As the calendar inches closer and closer to March, and the current season reaches its midway point, the cavalcade of next year’s season announcements are appearing. The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe has announced its 16th anniversary theatrical season. Productions include a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Tony Award-nominated musical, an August Wilson classic, a soulful Christmas tradition, and, of course, new work by founding artistic director Nate Jacobs.
“From our 15th Anniversary Celebration to this point in the current season, we have definitely raised the bar for our organization from previous years,” says Jacobs in a prepared statement. “We want to make sure that we continue to move forward as artists and as an organization, and work hard to break new ground.”
The 2015/2016 season will open with the rapturous and redemptive 11 time Tony Award-nominated musical “The Color Purple” with music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray and book written by Marsha Norman. Running from Oct. 14 to Nov. 21, this musical ran on Broadway for three years from 2005 to 2008.
This three-year residency isn’t surprising given the musical's popular and inspiring source material. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by Alice Walker and the 1985 Academy Award-nominated film by Steven Spielberg starring Whoopi Goldberg as the courageous protagonist Celie Johnson, the musical depicts Celie’s life through a score reflective of the African-American culture and experience with gospel, jazz and blues throughout.
Following “The Color Purple” is a production of two time Pulitzer Prize for Drama winner August Wilson’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” The play is scheduled to run Jan. 13 through Feb. 20, 2016. The third entry in Wilson’s historic “Pittsburgh Cycle,” a ten play cycle that depicts the African-American experience in every decade of the 20th century, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” takes place in Chicago and looks at the early years of the music recording industry through the lens of real life blues singer Ma Rainey. It was Wilson’s first play to open on Broadway in 1984 and received three Tony Award nominations including best play.
The third production in the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s season running March 2 through April 9, 2016 is a Nate Jacobs original: “The Sam Cooke Story.” The production will depict the life of the influential and popular soul artist Sam Cooke as he grew from a gospel singer to one of the first mainstream soul artists with hit songs such as “You Send Me,” “Saturday Night,” “Twistin’ the Night Away,” and the Civil Rights anthem “A Change is Gonna Come.” Even though he was shot and killed in 1964, Cooke’s shadow is cast over a majority of popular music with his success and artistry paving the way for soul artists like Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder.
The fourth and final production of the subscription season will be the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Drama recipient “Driving Miss Daisy” by Alfred Uhry, which runs April 20 to May 28, 2016. The story tells the relationship between an elderly white Southern Jewish woman Daisy Werthan and her elderly African-American chauffeur Hoke Colburn. First opening in 1987 at Playwrights Horizons in New York City, the play became a cultural juggernaut a year later when it was adapted into a film of the same name starring Jessica Tandy as the irascible Miss Daisy and Morgan Freeman as the affable chauffeur Colburn. The movie would receive nine Academy Award nominations and win four Oscars, including best picture.
As an added holiday bonus to the stellar season, the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe will offer a world premiere of “A Motown Christmas,” which was created by Jacobs. Featuring Christmas songs by Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Supremes and The Jackson 5 among many others, “A Motown Christmas” will hopefully become a recurring tradition in the Sarasota holiday season. The musical present is slated to run Dec. 2 through 31 with the final performance including a New Year’s Eve party with cocktails, dinner and dancing into 2016.
In addition to the award-winning theatrical fare, the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe will adjust their house seating policies and will now offer reserved seating for the upcoming season. “We are very excited about our upcoming season,” says Richard M. Parison, Jr., executive director of Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, in a prepared statement. “On the heels of our effervescent and sold-out 15th anniversary season, we wanted to continue to focus on increasing our patron experience. This includes implementing reserved seating to better accommodate audience members and announcing our season earlier than previous years to reach the majority of our patrons during the height of season.”