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Performing Art
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009 8 years ago

Observer Reviews

by: June LeBell and Anna Dearing

Cultural Open Houses
Arts organizations all over the country are changing their artistic attitudes and looking for new ways to entice new audiences. It began more than 25 years ago when orchestras and opera companies began fundraising on the radio and television, offering subscribers a Chinese-food-style menu of choices (take two concerts from column A and mix with three from column B) and opportunities to trade their tickets for different, more convenient dates.

Then, along came opera in high definition, bringing the art form to our local movie houses and combining great singing with popcorn munching.

Now, they’re using Facebook and Twitter, Googling for grants and coaxing seniors and ’tweens to volunteer their time, money and talents for tickets.

The Sarasota Opera has been one of the most innovative in this new area of ticket selling and attracting new ears by holding seasonal open houses, complete with groaning boards of food (donated by local restaurants) and fountains of fruit punch, giveaway tote bags filled with favors, backstage tours, makeup demonstrations and music indoors and out.

A couple of weeks ago, the opera held its autumn open house, and from the piña coladas and “lollipop lamb chops” to the arias in areas normally flowing with sequined gowns and black ties, it was a huge success. More than half the audience — numbering more than 1,000 — had never been to the opera before. And, most of those were sold on coming back. After all, they’d heard some wonderful young voices in the courtyard, atrium and lobby, singing their hearts and souls out to clamoring cheers and applause.

And they’d seen Artistic Director and conductor Victor deRenzi and Executive Director Susan Danis rise, with Radio City-like splendor, on the orchestra pit lift, only to joke, jest and jolt newcomers into realizing that opera isn’t for fuddy duddies.

Said Danis: “Five operas for $100 — this offer lasts just 24 hours! Get ‘em while they’re hot!”

“Try our new 21st century electronic ticket machine, R2-D2, making its debut in the lobby right outside the ticket windows.”

They make it easy as singing a middle C to purchase tickets without waiting in line.

Good heavens! Opera is returning to the masses — beloved, enjoyed, alive and well. What’ll they think of next?

What a thrill to have a Tony award-winning musical on stage at the Asolo Repertory Theatre ... and one that combines the talent of both the Asolo Rep and the Sarasota Ballet, no less! This co-production was a huge success and is not to be missed by any theater- or dance-lover.

“Contact” consists of three scenes with the underlying theme of love and human connection. The entire show is set to pre-recorded music, the actors do not sing, and there is minimal dialogue. But, there is a lot of dancing — and great dancing at that.

Quite honestly, why the Asolo went to the expense of hiring Equity actors is one question that remains in this critic’s mind, especially because the Sarasota Ballet dancers — Rania Charalambidou, Rita Duclos,
Kate Honea, Logan Learned, Octavio Martin, Ricardo Rhodes and Tracey Tucci — outshined their musical-theater counterparts.

The first scene, “Swinging,” takes place in a forest glade in 1767 and makes Fragonard’s painting, “The Swing,” come to life. An aristocrat, Matt Baker, and a servant, Sean Ewing, both vie for the “Girl on a Swing,” Ariel Shepley’s, attention. Honestly, this scene could have been entirely eliminated. It just wasn’t that captivating.

Part II: “Did You Move?” takes place in the ’50s in an Italian restaurant in Queens. Gangster James Clarke yells at his wife, “Don’t move!” every time he gets up to go to the buffet. Each time he leaves, his wife, Nadine Isenegger, fantasizes dancing around the restaurant with the head waiter, Martin. Clarke drew numerous laughs out of the audience, but we wouldn’t expect less from him.

The final scene, “Contact,” is by far the most exciting part of the show, which consists of numerous swing-dance sequences. Fletcher McTaggart plays an exasperated advertising executive who finds himself in a Manhattan swing club in 1999. There, he falls in love with the “Girl in a Yellow Dress,” Shannon Lewis, who is by far more interested in dancing than talking. McTaggart, however, is the only one who lacks rhythm in this scene and isn’t as adept at crossing the line between dancing and acting as the rest of the cast. But, all in all, this show is a resounding sucess.


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