2014 Vacation Guide: Arts & Entertainment

Your guide to Sarasota arts and entertainment.

By Sarasota Magazine December 30, 2014 Published in the December 2014 issue of Sarasota Magazine

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Can it really be 45 years since the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall opened its doors with a national touring production of Fiddler on the Roof? Derided at the time for its color—hey, painting a building purple was shocking back in 1971—but beloved for its roster of international superstars (think Luciano Pavarotti, Vladimir Horowitz, Lucille Ball), the Van Wezel transformed Sarasota’s cultural climate forever and cemented the city’s reputation as the cultural capital of Florida. This year’s all-star line-up includes Vanessa Williams, Michael Bolton, Ringo Starr and Audra McDonald. And, this year, the Van Wezel was named the No. 1 performing arts hall in the nation in the 2,000-seat category by Venues Today magazine for the fourth time.



Asolo Repertory Theatre, (941) 351-8000. For more than 50 years, the Asolo Rep has been presenting professional, Equity theater productions, with a rotating repertory cast and format almost unique in North America. The season, usually offering eight or nine plays, begins in November and continues into June.


Banyan Theater Company, (941) 358-5330. The Banyan offers theater-hungry audiences the opportunity to view professional-quality productions in the traditionally slower summer months, and they run the gamut from comedy to drama.


FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 351-8000. Home to the professional Asolo Rep, the FSU/Asolo Conservatory of Professional Actor Training (which presents its own four-play season), Sarasota Ballet and, in the summer, the Banyan Theater Company. Performances on two stages year-round.


Florida Studio Theatre, 1241 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota. (941) 366-9000. FST’s five professional theaters present topical plays, musicals, and comedy and cabaret shows year-round for wildly loyal and appreciative audiences.


Manatee Players, 502 Third Ave. W., Bradenton. (941) 748-5875. This venerable community theater presents a full season of plays (mostly musicals) at its big, new Manatee Performing Arts Center in downtown Bradenton. The quality often rises well above the usual concept of community theater.


The Players Theatre, 838 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 365-2494. This is the great-granddaddy of local community theaters, with a stage that has been graced by Montgomery Clift and Charlton Heston. It offers mostly Broadway musical favorites September through April, plus a summer play fest along with occasional edgier work. Its Players Studio helps students of all ages and experience hone the talents that may launch them onto mainstage.


Venice Theatre, 140 W. Tampa Ave., Venice. (941) 488-1115. This award-winning community theater presents musical favorites, the occasional drama and a comedy or two on its mainstage. Its smaller, black-box Pinkerton Theater plays host to more contemporary Stage II offerings and cabaret shows. As a testament to its success, Venice Theatre hosted the quadrennial International Amateur Theatre Festival in 2010 and again in 2014.


Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, (941) 366-1505. Now in its 15th season, this professional African-American theater company presents hit musicals and the occasional drama, drawn from either African-American playwrights or relating to the African-American experience, in its intimate new theater at 10th Way and North Orange Avenue.



Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota. (941) 306-1200. The Artist Series presents world-class classical music as well as concerts featuring pop and Broadway sounds at the intimate Historic Asolo Theater, October through June.


Fuzión Dance Artists, (941) 345-5755. Fuzión presents a range of dance genres, often in collaboration with other arts groups, at venues throughout the area. The company and its choreographers also work with students of all ages.


Exsultate! (941) 484-8491. This choral ensemble presents five concerts this season in the new Venice Performing Arts Center.


Gloria Musicae, (941) 387-6046. This longtime professional chamber chorus presents several concerts a year at various venues, including a December holiday event, a Fourth of July celebration and a large-scale piece.


The Hermitage Artist Retreat. (941) 475-2098. Restored hundred-year-old cottages comprise this artist retreat on Manasota Key, where composers, authors, choreographers and visual artists from around the world are invited for six-week residencies. The Hermitage holds open studio tours and beach readings on its campus, and Artist of our Time lecture/demonstrations at the Ringling’s Historic Asolo Theater.


The Jazz Club of Sarasota, 330 S. Pineapple Ave., Suite 111, Sarasota. (941) 366-1552. Celebrating 35 years of promoting, performing and preserving jazz, the Jazz Club organizes jams, members’ concerts and educational programs year-round, and the big Sarasota Jazz Festival in the spring.


Key Chorale, (941) 921-4845. It’s the 30th anniversary season of this choral ensemble, and “Celebrating the Past-Endowing the Future” is the fitting theme.


La Musica International Chamber Music Festival, (941) 366-8450, ext. 3. Each April, La Musica brings musicians from Europe and the Americas to perform chamber works under the artistic direction of Bruno Giuranna and Derek Han. Public rehearsals take place at New College’s Sainer Pavilion and concerts take place at the Sarasota Opera House.


New Music New College, (941) 487-4888. This innovative concert series brings nationally and internationally renowned contemporary musicians to the New College campus to perform, discuss and enlighten.


North Port Concert Band. An all-volunteer, 90-musician band performs 14 pops concerts each season at the North Port Performing Arts Center.


Perlman Music Program Suncoast, (941) 955-4942. A professional development program for gifted young musicians founded by the famed Itzhak and Toby Perlman, with free public recitals offered during the two-week winter program. It culminates with a Celebration Concert at the Sarasota Opera House led by Itzhak Perlman himself. New this year, Hear and Now, a series of three concerts at the Sarasota Opera House by PMP alums.


Sarasota Ballet, (941) 359-0099. Under the artistic direction of Iain Webb, this international professional company has garnered much acclaim for staging new or rarely seen dances by choreographers ranging from legends like Sir Frederick Ashton to contemporary masters such as Matthew Bourne. Last year, it made its Kennedy Center debut; this fall, it appeared for the first time at New York’s City Center.


Sarasota Choral Society, (941) 343-9894. A community chorus numbering up to 300 strong that has performed the Christmas portion of Handel’s Messiah (accompanied by a full orchestra, organist and soloists) every December for 70 years.


Sarasota Concert Association, (941) 955-0040. Presents a five-concert series at the Van Wezel featuring stars of the classical music world. Among them this season are the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.


Sarasota Concert Band, (941) 364-2263. Performs at various area venues, focusing on concert band music, often with a patriotic theme.


Sarasota Opera, 61 N. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota. (941) 328-1300. This internationally acclaimed professional company, led by Maestro Victor DeRenzi, performs in the stunningly restored Sarasota Opera House. Fall and winter seasons generally present four operas from Mozart to Puccini to the opera’s widely praised Verdi cycle. The company also maintains a unique Sarasota Youth Opera program.


Sarasota Orchestra, 709 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 953-4252. Music director Anu Tali conducts this 80-member professional orchestra, which presents a traditional Masterworks series, plus Chamber Soirees and a pops series. The orchestra is also justly proud of its Youth Orchestra programs, which involve more than 200 young musicians.


Sarasota Pops, (941) 926-POPS. The community orchestra performs three concerts at Riverview High School and Bradenton’s Neel Auditorium from December to March. This year’s focus: Broadway.


Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 953-3368. This distinctive purple seashell-shaped hall on Sarasota’s bayfront boasts a wide-ranging season of Broadway touring theater, international dance companies both classical and modern, comedians, pop, rock and country music stars and more, mostly October through May.


Venice Symphony, (941) 488-1010. Presenting seven sets of concerts from November through April, from classical to pops, as well as a summer music camp. Performances are held at the new Venice Performing Arts Center.



Circus Sarasota, (941) 355-9335. Co-founders of this top-quality, one-ring circus, Pedro Reis and Dolly Jacobs (daughter of legendary clown Lou Jacobs) produce winter performances under the Big Top that feature international stars in the fields of high-wire, aerial, juggling, equestrian acts and more. Now under the auspices of the Circus Arts Conservatory.



McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre, 1923 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota. (941) 925-FUNY. With a spiffy new home in the heart of downtown Sarasota, this popular laugh palace is drawing such nationally known stand-up comics as Darrell Hammond, Jim Breuer and Kevin Nealon.



Sarasota Film Festival, (941) 366-6200. Each spring, Sarasota welcomes actors, filmmakers and film lovers to a 10-day celebration of the art of film, with screenings of brand-new movies at downtown’s Hollywood 20, plus parties, talks with the artists and more. This year’s fest is set for April 10-19. Recent attendees include Woody Harrelson, Peter Bogdanovich  and Elisabeth Moss.


Sarasota Film Society/Burns Court Cinema, (941) 955-FILM or (941) 364-8662. SFS presents independent and international films at the intimate Burns Court Cinema in downtown Sarasota and at its Lakewood Ranch Cinema. The weeklong Cine-World Festival in November is hugely popular.


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Florida Studio Theatre got serious about its comedy offerings last summer when it named its first-ever director of improv. The hot spot went to Will Luera, artistic director emeritus of Improv Boston, who has performed here several times at the FST Improv Festival. He’s shown here with Robert Woo, performing with ImprovBoston at the 2013 Improv Festival.

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