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Newlyweds found love and theater in Sarasota

Brian Finnerty and Amanda Heisey have been sharing stages in the area for nearly a decade.

Brian Finnerty and Amanda Heisey spent more than a decade on stage with each other at area theaters before getting married in January.
Brian Finnerty and Amanda Heisey spent more than a decade on stage with each other at area theaters before getting married in January.
Courtesy image
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If Sarasota theater couple Amanda Heisey and Brian Finnerty create their answer to “How I Met Your Mother,” the long-running TV show of the early 2000s told in flashbacks, they’ll have plenty of material to work with. 

Let’s start with how the newlyweds got engaged, back in August 2021. Heisey was starring alongside Luke Manual McFatrich in Dingbat Theatre Project’s production of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” 

Finnerty directed and choreographed and designed the costumes for the glam rock musical, which played at The Bazaar at Apricot and Lime.

At the time, Heisey thought it was odd that her parents had come from Kansas City to see her performance. “Hedwig is so edgy and that’s normally not their kind of thing,” she says. 

Also in the audience were friends of the couple’s from Orlando. Still, Finnerty didn’t give too much thought to why they had decided to attend this show out of all the community theater productions in Sarasota, Venice and Bradenton that Heisey and Finnerty had collaborated on over several years. 

What was it about “Hedwig”? In the show, most of Heisey’s abundant tresses were hidden under a cap that gave the illusion of a mullet haircut. The look was part of her transformation into Yitzhak, a Jewish drag queen who is the husband and backup singer to the titular aspiring East German rock singer.

In a recent interview at Project Coffee in the Rosemary District, Heisey said she was wondering why her future husband thanked McFatrich before acknowledging her performance since the star traditionally gets the last curtain call.

When Finnerty proposed to her on stage in front of family, friends and audience, suddenly it all made sense. “We had talked about getting married, but I wasn’t expecting it at all,” Heisey recalls. “It wasn’t like we had gone shopping for rings or anything.”

Following the show, Finnerty whisked his fiancée to an engagement party at The Mable on Tamiami Trail that he’d secretly planned so the couple could celebrate with their entourage.

Amanda Heisey met her husband Brian Finnerty when they were both in The Players' production of the musical "Catch Me If You Can" in 2015.
Courtesy image

Before they started dating and later moved in together just as Covid was shutting down live theater in 2020, Heisey and Finnerty were friends and collaborators on musicals, cabarets and burlesque shows. They first worked together on a 2015 production at The Players, now the Sarasota Players, of the musical “Catch Me If You Can.”  

They got to know each other better when Heisey hired Finnerty, a Florida native who began began competing in children’s dance competitions when he was three, to improve her footwork. The lessons were to prepare for an audition for “Cats” at the Manatee Players in Bradenton. Heisey got the part she wanted.

“She was an amazing cat,” recalls Finnerty. “Everybody in the play was really good. That was a strong production. It’s hard to find that many good dancers.” 

It's all about the details

Still, it would be a while before Finnerty would tell Heisey that he was in love with her, creating what she called “a messy situation” because she was dating someone else at the time.

The complications weren’t resolved immediately, and the couple isn’t sure when their “dating anniversary” is, Finnerty says. “But it doesn’t really matter because the most important anniversary is our wedding anniversary,” he says. That would be Jan. 13, 2024.

As anyone who watched “Bridezillas” knows, brides and their relatives can get a little crazy about wedding preparations. That wasn’t the case with the Heisey-Finnerty nuptials, according to both parties. For one thing, they planned it themselves, taking the same detail-oriented, yet whimsical approach they do to community theater.

There were some concessions to tradition. Heisey went home to Kansas City to go bridal dress shopping with her mother, aunts and cousins. She was lucky enough to find an off-the-rack gown that fit nearly perfectly. 

Members of the wedding party were asked to wear black for the sophisticated winter ceremony at the picturesque Bishop Museum of Science and Nature in Bradenton. “Everyone liked that because that meant they could wear their wedding clothes again,” Heisey notes.

Finnerty sported a glam tuxedo with groovy loafers festooned with Playboy bunny emblems, a wedding present from his future wife, who uses her maiden name professionally. (For her burlesque appearance, she goes by Karma Kandlewick.)

Wedding guests applaud Brian Finnerty and Amanda Heisey as they walk down the aisle after saying their "I do's."
Image courtesy of Krissy Marie

Scott Keys, who was Finnerty’s teacher when he was in the Booker High School Visual and Performing Arts program, was the officiant for the rites. Keys became a close friend as a fellow traveler in community theater circles. (Both Keys and Heisey had shows in the second Squeaky Wheel Fringe festival at the Cook Theatre earlier this month.)

For their wedding caterers, Finnerty and Heisey chose the Amish restaurant Der Dutchman for its tasty food and reasonable prices. They hired Taylor Opie, the sister of a friend, and her band to provide live music. Their wedding song came from the “Hedwig” soundtrack: “The Origin of Love.” 

“Luke (McFatrich) sang it for us,” Finnerty says, reprising his performance as Hedwig in the show where Finnerty proposed to Heisey.

But McFatrich wasn’t the only friend of the bride and groom who performed an impromptu song at their wedding. “Taylor knows everybody in Sarasota so she would tell people to come up and sing,” adds Heisey.

In a joint interview, Finnerty and Heisey don’t exactly finish each other’s sentences; they elaborate on what the other has just been saying. Their easy manner with each other is astounding given how much time they spend together.

Life is a (virtual) cabaret

While some couples drove each other crazy during pandemic lockdowns, work-from-home was a dream come true for Heisey and Finnerty, who made the most of the time personally and professionally. 

During their time at home during Covid, Heisey, who is marketing director of the Sarasota Players, and Finnerty, who is now production manager of the Sarasota Players, spent a lot of time online. They devoted their efforts to bringing in donations for the Players during the Giving Challenge and to engaging the community through virtual performances with other collaborators. 

“There was a thing that we did during Covid called ‘Theater Lives,’” says Heisey. “We were trying to make sure that community theaters stayed alive and relevant during that time.”

Adds Finnerty: “There was a Facebook page. There were virtual cabarets. They all had different themes like ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’ ‘Les Miz’ and others.”

Amanda Heisey and Brian Finnerty tied the knot on Jan. 13, 2024 at the Bishop Museum of Science and Nature in Bradenton.
Image courtesy of Krissy Marie

The rapport and longevity of Finnerty and Heisey should serve the Sarasota Players well in its coming season, its 95th. There has been turnover in the artistic director job at the Players recently and the community theater decided not to fill the vacant position. It organized its upcoming 2024-25 season with existing staff, which includes Finnerty and Heisey.

The plans of the Sarasota Players to build The Stage in Payne Park, which it plans to share with other cultural organizations, and leave its temporary home in The Crossings at Siesta Key mall, are in the hands of the organization’s board, local government and potential donors. The community theater’s future home and management structure is beyond the scope of this article. 

Suffice it to say that we’re hoping that the tale of “When Brian Met Amanda” includes many more creative episodes. 

Next up: Finnerty is in the director’s seat for the Sarasota Players’ production of “Green Day’s American Idiot,” which runs from Aug. 7-16. Get ready to rock ‘n’ roll! 



Monica Roman Gagnier

Monica Roman Gagnier is the arts and entertainment editor of the Observer. Previously, she covered A&E in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the Albuquerque Journal and film for industry trade publications Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.

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