota-based composer-and psychotherapist-Paul Ramsier. With a title like Zoo of Dreams II, I have a feeling his day job may be spilling over a little into the music.

Speaking of music, the Ringling Museum of Art offers a brand-new series of concerts this season. They'll be held either in the Courtyard or the Rubens gallery, making for a pretty darned nice setting either way. First up: new Sarasota resident Esteban brings his classical/flamenco guitar work to the courtyard, Nov. 16.

And while we're on a Latin theme, choreographer Alberto Alonso, co-founder of the National Ballet of Cuba, journeys to Sarasota to set his choreography for Carmen on Sarasota Ballet dancers. Sarasota's Carmen lead will have a tough act to follow; Alonso's first dancer in this role was Maya Plisetskaya of the Bolshoi. That work bows with Paquita Nov. 15-17 at the Van Wezel.

And of course it wouldn't be November without a few festivals. The first, the Sarasota Reading Festival, takes place Nov. 2 at downtown's Five Points and brings to town writers Edna Buchanan, Bob Greene and Peter Matthiessen, among others. The second, the Cine-World Fest over at Burns Court Cinema, screens more than 50 films from the Toronto, New York and Cannes film festivals, with a juried Filmmakers Forum featuring the work of artists from all over Florida. That runs Nov. 8-17; ply yourself with lots of cappuccino at the cinema's concession counter. And the third, the biennial display of public artwork along the bayfront called Sarasota Season of Sculpture, will boast 22 sculptures this year, including one by frequent Sarasota visitor and ex-resident John Chamberlain. It's on view Nov. 17-May 31.


A couple of big Broadway hits on the Van Wezel stage this month. The first is Fosse, the tribute to dance master Bob, which highlights plenty of his work from shows including Chicago, The Pajama Game and Sweet Charity. Three performances, Dec. 14 and 15. And fans of swing music and dancing-whether from the first time around or the recent revival-will be jitterbugging their way into the hall for Swing, Dec. 29-31. Great tunes from the '30s and '40s, including Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, Candy and Sing, Sing, Sing, plus lots of Lindy hopping.

Florida Studio Theatre scores with the hot-from-New-York show Proof, about a daughter coming to terms with her late father's madness/genius and its implications for her future. Winner of the Pulitzer and three Tonys, Proof bows Dec. 17.

You have to have a couple of classics around the holidays. The Asolo brings back its version of A Christmas Carol, through Dec. 28; and the Sarasota Ballet naturally returns with The Nutcracker, Dec. 20-23 at the Van Wezel. But if you'd like to unwrap a newer Christmas present, the Manatee Players' Nuncrackers might be right up your stocking. Dan Goggin's Nunsense characters, including Reverend Mother, Sister Robert Anne and Sister Hubert, are back for this followup, with the gimmick a Christmas TV special being taped at the convent. A sample song or two: Santa Ain't Comin' to Our House and Jesus Was Born in Brooklyn. Onstage Dec. 5-22.

If you haven't yet found time to head over to the Ringling Museum to see Rodin: A Magnificent Obsession, this might be a good time. More than 65 works, including bronzes, drawings, photographs and a documentary chronicling the sculptor's The Gates of Hell, are part of the exhibition, which continues through Jan. 5.


All right, now, let's gather a breath for the second big push of the season. A couple of new works to mention, including one so new it didn't have a title at press time. That's the world premiere of a play by Brit Mark Wheatley, which gives FSU/Asolo Conservatory students a chance to collaborate with the playwright in the act of creation. All we know is it's about a man named Patrick, who returns home to find he's got some family issues to work on. Onstage Jan. 8-26.This month also features the first of three smaller-scale Asolo Theatre Company shows in the Cook Theatre: Eye of the Storm, about Alabama judge and civil rights pioneer Frank Johnson Jr., running Jan. 31-Feb. 22 and starring versatile one-man-show pro Will Stutts (who'll also bring us Noel Coward later this Asolo season); and frequent Golden Apple actor Gary Marachek turning up as the devilish Mr. Applegate in Damn Yankees at the dinner theater, Jan. 14-March 9.

The other brand-new piece: the ballet Anne Frank, choreographed by Sarasota Ballet master James Buckley to music by John Williams and John Newman. Buckley's take on the young girl's often interpreted diary will both explore the relationships of those inside the Secret Annex and take us to the camps where the Franks and others perished. A tall order for a ballet; we'll see the results Jan. 31-Feb. 3 at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts.

The Ringling School's Selby Gallery features acclaimed African-American artist Faith Ringgold's work, Jan. 10-Feb. 15. Ringgold, known for her story quilts, paintings and children's books, will present a lecture, and cellist Karen Patterson will pay tribute to the artist in a new musical work, on Jan. 24. And Sarasota's own art form, Circus Sarasota, swings into action Jan. 31-March 2 at the fairgrounds with its latest, The Art of Circus.

No word yet on all the celebs and movies at this year's Sarasota Film Festival, but the dates are Jan. 24-Feb. 2, and the venues include not only the Hollywood 20 downtown but the Van Wezel, where a special "CineSymphony" Jan. 25 will highlight the Hollywood scores of the legendary Elmer Bernstein (The Ten Commandments, To Kill a Mockingbird, Age of Innocence and the upcoming Gangs of New York). The Florida West Coast Symphony will play excerpts from Bernstein scores, conducted by Bernstein himself, and corresponding film clips will be shown; should be quite a look at the last half century in film.


Sold-out performances mean the Sarasota Opera has to extend its schedule when it can, and this year for the first time the opera season pushes into early April. It begins, though, Feb. 8 with Macbeth, the first Shakespearean opera by maestro Victor De Renzi's favorite composer, Verdi. This is one of those rare opportunities to see and hear both the standard version and Verdi's original 1847 version, which will be staged for just two performances. Also opening this month: Die Fledermaus, a collaboration between stage director Darko Tresnjak and scenic designer David Gordon that transports audiences to Vienna. However, don't worry, it will be sung in English.with English supertitles as well, so you won't miss a word.

Christopher Wilkins, who's led the orchestras of Chicago, San Francisco, and Houston, among others, will be guest conductor for the Florida West Coast Symphony Feb. 20-22, when the program will feature Berlioz's autobiographical Symphonie Fantastique and Barber's School for Scandal Overture.Down south, Venice Little Theatre spreads its wings with a production of The Wizard of Oz that employs famed technicians Flying by Foy to rig and choreograph those flying monkey scenes and others. Onstage Feb. 18-March 16. And at VLT's Stage II, where newer works are frequently presented, I'm drawn to a comedy by Jeff Daniels, The Vast Difference, which artistic director Murray Chase says "asks a lot of serious questions about male/female identity while presenting pure mayhem." Much the best way to do it, don't you think? That's up Feb. 6-20.

Art lovers get another up close view of what some of Sarasota's most knowledgeable collectors buy for their homes when Selby Gallery presents Sarasotans Collect II, opening Feb. 28. At the Ringling Museum, we'll finally get to see the Chinese ceramic collection of Ira and Nancy Koger, donated to the museum a year ago. From Neolithic culture to Ming Dynasty and beyond, it's on view Feb. 1 through April 27. And Everglades photographer Clyde Butcher displays his nature shots Feb. 1-13 at Selby Gardens.

Actor-director Jay Strauss returns to the Players' backstage to direct the Frank Loesser perennial, Guys and Dolls, Feb. 27-March 9. He's had success there before with other large-scale productions, including Sweeney Todd. If he can handle the Demon Barber of Fleet Street he should be able to handle Loesser's gamblers and mob types. And audiences are bound to love the Players' renovated auditorium-new seats, carpeting, lighting and expanded sound equipment among the improvements.FST had a hit last summer with Claudia Shear's Blown Sideways Through Life; this month we get to see her other recent smash there, Dirty Blonde, about two quirky urban loners obsessed with Mae West. Opens Feb. 17.The Education Center on Longboat Key introduces a new performing arts series this month. Friday Afternoon Live! will bring actors, musicians and singers to the center in a salon-type atmosphere every Friday at 3 p.m.

The American Film Institute chose Billy Wilder's Some like It Hot as the funniest film ever made, and who am I to disagree? That's why I'm especially looking forward to a new musical version of the show, starring no less than film co-star Tony Curtis as that philandering millionaire Osgood Fielding III. We may not get to see Curtis in drag this time out, but bandmates Daphne and Josephine will still be hobbling around in heels, Feb. 28-March 3 at the Van Wezel.


The Asolo reaches back some 60 years with its production of Philip Barry's Philadelphia Story, about beautiful young Tracy Lord's wedding problems. Devora Millman and David Breitbarth will essay the roles made memorable in the film by Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart.hard shoes to fill, for sure. No word at press time on who will fill in for Cary Grant.

Theatre Works will also have to work to meet expectations when it brings Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire to the stage, March 7-April 6. Who will wear Stanley's ripped T-shirt and have Blanche's nervous breakdown? Former Manatee Players artistic head Brett Lassiter will direct.

The Sarasota Jazz Festival didn't have star names yet at press time, but it's back March 23-29; with concerts at the Van Wezel, Jazz in the Park and Jazz Caravan by Trolley. And Selby Gardens offers its own sort of music festival with a reprise of its popular Sunday Afternoon Outdoor Garden Music Series, live outdoor music at the Gardens, each Sunday this month and in April and May as well.


Architecture has often been described as "frozen music," so it's logical for this month's La Musica chamber fest to focus on "Harmonies of Time and Space: Music and Architecture" in its concerts April 9, 12, 15, 21 and 23. Some of music's great structuralists, including Bach, will be featured (in an unusual string trio version of the Goldberg Variations).

Venice's Stage II tackles a weighty issue with its production of Peter Sagal's Denial, another recent New York success. This one focuses on a Jewish, censorship-hating lawyer who ends up defending a professor pressing his belief that the Holocaust was a hoax. It's onstage April 10-19.

Neil Simon's latest, The Dinner Party, got mixed reviews in New York and London, but with the right cast this tale of three divorcing couples having dinner together (they all have the same divorce lawyer) should entertain our area's ever-loving Simon addicts. It's onstage April 18-May 18 at Theatre Works.

Lots of dance at the Van Wezel this month, from the disco era (Saturday Night Fever, April 10 and 11), to a mix of classic and cutting-edge from the Limon Dance Company (April 17) to the dynamic choreography of Barrage, which plays with the distinction between a violin and a fiddle (a fiddle dances) through musical styles including calypso, jazz, klezmer and pop. Onstage April 26 for two shows.

The Players of Sarasota continue their East-West cultural exchange with China with an event this month that takes 12 local actors/singers/dancers to the Great Wall and beyond (Beijing and Zunyi) and brings a Chinese troupe of acrobats and folk dancers here. Details were still being arranged at press time, so call 365-2494 for more info.


If you've been waiting for the Sarasota Comedy Festival since November (when it usually takes place), it's finally here, May 11-18, with a few changes. Gone are the comedy dinners and black-tie gala; in are showcases for up-and-coming talent, a lifetime achievement award, a planned show and improv workshops by Second City members, comedy films, and a "doo-dah parade," which kicks the whole week off. The Child Protection Center is beneficiary.

Syncopation is about more than a musical beat in the play of the same name by Allan Knee, which the Asolo presents in the Cook Theatre May 2-25. It's about an "interruption of the regular flow of rhythm" that disrupts two lonely people's lives-hopefully bringing them happily together-and stars last season's Fully Committed ace Kraig Swartz.Two real-life people who certainly were brought together for a purpose were Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller. William Gibson's The Miracle Worker closes out the Venice Little Theatre season on an emotional note May 13-25 and offers two actresses, one of them still a child, really, a big challenge. Will a dramatic miracle take place onstage? I hope so.

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