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Performing Art
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Sep. 26, 2018 2 years ago

Live Theater: Critic’s Picks for 2018-2019

The Observer’s picks for the don’t-miss live theater events of the upcoming season.
by: Marty Fugate Contributor

At its best, live theater is full of life. In our area, the vital signs look good in the season ahead. Our performing arts venues continue to stage new work, and they don’t shy away from controversy, complexity and ambiguity — or shameless entertainment for that matter. What follows is a mixed assortment of plays in genres and subjects ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime. We can’t promise something for everybody. But this is as close as it gets.


Manatee Players

"Cabaret" at Manatee Performing Arts Center will be directed by Rick Kerby. Courtesy photo

“Cabaret” is the familiar musical story of the hopeless relationship of an English writer and an American cabaret dancer who meet in Berlin’s volatile nightclub scene at the dawn of the Nazi era. 

As fantastic as it is, their story is grounded in reality. This Broadway hit (music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb; script by Joe Masteroff) is a musical theater adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s “Goodbye to Berlin” and John Van Druten’s play, “I am a Camera,” based on that novel. While Hitler and his friends were big with sublimated sexuality, they loathed the undisguised thing. The Nazi party wasn’t big on parties. They ultimately destroyed the café artists of the Weimar era. These quirky characters are doomed — and it makes their fate all the more poignant. 

If You Go

When: Oct. 25 to Nov. 11

Where: Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave. W., Bradenton

Tickets: $27-$40 

Info: Call 748-5875 or click here.



Asolo Conservatory

"Arcadia" runs Oct. 31 to Nov. 18 at FSU Center for the Performing Arts. Courtesy photo

Forget the Florida cowboy town. Tom Stoppard’s 1993 play is a mirror maze of doubling, paradox, wordplay and chaos theory. Two timelines collide. In 1809, a precocious young woman tries to nail down proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem. In the present, an ambitious literary scholar with his own theory picks over the bones of Lord Byron. 

It all takes place in Sidley Manor, a broken down palace of former glories and undying conceits. Past and present are close enough to touch, but that’s not the point. Stoppard’s as witty as ever, but this is more than an intellectual game. Despite our big ideas, time rubs us all out in the end. Stoppard sheds a tear for the victims. 

If You Go

When: Oct. 31 to Nov. 18

Where: FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail

Tickets: $30

Info: Call 351-8000 or click here.


‘Silence! The Musical’

Venice Theatre

"Silence! The Musical" at Venice Theatre will be directed by Kelly Woodland. Courtesy photo

Aside from good taste, this biting musical parody of “The Silence of the Lambs” has a lot going for it. Music and lyrics by Jon and Al Kaplan, and a script by Hunter Bell, for starters. 

On top of that: there’s Kelly Woodland’s side-splitting direction; a Greek chorus of floppy-eared lambs; Buffalo Bill’s serial killer hoedown; and creepy Dr. Hannibal Lecter, singing a poor-me ballad imagining the life he’ll live (and the meals he’ll cook) outside of prison. 

If your sense of humor enjoys a walk on the dark side, this is the play for you. If you’re easily offended (or nauseated) stay home and order takeout. 

If You Go

When: Nov. 2-25

Where: Venice Theatre, 140 Tampa Ave. W., Venice

Tickets: $30

Info: Call 488-1115 or click here.


Capitol Steps

Van Wezel 

Capitol Steps will also perform Dec. 29-30 at Venice Theatre. Courtesy photo

Capitol Steps began in 1981 as a small group of Senate staffers who gleefully bit the hands that fed them. 

They’ve grown to a powerhouse troupe of smart, savvy satirists with an eye for absurdity and an ear for musical parody worthy of “Weird Al” Yankovic at his best. 

This year’s “Orange is the New Barack” tour skewers President Trump with “Wake Me Up in Mar-a-Lago” and deep-fries Bernie Sanders with “If There Were No Rich Men.” 

If the news cycle makes you want to cry, check out this show and laugh instead. After 37 years, the Capitol Steps are still going strong — though that shouldn’t be surprising. Given the state of the nation, they’re in no danger of running out of material anytime soon.

If You Go

When: Nov. 7

Where: Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail

Tickets: $32-$42

Info: Call 953-3368 or click here.

‘Noises Off’

Asolo Rep

Playwright Michael Frayn had his epiphany in 1970. He was backstage at a farce, watching from the wings when the insight dawned. “It was funnier from behind than in front,” he writes. “I thought that, one day, I must write a farce from behind!” He did exactly that, and “Noises Off” is the hilarious result. 

Frayn’s farce-within-a-farce illustrates the theatrical equivalent of Murphy’s Law. Doors slam, plots hatch, libidos simmer and everything that could possibly go wrong does. 

If You Go

When: March 20 to April 20

Where: FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail

Tickets: $34-$125

Info: Call 351-8000 or click here.



The Players Centre for Performing Arts

"Hairspray" at The Players Centre for Performing Arts will be directed by Cory Boyas. Courtesy photo

The year is 1962, the soundtrack is rock ’n’ roll, the city is Baltimore, and hair spray is in the air. This musical adaptation of John Waters’ 1988 movie tells the tale of plus-sized high school girl who dreams of joining the teenage cast of a Top 40 dance show. She gets her dream — and more. The moral? People of different colors or dress sizes shouldn’t be second-class citizens. A heavy message, but delivered in a tone as light as hair spray. 

If You Go

When: Jan. 17 to Feb. 3 

Where: The Players Centre for Performing Arts, 838 N. Tamiami Trail

Tickets: $27-$32 

Info: Call 365-2494 or click here.



Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe

"Raisin" is playing Oct. 3 to Nov. 11 at Westcoast Black Theatre. Courtesy photo

“What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?” These lines from Langston Hughes’ “Harlem” inspired Lorraine Hansberry’s original play, “A Raisin in the Sun.” 

Her play unfolds the odyssey of the Youngers, a tight-knit African-American family living in Chicago in early 1950s. 

They want to better themselves, but still stay true to themselves. When the father dies, an insurance check offers a chance to leave their cramped apartment for a home of their own. But does moving up mean selling out? This Tony Award-winning musical adaptation sticks close to Hansberry’s story, while offering glimpses of the first seismic shocks of the social changes ahead. 

If You Go

When: Oct. 3 to Nov. 11

Where: Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, 1012 N. Orange Ave.

Tickets: $45; $20 for students and active military

Info: Call 366-1505 or click here.


‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ 

Florida Studio Theatre

"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" at Florida Studio Theatre will be directed by Richard Hopkins. Courtesy photo

Simon Stephens’ theatrical adaptation of Mark Haddon’s novel evokes a sense of wonder, without being twee. Chris is no ordinary teenager. He has a gifted mind and a sunny attitude towards life — until a neighbor’s dog is found speared with a pitchfork and Chris becomes a suspect. 

Despite his social anxiety and fears of overstimulation, he emulates his hero Sherlock Holmes and sets out to solve the crime. In the process, he voyages to London on his own, finds his missing mother, reconciles with his father, writes a book, and aces his A-level mathematics exam. You see the world through Chris’ eyes, and it’s an extraordinary sight. 

If You Go

When: Jan. 23 to March 17

Where: Gompertz Theatre, Florida Studio Theatre, 1265 First St.

Tickets: $25-$39

Info: Call 366-9000 or click here. 


‘In a Word’

Urbanite Theatre

Upcoming Urbanite Theatre production "In a Word" was written by playwright Lauren Yee. Courtesy photo

A child vanishes. He’s probably been kidnapped. What does that do to a family? It seems unimaginably painful, but playwright Lauren Yee imagines it. The father, Guy, shuts down emotionally; the mother, Fiona, is an exposed nerve of pain — and something that transcends pain. She finds light in the hellish darkness, not a contrived, Pollyanna optimism, but the simple, stubborn refusal to give up. Yee evokes Fiona’s inner struggle with a tapestry of comedy, surrealism, wordplay and a fluid use of time and space. What’s the worst that could happen? The playwright looks at the horror without flinching. She goes beyond the point where words fail and hope begins. 

If You Go

When: March 8 to April 14

Where: Urbanite Theatre, 1487 Second St.

Tickets: $29

Info: Call 321-1397 or click here.

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