Every summer the press releases about the fall-winter-spring arts season start flying into our office, and every summer I start planning the rest of my entire year. I'm not alone in doing that, I'm sure; arts and entertainment lovers all over town feverishly scribble away at their calendars, trying to make that symphony orchestra concert somehow fit in with the gallery opening, which is squeezed around the ballet premiere and the fund-raising gala; and good Lord, how many plays can you see in one weekend, anyway?
All right, so that's the hazard of living in what we proudly call the arts capital of Florida. But if you're feeling overwhelmed by all the riches spread out before you, take heart. I'm here to help. After all, I balance my calendar out pretty well-most of the time. (There are occasions when I sit in my car in the driveway, trying to remember to what culturally elevating experience I'm headed that evening, but never mind those.)
Naturally everyone has personal preferences when it comes to what they like to see on the stage or the museum walls, but as your mother always told you, it's important to be well-rounded. And that's the premise I've gone by in putting together this season preview-a little of this, a little of that, and your cultural menu is eclectic and entertaining at the same time.
Here's my month-by-month list of highlights of the 2001-02 season. It's only a tantalizing glimpse of everything that's out there, but it'll get you started.
This is the month when the season really kicks into high gear. And speaking of kicking, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall will finally bring those high-stepping "Cats" to the stage, just in time for Thanksgiving, Nov. 23-25. Some people make fun of this Andrew Lloyd Webber musical based on T.S. Eliot's poems, and admittedly it doesn't have much depth. But obviously a show that runs for 18 years on Broadway must be doing something right.
Over at the Players of Sarasota, "Kismet" takes the stage, Nov. 29-Dec. 16. Amazingly enough, this is one musical I've never seen live, perhaps because its score, based on works by composer Alexander Borodin, is pretty demanding. (The set and costume designs for this tale of a Baghdad poet who worms his way into a harem require panache, too.) Good thing operetta veteran Jack Eddleman, who's worked with such vocal legends as Beverly Sills, is directing.
The Florida West Coast Symphony begins its Masterworks season Nov. 9-11 with an intriguing blend of works. The concert opens with a very old piece by Monteverdi, then zaps ahead to the 20th century for an adventurous piano concerto by American composer John Adams, "Century Rolls." Jeremie Michael is guest pianist, and at age 21 he's already got a great resume: he's been off-Broadway's youngest-ever musical director (with "The Fantasticks") and has also played with the Grateful Dead. Oh, yes, and the evening ends with the orchestra's very first performance ever of Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra." As FWCS marketing head Linda Joffe notes, it's a performance that will leave conductor Leif Bjaland "wilted."
November's also festival month, of course. The Sarasota Comedy Festival runs Nov. 2-10, with events including the Cartoon Classic Golf Tournament (a round of golf with cartoonists and comedians), Laugh-A Lot Comedy Dinners at various restaurants, and an appearance by Carrot Top at 8 p.m. Nov. 3 at the Van Wezel. The Sarasota Reading Festival, Nov. 9 and 10 downtown, welcomes such authors as Pulitzer Prize winners Rick Bragg ("Ava's Man") and Herbert Bix ("Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan") along with David McCullough (whose recent "John Adams" bio everyone is reading) and Florida's very own Tim Dorsey and Stuart Kaminsky.No full-fledged "Season of Sculpture" along the bayfront this year, but the artists' maquettes of their works will go on display at Selby Library Nov. 16.
And while you never know very far ahead of time what movies will turn up at Sarasota Film Society head Dick Morris' Cine-World Festival, slated for Nov. 2-11 at Burns Court, you always know you'll have the chance to see films from around the world you might never otherwise catch. They range from the small and offbeat to well-financed efforts by major names, and there are always a few that become hits in the season ahead. The films and sipping a cappuccino with friends outside makes this an annual fix.
Sure, we've all seen it a hundred times before, but what would Christmas be without the Sarasota Ballet's "Nutcracker"? It's back, Dec. 20-23 at the Van Wezel. Likewise, I'm one of those people who never tires of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," which returns to the Asolo stage in an adaptation by Barbara Redmond and Eberle Thomas that plays up the streets of London, some traditional holiday music and the special effects of Scrooge's haunting. It runs Nov. 24-Dec. 23.
On the other hand, I'm also looking forward to a sort of antidote to all that holiday cheer with the Asolo Conservatory's production of "The Santaland Diaries." Fans of David Sedaris ("Naked," "Me Talk Pretty One Day") may remember his hilarious recounting of playing an elf for Macy's from National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" a few years back. The stage version, in the Asolo's Jane B. Cook Theatre, runs Dec. 12-23 and promises to rip the lid off the whole elf scam. Well, maybe it's not really so harsh. You have to love a guy wearing curled-up slippers and green velvet knickers who goes by the name of Crumpet.
Looking for some musical memories? How about stopping by the Van Wezel on Dec. 27 for Richard Nader's Holiday Reunion, starring Lesley Gore, Lou Christie and Ben E. King? Close your eyes and you'll go back in time 40 years to when you first heard songs like "It's My Party" and "Stand By Me." If you want to go further back-say the "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" era-head to the Manatee Players' "1940s Radio Hour," Dec. 6-23. Artistic director Brett Lassiter loves the period (so do his audiences) and he's looking forward to seeing musical director Alan Jay Corey onstage with his orchestra for this one.
Or if you're in a jazzier mood, the Jazz Club of Sarasota's annuals "Joys of Jazz" concert, Dec. 29 at the Van Wezel, is another Sarasota holiday tradition that just hits the right groove. This year trombonist Dan Barrett's eight-piece "Blue Swing" band headlines, with vocalist Rebecca Kilgore.
Selby Gallery at Ringling School of Art and Design gives equal time to the male sex with Its "REAL(ist) Men," show, Jan. 11-Feb. 16. (You may remember the "REAL(ist) Women" show a few seasons back, one of the gallery's most popular ever.) Works by Philip Pearlstein, James Rosenquist, Chuck Close, Robert Rauschenberg and Jean-Michel Basquiat are featured in this exhibition, which is designed to raise a discussion about the politics of gender in the visual arts.
Choreographer Twyla Tharp almost always raises interesting discussions, and an appearance by her company at the Van Wezel Jan. 18 should be no exception. On the program are Mozart Clarinet Quintet (k581), which takes chances with some off-center, off-balance partnering, and "Surfer at the River Styx," a loose adaptation of Euripides' "Bacchae" set to a percussive score by Donald Knaack.
Two more rousing events at the Van Wezel this month: a Broadway-bound production of Frank Loesser's "Guys and Dolls" starring Maurice Hines, Jan. 21-23; and the tour of Jonathan Larsen's high-energy, "La Boheme"-inspired "Rent," another Van Wezel first, Jan. 2 and 3.
Theatre Works has scored big the past few seasons with biographical works on everyone from Red Skelton and Groucho Marx to John Barrymore. Now it's the ladies' turn. Carol Provonsha, Penny Larsen and Kathy Lee Hart team for "Sophie, Totie and Belle," Jan. 11-Feb. 17, a show based on the premise that entertainers Sophie Tucker, Totie Fields and Belle Barth meet "in another dimension" and form a triple threat musical-comedy revue. Hart (the vulgar, sassy Barth) has played some of New York's top comedy clubs; Larsen has portrayed Totie before, in Albany and Philadelphia; and Provonsha has received an honorable mention by the South Florida Critics Carbonell committee for her Sophie.
Singer-actress Annie Morrison has been missing from local theater stages for a while; she swings back into action aboard a cruise liner as evangelist Reno Sweeney in "Anything Goes," Jan. 15-March 10 at the Golden Apple. Will McKenzie, who won high praise for his "How To Succeed" at the Apple last season, returns to direct. And of course there's all that great Cole Porter music."You're the Top," "I Get a Kick Out of You," etc.
And last but certainly not least, keep the dates Jan. 19-26 open for the Sarasota Film Festival, expanded this year from four days to eight. Movies and movie stars in attendance were not yet announced at press time, but there will be the usual mix of new films, celebrity-filled parties, kids' fare and seminars and symposia. Did you participate in the "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" contest? If you guessed who this year's tribute honoree is (and got your name picked) you earned a limo ride for you and your guest to the tribute dinner gala at the Ritz-Carlton. Congratulations to the lucky winner!
If it's February, it must be time for the Sarasota Opera to bring us another Verdi treat. This time it's the maestro's "Il Trovatore," in the version the composer prepared for Paris and titled "Le Trouvère." Sung in French, this one includes rarely performed ballet music and orchestration and continues artistic director Victor De Renzi's acclaimed Verdi Cycle. Performances are Feb. 2, 5, 10, 15, 20, 23 and 28, with more in March.
The actors playing the leads in Florida Studio Theatre's "Two Pianos, Four Hands" really do have their hands full; in addition to dramatic duties they have to be good-but not too good-at the keyboards for this show following the musical careers of two boys from first piano lessons onward. I enjoyed it off-Broadway a few years back; it's onstage here starting Feb. 12.
I always get goosebumps when I hear Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana," and when the Florida West Coast Symphony and Key Chorale team with the Sarasota Ballet for a performance blending movement with that powerful music, the kinetic visual images should add another dimension to the thrills. It's onstage Feb. 15-17 at the Van Wezel.
Goosebumps should be in order, too, when Venice Little Theatre brings to its mainstage the Frank Wildhorn-Leslie Bricusse musical hit, "Jekyll & Hyde," Feb. 19-March 17. The show just closed on Broadway a few months ago, and VLT is the first theater in Florida to produce it-part of artistic director Murray Chase's goal of moving the theater ahead in the direction of "fresh material."
The Ringling Museum pays tribute to its founder's heritage with "Images from the World Between: The Circus in Twentieth Century American Life," Feb. 1-April 14. Approximately 90 works, featuring such artists as George Bellows, Alexander Calder and Bruce Nauman, tackle the subject, while circus paintings and drawings by Sarasota's own Jon Corbino also fill the Museum of the Circus. And don't forget the real, live thing: Circus Sarasota thrills ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages Feb. 1-March 3 at the Sarasota County Fairgrounds.
Just because a composer's been dead for a few decades doesn't mean he can't come up with new work. In a way, that's what happens when the Florida West Coast Symphony presents its world premiere of Maurice Ravel's "Miroirs" in orchestral form, March 13-17. Comprised of five pieces originally written for piano, "Miroirs" has been translated into an orchestral work by several musicians, including Steven Stuckey, Percy Grainger, FWCS artistic director Leif Bjaland and Ravel himself. The composer's "La Valse" is also on that program.
Another composer, Richard Strauss, will receive his first-ever production at the Sarasota Opera this season with "Ariadne auf Naxos," March 2, 5, 7, 10, 13, 17 and 23. The opera company hasn't done works by many 20th-century composers; this one, set in 18th-century Vienna, mingles the party of a rich patron with the premiere of a new opera and a performance by a commedia dell'arte troupe.
Another bio show from Theatre Works: this one tentatively featuring Stephen "Mo" Hanan as author Truman Capote in the one-man show "Tru," March 8-April 7. Robert Morse, of course, won a Tony for his performance in this Jay Presson Allen piece a few years back, but Hanan's no slouch, either; he's currently booked for an off-Broadway run as the legendary Al Jolson in "Jolson & Co.," so fingers are crossed that his schedule will permit him to do "Tru."
Speaking of Tonys, playwright Charles Busch recently received a nomination for his comedy "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife," which turns up at the Asolo March 15-May 26. That's quite a triumph for a guy who started off his career way, way off-Broadway with titles like "Psycho Beach Party" and "Vampire Lesbians of Sodom" and has won as much acclaim for his drag queen persona as his writing. Carolyn Michel stars as middle-aged Upper West Side matron Marjorie Taub in the role originated by Linda Lavin on Broadway, and she's joined by none other than real-life husband (and Asolo producing artistic director) Howard Millman playing-well, her husband. Sharon Spelman appears as Marjorie's mysterious best friend.
And the 22nd annual Sarasota Jazz Festival reminds us that "Swing's the Thing," March 24-30. Not many details announced yet, but Keely Smith-yes, she of Louis Prima fame and that short, sassy haircut-is the star attraction.
At long, long last, John and Mable Ringling's 1920s mansion, Cà d'Zan, opens its doors to the public again! After a renovation that seemed to take eons (but promises to be worth it), the Ringling Museum plans a host of activities around the theme "The Ringling Castle Reborn," including a Three-Ring Festival of the Arts, period fashion shows, concerts and more. The official reopening date was not yet announced at press time, but it will be in March following a couple of fund-raising dinner-gala events.
When it comes to big, epic, sprawling musical theater productions, it may be tough to choose between "Titanic" and "Ragtime." Maybe you should just go to both. After all, they both won Tonys and they both have something to say about the stuff that dreams are made of. "Titanic" sails into the Van Wezel Feb. 10, while "Ragtime" runs April 19-21 there.
Players of Sarasota artistic director Burton Wolfe wrote the book and lyrics for the season's closer, "Red Wedding," a romance set against the backdrop of China's tumultuous Tiananmen Square uprising, but he's smart enough not to direct it, too. That's up to Lithuanian-born Jonas Jurasas, who knows something about oppression and revolution; he was banned from the USSR during the Brezhnev era after helming some controversial theater productions there, but has recently gone back to his newly independent homeland to work once more. He'll return to Sarasota for this production, a world premiere featuring music by An-lun Huang. Onstage April 18-28.
Poet Robinson Jeffers' version of Euripides' classic tale of revenge, "Medea," will give Venice Little Theatre's Stage II cast a workout, especially the lead actress, who'll have to step into shoes originally occupied by Dame Judith Anderson. Director Van Huff is mulling over the possibilities of transporting the setting from ancient Greece to a more contemporary time and place, and certainly the story of a wronged mother driven to unthinkable crimes is timeless. It's onstage April 12-21.
We're used to seeing Venice resident Dick Hyman show up at the Jazz Festival, but this season he drops by La Musica International Chamber Music Festival. The chamber fest is jazzing it up a little, presenting a commissioned work from Hyman that uses jazz elements in the context of a chamber sextet work. La Musica, which runs April 7-21 with concerts at the Opera House, also offers a new transcription of Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante for string sextet. Some familiar La Musica performers return this season, including Bruno Giuranna, Derek Han, and Jay Leonhart.
"I'm so glad we had this time together." Remember that bittersweet lyric from the old Carol Burnett TV show? Burnett fans (who probably turned out for her co-stars Tim Conway and Harvey Korman last season at the Van Wezel) will have a chance to spend some time with her again, in an evening of "Laughter and Reflection" set for April 10 at the hall. It's one of the season's higher-priced tickets, at $75 for the best seats; but how do you put a price on memories?
With the symphony Masterworks, ballet and opera seasons at an end, May is the month for theater. Florida Studio Theatre uses this time of the year to try out new works in readings at its New Play Festival; you never know what you're going to get, but that's part of the challenge.
The challenge of booking a table at a top New York City restaurant is the premise behind "Fully Committed," which ran to roars of laughter off-Broadway last year. (Even John Simon liked this one.) Written by Becky Mode, who's done her time as a waitress and coat-check girl, this is a smart, sassy look at the faults and foibles of would-be diners through the eyes of Sam, the struggling actor who's got his hands full juggling the reservation phones. It's in the Asolo's Jane B. Cook Theatre May 3-June 9 and stars Kraig Swartz, who just finished the role for the Peterborough Players in New Hampshire, as Sam.
And laughter should also rule the day when the Manatee Players present "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," May 2-19. This is one musical comedy that never seems to date, maybe because it's set in ancient times, anyway, albeit with a burlesque flavor.
Fans of "Annie Get Your Gun" who prefer the original version to the one that's been touring lately will be pleased when the Golden Apple returns to Irving Berlin's 1940s version, May 7-June 30. In other words, don't worry about political correctness; just enjoy Annie singing "I'm an Indian, Too" with Sitting Bull and friends, says director Bob Turoff. And those black train porters return to jazz up "Moonshine Lullaby."
That takes care of things until next summer. Happy viewing!