Put away your holiday decorations, clean up after your party and get out your new 2014 calendars. Live theater is alive and well and living in our area. Here are some highlights of what’s hitting the stage in the months ahead.
Bad boy playwright Joe Orton takes potshots at religious hypocrisy, death, sexual repression and British respectability in this FSU/Asolo Conservatory production. The time is the Swinging Sixties. The characters include a corrupt detective, a naughty nurse, a very bad son, and a very dead body which refuses to stay put. The hilarity is off the charts. Runs through Jan. 19; 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; 941-351-8000; asolorep.org/conservatory
'The Whipping Man'
The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe counts the cost of freedom in its production of Matthew Lopez’ “The Whipping Man.” The play unfolds in the south just after the Civil War. An injured Jewish soldier returns to the wreckage of his plantation. Two former slaves greet him at his homecoming. To turn the screws of irony, he arrives during Passover. Runs Jan. 2 through Feb. 2; 1646 10th Way, Sarasota; 941-366-1505; wbttroupe.org.
'Philadelphia Here I Come'
The Asolo Rep offers playwright Brian Friel’s (“Dancing at Lughnasa” and “Molly Sweeney”) touching coming-of-age story from 1964. His hero, Gar O’Donnell, leaves mid-twentieth century Ireland for an imagined America of Cadillacs, Coca Cola and smiling women. It’s not what he imagined — but perhaps it’s something better. This production weaves a tapestry of period music and dance around Friel’s honest dialogue and precise observations. Runs Jan. 7 through April 12; FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; 941-351-8000; asolorep.org
'The Mystery of Edwin Drood'
Charles Dickens went off to the great writer’s gig in the sky before finishing his final novel — a whodunit no less. No worries. The answer can at last be found in the form of an over-the-top production by the Music Hall Royale, a flamboyant if slightly looney Victorian music hall troupe. They offer a grab bag of solutions — and let the audience vote. Runs Jan. 9 through Feb. 26; Manatee Players, 502 3rd Ave West Bradenton; 941-748-5875; manateeplayers.commanateeplayers.com
Think of it as the other hit Broadway musical featuring Jesus Christ. This version (drawn from the Gospel According to St. Matthew) offers a host of classic rock songs that stick in your head and say there — including “Day by Day,” “Save the People,” “Learn Your Lessons Well” and “By My Side.” This staged savior is no superstar; the events swirling around Him aren’t filtered through the lens of Machiavellian realpolitik. Humanity, faith and youth take a stand against dark forces, and that’s pretty much it. Whatever your faith, it’s uplifting. Jan. 15; Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; 800-826-9303 or 941-953-3368; vanwezel.org
'The Capitol Steps'
Politics can either make you laugh or cry. This celebrated political comedy troupe prefers the latter option — and you can see them in action soon. Their brand of savvy comedy walks in the satiric footsteps of Tom Lehrer, The Firesign Theatre and SNL’s “Weekend Update” when it was actually funny. No faction, politician or ideological persuasion will be spared. Runs Jan. 26 and Jan. 27; Venice Theatre, 140 Tampa Ave. W., Venice; 941-488-1115; venicestage.com
'Daddy Long Legs'
John Caird and Paul Gordon’s two-person musical follows the footsteps of a plucky young orphan in New England at the turn of the twentieth century. In Dickensian tradition, an unknown benefactor sends our heroine to an elite college, and her journey of awakening begins. Material security is one thing, but her heart still has lessons to learn. Her vivid letters become musical vignettes; her story unfolds and draws us into its web. Runs Feb. 5 through April 5; Florida Studio Theatre Gompertz Theatre, 1247 First St., Sarasota; 941-366-9000; floridastudiotheatre.org
Some people make lemonade out of lemons. Playwright Del Shores turns the tabloids into theater. Deep in the heart of Texas, a fine Christian woman named Peggy trips on her lover’s wooden leg and dies. Surreal hilarity ensues in the no-man’s land intersecting the worlds of Flannery O’Connor, “True Stories” and “True West.” It’s surrealism — Texas-style. Runs Feb. 13 through Feb. 23; Players Theatre, 838 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; 941-365-2494; theplayers.org
'The Grapes of Wrath'
John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel was a sprawling Odyssey touching on one Oklahoma sharecropper family’s journey from the Dust Bowl to the promised land of California during the Great Depression. Playwright Frank Galati’s Tony-award adaptation distills Steinbeck’s themes of exploitation, perseverance, family and solidarity. Ma, Pa and Tom Joad and the other timeless characters will come alive on stage in an Asolo Rep production full of dance and period music. Runs March 12 through April 19; FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; 941-351-8000; asolorep.org
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