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Arts and Entertainment Thursday, May 11, 2017 1 year ago

The Songbird Returns: Maria Wirries sings Cole Porter

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Maria Wirries returns to Sarasota to celebrate Cole Porter in Artist Series Concerts’ season finale.
by: Marty Fugate Contributor
Penn State musical theater students Julia Hemp, Laura Guley, Johnathan Teeling, Joseph Allen, Maria Wirries and Daniel Teixeira will sing in Artist Series Concerts’ tribute to Cole Porter. Courtesy.

In 2008, Maria Wirries shook the rafters with a flawless rendition of “New York, New York” at a talent contest at the Players Theatre.

 Needless to say, she won. She was only 10 years old. But she already had the complete attention of the area arts community.

In the years that followed, Wirries lent her voice to a host of area organizations, including Artist Series Concerts, Sarasota Orchestra, Gloria Musicae and the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee. After Wirries graduated high school, Penn State University accepted her into its world-class musical theater program. Now, nearly 10 years after her initial triumph, the singing sensation is coming back to town.

Wirries will be singing, of course. But she won’t be alone.

She’ll be joined by seven of her fellow Penn State music students, including Joseph Allen, Laura Guley, Julia Hemp, Johnathan Philip Teeling, and Daniel Teixeira. Loclan Mackenzie-Spencer and Chris Rayis will also perform on dual pianos. 

The occasion?

“Hot ’n’ Cole”—a revue of Cole Porter’s timeless classics in contemporary jazz arrangements at the Sarasota Opera House. The Sunday, May 14, performance concludes Artist Series Concerts’ season.

“I think it’s the perfect season finale,” says Joseph Holt, the organization’s artistic director. “It’s a beautiful bouquet of Cole Porter songs for Mother’s Day.”

He lists a few of his favorites: “At Long Last Love,” “It’s Too Darn Hot,” “Night and Day,” “Just One of Those Things” …

“I could keep going, but you get the idea,” he says.

Holt adds that this Mother’s Day concert isn’t just about the music. It’s also about the musicians.

Julia Hemp

“This concert gives area audiences an opportunity to see the rising musical stars of tomorrow,” he says. “It’s also our way of empowering the careers of those upcoming artists. That’s always been at the heart of our mission.”

Holt adds that, “Penn State has an outstanding program. You’ll be seeing these talents on Broadway in the not-too-distant future. This is your chance to see them first.”

Speaking of which, Wirries has already auditioned for some of Broadway’s top shows.

Right now, she’s pouring her energies into the final rehearsals for “Hot ’n’ Cole, along with seven other students, under the direction of their teacher, John Simpkins.

“We’re all having a lot of fun,” Wirries says. “Cole Porter’s one of my all-time favorites. And I love the arrangements — they remind me of Manhattan Transfer. Because it’s a revue, there’s no single storyline. We perform under our own names as different characters, depending on the song. And Cole Porter created some really interesting characters! He’s a great musical storyteller. I think that’s why his songs stay with you and still hold up today.”

It’s also why Porter’s songs electrify these talented young people. Holt says the energy he’s seen in the rehearsal room is remarkable.

How does Wirries feel about coming back to her hometown?

“I’m so excited,” she says. “I absolutely love the people of Sarasota. I know my friends and family will be there, and I get to show them what I’m doing with my new friends. I know it’s going to be a wonderful homecoming.”

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