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Performing Art
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014 7 years ago

Critics' Choice

by: Heidi Kurpiela Contributing Writer

Thanks to the Ringling International Arts Festival, the Sarasota season now starts with a bang –– literally.
When fireworks explode Oct. 15 signaling the start of the Ringling Museum’s four-day arts festival, the rest of the city’s arts and cultural venues spring to life.

It’s a frenzied time of year. The weather cools down. The traffic picks up, and the curtains go up in every theater in town. Starting in November, you could realistically attend a different performance every weekend through May.

This season’s lineup is the kind of artistic grab bag about which theatergoers dream. From George Balanchine to Woody Guthrie, obscure Russian operas to beloved blockbuster musicals, this season’s programming has something for everyone. To see which shows are already garnering critical acclaim, we asked Sarasota critics Marty Fugate, June LeBell and Anna Dearing to give us their top picks for the 2014/2015 season.

MARTY FUGATE | theater and visual art critic

1. “Intergalactic Nemesis” (Oct. 16 through Oct. 18, at the Ringling International Arts Festival)
“I’m a cartoonist and a big fan of old-time radio, so this seems like a nice mash-up of both traditions. There will be a projection of comic book panels behind three actors who are essentially doing a radio play. It’s rooted in something that’s near and dear to the hearts of science fiction and comic book fans everywhere.”

2. “The Addams Family” (Oct. 29 through Nov. 16, at The Players Theatre)
“The Addams family is one of my all-time favorite families, probably because they remind me of my own family. The plot is very similar to ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.’ The premise is that Wednesday Addams has fallen in love with a man and her family is shocked to discover that he’s normal. He’s not dressed in black. He’s not macabre. He doesn’t have supernatural powers. It should be a hoot.”

3. “The Water Engine” (Nov. 4 through Nov. 23, at the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training)
“It’s old-time classic conspiracy theater. It’s the story the crazy guy on the bus shares with you as he puts on his tin foil hat. The general premise is that someone invented an engine that runs on water, and the oil company suppressed it. It’s got a Frank Capra-kind-of-clunky-underdog in it who beats the system. Plus it’s set during the 1939 World’s Fair, which is very appealing to me.”

4. Hairspray (Nov. 12 through Jan. 4, at Florida Studio Theatre)
“Under all the jokes and machinery, there’s a real humanity to it. It’s rooted in the reality of 1962 Baltimore, which is where (‘Hairspray’ filmmaker) John Waters grew up. It’s a look at cliques and what it takes to break down the barriers of acceptance. I think FST is going to have a lot of fun with it.”

5. “Spunk” (April 15 through May 17, at the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe)
“It’s three tales by Zora Neale Hurston. What I like about Hurston’s writing is that it gets into the language of the times and subculture. One of the stories is told entirely in zoot suit slang. It’s going to be great.”

6. “Woody Sez: the Life and Music of Woody Guthrie” (May 30 through June 21, at the Asolo Repertory Theatre)
“Woody Guthrie is really responsible for the American singer/songwriter tradition. This is a very authentic play that gets into his life, his music and philosophy. (Guthrie) was the kind of guy who would say things like, ‘Life is pretty tough. You’re lucky to live through it.’ He was very incisive and humane. I know the Asolo Rep can do it right.”

June LeBell | radio personality and music critic

1. “Intergalactic Nemesis” (Oct. 16 through Oct. 18, at the Ringling International Arts Festival)
“I’m fascinated by this. I have no idea what it is, other than it has something to do with music and radio. Because I love both of these things, I’m excited to see what it’s all about.”

2. “South Pacific” (Nov. 11 through Dec. 28, at the Asolo Repertory Theatre)
“The Asolo does wonderful work with musicals. They always have an interesting take, both musically and dramatically. I saw ‘South Pacific’ with the original cast on Broadway, and I bet anything that this incarnation of the show will be different and interesting.”

3. “The Golden Cockerel” (Feb. 21 through March 19, at Sarasota Opera)
“It’s a wonderful opera, and it’s rarely done. I not only grew up with these arias, but I grew up singing them. I saw it only once at New York City Opera with Beverly Sills. I hope people realize how beautiful, romantic and hard it is.”

4. Masterworks at the Sarasota Orchestra
“Although this is Anu Tali’s second season, it’s the first one where she is conducting five of the season’s Masterworks. She’s bringing internationally renowned soloists whom Sarasota has never seen before. I’m especially excited about pianist Alexander Toradze, flugelhorn player Sergei Nakariakov, Stephen Hough ­— one of the world’s greatest pianists — and Benjamin Schmid on Korngold’s Violin Concerto, which sounds like this gorgeous combination of John Williams and Rachmaninoff.”

5. Charlie Albright (The Sarasota Institute of Lifetime Learning’s Music Mondays, March 2, at Sarasota Orchestra’s Holley Hall)
“Charlie is a classical pianist who grew up loving rock ’n’ roll. He was here a couple years ago — he played ‘Great Balls of Fire’ for the audience and the roof almost went off. He’s really incredible, fun, funny and entertaining.”

Anna Dearing | dance critic

1. Sarasota Ballet’s “Balanchine, Tuckett & Bruce” (Nov. 21 and Nov. 22, at the Sarasota Opera House)
“Balanchine’s ‘Rubies’ is just one section of a three-part ballet called ‘Jewels,’ which I love. Balanchine makes the dancers so elegant, beautiful and sparkly. ‘Jewels’ is one of his classic pieces. It’s always a treat to watch.”

2.  Sarasota Ballet’s “La Fille mal Gardée” (Dec. 19 and Dec. 20, at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall)
“It’s a charming, humorous ballet but also incredibly challenging and technical.”

3. “Flashdance The Musical” (April 1 and April 2, at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall)
“Every dancer loves the ‘Flashdance’ storyline. I’m intrigued to see if they do the classic water bucket scene on stage. Plus, who wouldn’t want to see a good ’80s movie turned into a musical?”

4. Sarasota Ballet’s “The Ballets Russes” (May 1 and May 2, at the Sarasota Opera House)
“Nijinsky’s ‘Afternoon of a Faun’ and (Fokine’s) ‘Petrushka’ were these historical ballets you had to watch as a young dancer at ballet camp. They’re very historic. I’ve never seen them performed live before, so I’m really excited to see Sarasota Ballet bring them to life.” 

5. Sarasota Challenge Ballroom Competition (March 23 and March 24, at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota) and the Florida State DanceSport Championships (July 28 through Aug. 2, at the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota)
“Local dancer Sid Pocius puts on a great competition. During the day you can watch the pro-am competition, then at night you’ve got the gala performances. (Pocius) brings in top professionals from the industry. Larry and Dianne Dean do the same thing in the summer with their Triple Crown (the Florida State DanceSport Championships). Both events are so much fun. Everybody gets dressed up. There are false eyelashes and Swarovski crystals everywhere.”


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