All around our region, arts organizations work months ahead to plan successful seasons. Issues of booking, contracts, rights and conflicting artistic visions are ironed out; directors, designers and performers hired; ticket order forms and brochures prepared and mailed. Once those season announcements start to flood across my desk, it’s time for me to put together my season—the one that includes the highlights I don’t want to miss.
Of course, artistic directors and curators hope that every show will be a smash. And maybe, depending on audience members’ differing tastes, each performance or exhibition will be memorable in some way. But after interviewing artistic directors and other experts, as well as checking out the regional and national buzz, I’ve selected 20 standouts I’m making plans to attend this season—and I suggest you do the same.
LET’S GO TO THE MOVIES
The Sarasota Film Society’s Cine-World Festival is just around the corner, running Nov. 3–12 at Burns Court Cinema, and by the time you read this the roster of more than 50 international films, accompanied by panels, discussions and special guests, will be final. At press time, though, SFS’s Magida Diouri was just heading up to the Toronto Film Festival, one of several from which Cine-World selections—always diverse and captivating—are drawn. She did say that the fest would include a “Viva Pedro” theme to salute the wildly entertaining films of Spanish director Pedro Almodovar (Talk to Her, All About My Mother), including eight of his master works. French films, first films, and, perhaps, Arab films will also be in the spotlight. Go to www.filmsociety.org for the complete schedule.
SARASOTA IN THE SPOTLIGHT
The ninth annual Sarasota Film Festival runs April 13–22, and festival organizers for this mega-event were, like those for the Cine-World Festival, headed up to Toronto back in September (the competition for the best movies in Canada must get pretty heated). But executive director Jody Kielbasa could tell us that the fest is coming off its strongest year yet and buzz is growing in the film industry about Sarasota—so another big year is anticipated. For those who can’t wait until April, the Festival’s Moonlight Movies series is screening 30 films outdoors over the next few months.
THAT FELLINI FLAVOR
The Broadway musical Nine is derived from one of the most iconic films of all time: Federico Fellini’s 8 ½, the autobiographical story of a film director who hits a creative block at the same time he finds himself caught in a web of romantic entanglements. Nine goes Fellini one-half of a number better, adding music by Maury Yeston; however, it keeps some of the cinematic flavor of the original, and plenty of eroticism remains, too. That makes it a bit of a departure for the frequently family-oriented Players of Sarasota, where it’s being staged March 29 through April 8. Lots of good roles for actresses, and one great role for the lucky stiff who’s surrounded by them as the charismatic but troubled Guido.
When the Ringling Museum of Art opens its doors for Encouraging American Genius: Master Paintings from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, it will also be opening its doors for the first time on the brand-new Arthur F. and Ulla R. Searing Wing, which adds 30,000 square feet of exhibition space to the museum in a design originally approved by John Ringling himself. Just in time, as the Corcoran exhibition includes more than 70 works documenting the development of American painting from its beginnings in the 18th century to the early 20th. (You need space for such a wide-ranging show). Expect to see a stunning mix of American countryside landscapes, Gilded Age opulence, luminous American Impressionists and paintings from the dawning of American realism, Feb. 3 through April 29.
LORDS OF THE RINGS
You’ll want to get up close to examine the exquisite pieces on display in the Ringling Museum’s Bedazzled: 4,500 Years of Jewelry from the Walters Art Museum, Feb. 3 through April 29. The Walters, based in Baltimore, sends our way Henry Walters’ private collection of jewelry from the days of antiquity to the fanciful Art Nouveau creations of Rene Lalique. That simple but oh-so- important piece of jewelry, the ring, will be the specific focus of the exhibit, which should draw “oohs” and “aahs” from even jaded, diamond-dripping matrons.
SELBY’S GREATEST HITS
Selby Gallery at Ringling School of Art and Design celebrates its 20th anniversary of providing Sarasota with an outlet for extraordinary contemporary art with a two-part exhibition that revisits some of the most outstanding one-person shows in the gallery’s history. Gallery director Kevin Dean has selected, from those 50 or more shows, such significant 20th-century artists as Helen Frankenthaler, Leon Golub, Nancy Spero, Faith Ringgold, Pat Steir and Milton Glaser. Part I of the exhibition, dubbed Solos, runs Jan. 5–31; Part II, Feb. 9 through March 7.
MAN IN TIGHTS
There’s no denying there’s a special thrill when a dynamic, nationally renowned dancer guests. That thrill will be palpable when American Ballet Theater superstar Jose Manuel Carreño laces his ballet slippers for the Sarasota Ballet of Florida’s annual gala performance Nov. 29 at the Van Wezel. The Cuban-born Carreño, who elicits “bravos” from the crowds with every step he takes, received the Dance Magazine Award in 2004 for significant contributions to dance. He will dance the second act of Giselle with one of Sarasota Ballet’s own stars, Lauren Strongin (a recent finalist in the prestigious USA International Ballet Competition) and will also perform the Dance Suite from Don Quixote (the final wedding pas de deux) with Kyoko Takeichi.
Hard to believe, but Circus Sarasota, our own homegrown circus spectacular, celebrates its 10th year of existence this February, with shows in a new location under the Big Top adjacent to Ed Smith Stadium. Artistic director Pedro Reis always manages to deliver top international performers; this year, they’ll include trapeze artists The Flying Pages (including four family members in a six-member act); hand balancer Pat Bradford and partner Kate Smythe; liberty horse act Erika Zerbini; four-man acrobatic team Yeromenko, performing on a three-leveled high horizontal bar; juggler Rafael DiCarlo; quick-change duo Sudarchikov, and dog trainer Irina Markova. Back for a second stint as ringmaster is Sarasota radio talk show host Cliff Roles, and, of course, Dolly Jacobs once more soars with her acclaimed aerial act. Dates are Feb. 2–25.
Composer Frederic Chopin was distinguished almost as much by his poor health as by his musical genius; pianist Garrick Ohlsson, on the other hand, stands a healthy six feet four and has been described as a “bear-butterfly” by one critic. Nevertheless, there’s been a longstanding, almost mystical connection between the two for decades, certainly ever since Ohlsson became the first American to win first prize in the International Chopin Competition back in 1970. Ohlsson does not play just Chopin, of course, but it’s always memorable when he does. He leads off the Florida West Coast Symphony’s Masterworks this season, Nov. 9–12, playing Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2, written when the composer was barely out of his teens but indicative of his great talent as well as his Polish heritage (a mazurka figures in the finale).
In its ’06-’07 season (which will be shortened because of impending major renovations of the Opera House), the Sarasota Opera will stage the first production of the 150-year-old Halka by a professional U.S. company. The work, by Stanislaw Moniuszko (think of him as the Polish Schubert), is considered the national opera of Poland (and yes, it will be sung in the original Polish, but those English surtitles go a long way). You’ll hear more mazurkas, along with polonaises and folk music with that Polish flavor, in this story of a mountain maiden seduced and abandoned by an aristocrat. Cue the tears now.
A SURE WINNER
It’s all in the cards when the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre presents a new musical called Bingo, Jan. 3 through Feb. 25. Sounds perfect for Florida audiences, as the main characters are longtime friends whose passion for the game drives them to the church basement despite a fierce hurricane raging outside. The Apple’s Bob Turoff says it’s interactive, too—the set features a big board designed to light up with different winning bingo patterns, and we all get to play along. Among the songs by Michael Heitzman, Ilene Reid and David Holcenberg: B4 and Gentleman Caller. Bingo debuted in New York last fall and may go on to a national tour after it plays here—where at press time it looked as if it might be the next-to-last show staged at the venerable downtown theater. Stay tuned on that.
SECRETS AND LIES
The Asolo Repertory Theatre’s Men of Tortuga is being marketed as a world premiere, but this piece by first-time playwright Jason Wells actually got a “First Look” production at famed Steppenwolf in Chicago last year. Still, Wells has been busy rewriting it for the Asolo run, Nov. 18 through March 8. The action takes place in an undisclosed location where a shadowy cabal is plotting the assassination of a political enemy. But who are the good guys and who are the baddies? The answers are intentionally kept vague, but Wells has said the play came out of his frustration with the atmosphere “of secrecy, opacity, cynicism and self-interest” that’s crept into public life over the last few years. (The Chicago Tribune’s critic, who raved about the show, wrote that he caught allusions to Karl Rove and Enron. How’s that for topical?)
Florida Studio Theatre associate director Kate Alexander has played many roles in her career (including opera legend Maria Callas), but probably none that required more hair and makeup work than her upcoming performance as Golda Meir in Golda’s Balcony, Dec. 6 through Feb. 3 on the FST mainstage. The one-person show by William Gibson (The Miracle Worker) has starred both Tovah Feldshuh and Valerie Harper on Broadway; here, Alexander’s portrayal of the former Prime Minister of Israel will be directed by Terry Lamude, who also directed her fiery performance in Filumena a few seasons ago.
Sometimes a one-person show and an actor seem made for each other. It requires no stretch of the imagination to picture Asolo veteran David S. Howard donning a New York Yankees baseball cap to portray much loved catcher-manager Yogi Berra in Nobody Don’t Like Yogi, onstage at the Historic Asolo Theater Jan. 5–27. Tom Lysaght’s 80-minute play, which starred Ben Gazzara in New York, certainly has a wealth of Yogi-isms to draw from (“If you come to a fork in the road, take it,” “Ninety percent of baseball is half-mental” and, of course, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over”), but with Howard in the role, Yogi won’t become a caricature.
A JAMMIN’ MIRMAID
Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, now performing in the Historic Asolo Theater, winds up its season May 3–19 with Once On This Island, a calypso-flavored retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid that stars the music of Stephen Flaherty and the lyrics of Lynn Ahrens (Ragtime, Seussical). Ti Moune, a poor peasant girl, falls in love with Daniel, an upper-class boy whose life she saves after a car crash. But can a couple from two very different worlds find happiness together? Much is in the hands of the gods of Love, Earth, Water and Death in this tuneful, lively show, a first-ever locally produced presentation of the award winner. Artistic director Nate Jacobs is hoping to team up director-choreographer Reggie Kelly and last year’s Dreamgirls star, Teresa Stanley, but no promises at press time.
A SONDHEIM CLASSIC
Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods hasn’t seen a local staging for a while. At Venice Little Theatre’s Stage II, actor-director Larry Alexander will helm this sometimes bright, sometimes dark musical that weaves together Act I stories of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and the Baker and His Wife with Act II’s interpretation of “happily ever after.” The set, designed with a pop-up storybook look, should enchant younger audience members, while their parents will share some rueful smiles of recognition during the rude awakenings of Act II. Onstage Jan. 18 through Feb. 11.
ON THE CON
The musical hit Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which takes to the Van Wezel stage Feb. 6–11, centers on two con men living on the Riviera (Jonathan Pryce and Norbert Lee Butz in the Broadway version) who realize the town isn’t big enough for the both of them. So they make a deal: The first to extract $50,000 from a young heiress gets to stay and keep on charming vulnerable women out of their money. Lots of twists, turns and surprises keep us entertained along the way. Steve Martin and Michael Caine starred in the 1988 film Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, but extra points if you remember the actors in the 1964 original. (OK, it was David Niven and Marlon Brando. That’s right, Marlon Brando.)
LOVE IS IN THE HAIR
For sheer, silly fun, make an appointment for Hairspray, the Tony Award-winning musical based on the John Waters film, wherein 16-year-old Tracy Turnblad seeks success on a local dance show, equal rights for all and the love of heartthrob Link Larkin. Film director Waters’ usual weirdness is tempered here, making the show acceptable family fun for all—even though Tracy’s mama Edna is still played by a man in drag. This energetic audience pleaser is onstage at the Van Wezel Nov. 17–19.
Asolo Repertory Theatre brings Jane Austen fans a brand-new, world premiere adaptation of the classic Pride and Prejudice written by Yale dramaturg Catherine Sheehy. (It’s sort of a Yale collaboration; director Mark Rucker and costumer Katherine Roth are also Yale School of Drama grads.) The Asolo is partnering here with a community project called Beyond the Book that has everyone in town reading the book, seeing the play (March 23 through May 6) and seeing the movie. No doubt the potential for a big hit is there, but fair warning: I take my Jane Austen seriously. Let’s not mess around with perfection.
Venice Little Theatre’s Stage II production of Romance, by David Mamet, is actually a farce about a courtroom defendant who holds the secret to peace in the Middle East—if only he could escape the bureaucracy that’s keeping him from getting across town to an ongoing peace conference. Artistic director Murray Chase saw the New York production at the Atlantic Theater Company last year, roared with laughter, and decided he just had to be the first to present the piece locally (Nov. 2–19). Strong language, not recommended for kids—but with Mamet, you knew that.
Canadian-born Stephen Borys swears he didn’t think about the climate when he moved here from Ohio last spring to become the Ringling
’s curator of collections. Now that he’s had some time to admire the Gulf coast, he says his enthusiasm for its beauty matches his enthusiasm about the Ringling’s collection.
“We [town planner wife Hazel and two-year-old son, Roman] are getting to explore the beaches and parks a bit now,” says the 43-year-old Borys. “My wife has worked closely with Andres Duany [consultant for Sarasota’s downtown master plan], so this is a great place for her, too.”
At the Ringling, Borys says he won’t initiate change for change’s sake, but he’s made some rearrangements in the galleries because “It had been a decade since they had been painted or reinstalled. With the new wing opening in February, all the permanent collection will be reinstalled. My goal is for people to penetrate the galleries, not just walk through them.”
The new wing also means a chance to present more of the museum’s contemporary art collection and smaller “dossier”-style modern exhibitions. The future holds shows of Cuban art, works by Grandma Moses and installations by 2001 Venice Biennale winner Janet Cardiff. “We want to give people a reason to come back again and again,” he says.
It may sound too good to be true, but soprano Maria Knapik has the clipping to prove it: In an interview six years ago, the Polish-born beauty said her dream was to play the lead in the Polish national opera Halka with an American opera company. This season, with the Sarasota Opera staging the seldom-seen (in America) work by Stanislaw Moniusko, that dream has become a reality.
Knapik started performing at the age of three with her seven sisters in a troupe resembling the famed Von Trapp family. “I thought it was the lifestyle of every family,” says Knapik. “I loved the traveling, all of it.”
She was onstage with her sisters, she adds, when her husband of eight years first glimpsed her, fell in love, and took the next couple of years to woo her and make it possible for her to join him in Canada. Since then, she’s fulfilled other dreams of performing at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center. The emotional weight of all the tragic heroines she plays onstage is balanced by long walks, reading, ballroom dancing and performing concerts to benefit orphans around the world. “If you give, you receive more in return,” she says.
For violinist James Ehnes, guesting with the Florida West Coast Symphony next month is exciting not only because of the orchestra’s ever improving artistic level or the virtuosity of the Glazunov Violin Concerto he’s interpreting, but because it’s a rare chance to sleep in his own bed. The busy 30-year-old travels the world but has a home in Bradenton he shares with his wife, sometime Sarasota Ballet dancer Kate Maloney—the reason he moved here in the first place.
“I followed a girl to Florida,” admits the Manitoba-born Ehnes, who started playing the violin at age five after receiving one for Christmas. (He saw Itzhak Perlman on Sesame Street and was hooked.) And now he’s following her to Philadelphia, where they’ll have a part-time apartment while she performs with the Pennsylvania Ballet. Still, Florida is home, where he enjoys basking in his pool, boating, baseball spring training and a year-round pass to Disney World.
“The glamour fades fast in foreign cities where you don’t know a soul or speak the language,” he says. But audiences—and critics, who’ve hailed him as “one of the most gifted and sincerely expressive artists to have emerged in recent times”—keep him inspired. Look for him Dec. 8–10 in the symphony’s Masterworks series.
Life is imitating art for third-year FSU/Asolo Conservatory student Kris Danford, who plays Cinderella in the Asolo Rep’s The Plexiglass Slipper starting this month. Danford, 26, met her own Prince Charming right here in Sarasota: fellow MFA student Sam Osheroff, who proposed to her in Greece last summer. It’s a long-distance relationship for now, since he’s already graduated and moved to New York, while she’s busy preparing to play not only Cinderella but also parts in Pride and Prejudice and Expecting Isabel. (The latter role is that of a pregnant stripper, so you can’t say her career so far is lacking in variety.)
Danford, who says she was “incredibly shy” as a child growing up in upstate New York, says Slipper is not the Disney version of the famed fairy tale. Her Cinderella is a woman of strength and enterprise with no illusions about happily ever after. “It’s not as different as you might think,” she says, from her work in some Tennessee Williams short plays last season. “It’s still about real people with real problems.” She’s happy it gives her the chance to sing, something earlier roles, in last year’s Conservatory production of Mirandolina and the Banyan’s Sight Unseen did not. When not onstage, she relishes yoga, the beaches—and occasional trips to New York to see her prince.
Want a little more for your money than just a ticket? If you’re willing to go the extra mile to support our arts organizations financially, benefits accrue. Here’s a sampling of what some of our top cultural companies offer.
Asolo Repertory Theatre Donate $10,000 or more, and you get your name in the playbill, a special box office hotline, invitation to a dress rehearsal, four box seats with complimentary wine and an invitation to the opening night Co-Producers Dinner.
Florida Studio Theatre Contribute $5,000 or more and you’ll get that playbill listing, reserved parking (always a plus), invitations to select rehearsals and special events featuring guest artists, lunch with artistic director Richard Hopkins and advance copies of scripts for upcoming plays.
Florida West Coast Symphony Fifteen hundred dollars or more gets you complimentary ticket exchange on subscriptions, plus access to presentations and open rehearsals led by artistic director Leif Bjaland.
John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art For $5,000 or more, you get a listing on the “Donor Wall” in the lobby, reciprocal membership in more than 165 museums nationwide, invitations to exhibition previews and museum galas and free admission to Private Places Tours and Third Thursday events.
Sarasota Ballet Cough up $25,000 and here’s what you get: your photo in the lobby, a pair of tickets to each production, a backstage tour, special ticket handling, a memento of the season and an invite to a private dinner with artistic director Robert de Warren.
Sarasota Film Festival There’s a wide range of donor perks here, with differing price ranges. Among the offerings: festival passes, including tickets to films, the Opening Night Film and Party, World Cinema Celebration, Night of a Thousand Stars and Filmmakers Tribute Dinner; early seating for films; and access to the Sponsors and Filmmakers VIP Lounge.
Sarasota Opera For $25,000 or more, you will see your photo in the season program book, plus receive invitations to dress rehearsals, personal ticket services, and invitations to the Co-Producers’ Dinner on stage at the Opera House, and a private dinner attended by select singers from the season, both hosted by maestro Victor DeRenzi.
Van Wezel Foundation A donation of $10,000 or more entitles you to a program book listing, reserved parking, access to the Founders Lounge, invitations to backstage/art tours and “Just for Friends” receptions, your name on a seat in the Roskamp Auditorium, and private lunch with the executive director.
Most benefits valid for one year only.
Where to call to make your reservations.
Art Center Sarasota: 365-2032
Asolo Repertory Theatre and FSU/Asolo Conservatory: 351-8000
Backlot Arts: 363-9300
Banyan Theater Company: 358-5330
Circus Sarasota: 355-9335
Florida Studio Theatre: 366-9000
Florida West Coast Symphony: 953-3434
Gloria Musicae: 954-4223; 351-8000 (box office)
Golden Apple Dinner Theatre: 366-5454
Jazz Club of Sarasota: 366-1552
John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art: 359-5700
Key Chorale: 921-4845
La Musica International Chamber Music Festival: 366-8450, option 3
Longboat Key Center for the Arts: 383-2345
Manatee Players Riverfront Theatre: 748-5875
Players of Sarasota: 365-2494
Sarasota Ballet of Florida: 351-8000
Sarasota Concert Band: 364-2263
Sarasota Film Festival: 364-9514
Sarasota Film Society/Burns Court Cinema: 955-FILM
Sarasota Opera: 366-8450
SoulSpeak/Soul Moves: 366-6468
Sarasota Pops: 756-7603; 351-8000 (box office)
Selby Gallery at Ringling School of Art and Design: 359-7563
Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall: 953-3366 or 953-3368
Venice Art Center: 485-7136
Venice Little Theatre: 488-1115
Venice Symphony: 488-1010
Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe: 360-7399