As The Players reaches a milestone birthday, it looks forward to new productions — and a new home.
Returning shows, riveting classics and even local premieres round out the lineup of The Players’ 90th anniversary season. This nonagenarian year is a time for reflection and renewal as Sarasota’s oldest community theater evolves.
From September to April, the troupe has six musicals to showcase at its current site north of downtown, all while it prepares to move to a larger location in Lakewood Ranch.
“Ninety years is quite a milestone, and I feel it has invigorated us to really take a look at who we are and why we do what we do,” says Jeffery Kin, the managing artistic director for The Players Centre for Performing Arts. “Taking the time to understand our role in the community and build momentum is very important to us. Our Sarasota has changed in the last 90 years, and we need to grow with it.”
And The Players is indeed growing. When the company first launched in 1929, the town’s population was a small fraction of its current size. To accommodate the city’s mass of theater lovers, a new complex will be built for The Players over the next few years on 4½ acres in Lakewood Ranch’s Waterside Place development. Groundbreaking on the 70,000-square-foot campus is expected toward the end of the year.
Kin might be looking toward this future, but he also wanted the season’s opening musicals to pay homage to the theater’s past.
It had been years since The Players performed “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” (a reimagining of the Biblical story of Joseph, Jacob, 11 brothers and the coat of many colors, by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice) or Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones’ “The Fantasticks” (a romantic fable about fathers who trick their children into falling in love).
Both shows kicked off The Players’ Wilde Broadway Season, to be followed by Jerry Herman’s “Hello, Dolly!” which chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century socialite-turned-matchmaker (Dec. 4-22); Alan Menken and Glenn Slater’s “Sister Act,” based on the 1992 comedic film about singing nuns (Jan. 15 to Feb. 2); The Go-Go’s “Head Over Heels,” a celebration of songs by the iconic all-girl group (Feb. 19 to March 8); and Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes,” about a hilarious 1930s shipboard romp (March 25 to April 11).
“There was a time when we thought this season might be our last season in this theater,” Kin says. “It made me stop and think, ‘If that’s the case, how would I want this wonderful building that has produced so much joy over the years to close?’”
So, Kin thought of shows like “The Fantasticks” and “Anything Goes” that he had already produced during his tenure as artistic director. “These two classics are really are the best of what American musical theater has to offer,” Kin says.
“There’s no grudge that this isn’t our last season at this location. I’m loving the fact that we just happen to have a powerhouse 90th season for our community to enjoy.”
Finding a holiday show was a challenge for Kin (it always is, he says), but he decided on “Hello, Dolly!”
“You think, ‘Do you automatically think something with holiday flair, or do you just go with a blockbuster?’” Kin says. “The blockbuster idea won out this season, as I just wanted a show that everyone could escape to.
“There’s no holiday baggage with this one since, for some, the holidays are not necessarily the best time of the year. A show like this is a unifier; it is universally loved. And I knew the talent was within our grasp to pull off an amazing show like this.”
Other amazing shows are in the schedule too — ones that The Players has never attempted.
“When I see certain films, I think to myself, ‘This would be great onstage.’” Kin says. “Sometimes, it actually happens, like with ‘Sister Act.’ It has original music, not like the film, that I think actually helps it to stand on its own. They also set it in the 1970s, which, again, really helps make it more of a live theater experience rather than a film.”
Kin says he was especially psyched to secure the rights to The Go-Go’s musical, “Head Over Heels,” which recently closed on Broadway.
“I was fortunate to be blessed with the area’s premiere,” Kin says. “The fact that the story is classic (think Shakespearean text with kings and queens) yet has completely modern music and speaks to the gender-fluid issues that our country is coming to grips with right now, is just a brilliant combination.”
As The Players continues to expand, Kin says he is excited for the theater’s growth and what it means for the Sarasota community as a whole.
“Our move was a vital step in setting up our organization to have the space and freedom to grow and to become something greater than we’ve been in the past,” Kin says.
“By opening our arms to other arts organizations and housing more talent, it allows us to truly become a player in the area’s arts scene.”
Click through the timeline below to see how The Players has grown over its 90 years.