The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall will bring 10 Broadway shows to Sarasota during its 2022-23 season, which kicks off in November with the smash hit “Chicago.” Several popular shows will be making their Sarasota debut including “Mean Girls” and “Aladdin.”
“Legally Blonde” and “My Fair Lady” will both be coming to the Van Wezel, as will “9 to 5,” “Tootsie” and “Cats.” And there won’t just be drama on the schedule; Van Wezel will also welcome Blue Man Group and a couple interesting dance acts.
The “Riverdance 25th Anniversary Tour” will make its first stop here in Sarasota in January, and the Van Wezel will also play host to “Momix: Alice” and to “Pilobolus.”
Mary Bensel, executive director of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, says she’s excited for the season to come.
“This year was sort of a buffer year. It was a lot of shows that we had planned to do two years ago and the next year,” says Bensel. “Some of them couldn’t make it out of their countries. But this year is hopefully a full-blown season that we’ve planned; we have two huge Broadway shows coming up, and I’m ready for that. I’m ready to get out of the house.”
Bensel says she saw the original production of “Chicago” decades ago, and she said this version will have an orchestra on stage and a different vibe. “Mean Girls” and “Aladdin” represent a coup for Van Wezel in that it had been trying to bring them for a long time.
“It’s a full-blown Disney production,” says Bensel. “The magic carpet will fly across the Van Wezel stage. And the costumes are spectacular. And while Disney people think, ‘Oh, these are family-oriented shows,' Disney really puts everything on stage. I love 'Aladdin.' It’s sumptuous, the costumes are great, and then you get to see the two young lovers.
“'Mean Girls' is the Tiny Fey show, and I really like that one. I think that’s going to be a great show for us because we have a fabulous education program. I want to make sure we focus on how bullying can be the wrong thing to do. 'Mean Girls' will be here a full week.”
Bensel says she is excited that "Riverdance," which is being reimagined for its 25th season, will be making its first leg of its tour in Sarasota. That means that local audiences will have an opportunity to see the new show for the new tour before anyone else in the world. "Momix: Alice," says Bensel, isn't just a dance show; they're illusionists who use shadow technology, giving audiences a chance to see this cutting edge group's take on "Alice in Wonderland," one of the most timeless tales in literature.
Blue Man Group has been sharing its antics on stage for quite some time, but Bensel says that their appearance in Sarasota will give a lot of people who haven’t seen them a chance to sit up close to the stage for one of the most exciting performance spectacles.
“Anybody who hasn’t seen them live hasn’t seen them,” she says. “It’s great to see them on "The Today Show" or wherever. But you need to be in the audience. And if you’re one of those lucky people who gets to sit up front, you get to be a little blue all by yourself.”
Bensel says she has seen "Cats" about 25 times in person and that it maintains its allure. But there are two other shows, she says, that may take audiences by surprise. One is "On Your Feet," a tribute to Miami icon Gloria Estefan, and the other is "Waitress."
"For me, Broadway is personal," says Bensel. "I wanted to be Barbra Streisand. And now they're doing 'Funny Girl' yet again without me in the lead. But I really loved 'Waitress' because there's a ballad that's all about a mother and her baby. Sara Bareilles' music really moves me, so I'm really happy to have a couple performances of that."