Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Manatee and Sarasota Counties are blessed to have three of the largest community theaters in the country: Manatee Players located in Bradenton, Sarasota Players located in downtown Sarasota, and Venice Theater (previously Venice Little Theater) on Venice Island in Venice. All have done award-winning work; both Venice Theater and Manatee Players have taken the award for Best Production at AACT Fest, the national conference of Community Theaters. All of these theaters concentrate on musicals but offer the occasional non-musical production as well. They give the local audiences a chance to see musicals in BIG productions, some of which they might not get to see otherwise.
Manatee Players participated in last summer's AACT national festival and took home several major awards for its production of Sunday in the Park with George, including third place in best overall production, best backstage performance for a musical, best ensemble, and best actress in a lead role for Diane Dawson's performance of Dot. Manatee Players participated in the 2009 AACT national festival as well with Sweeney Todd. Manatee Players has specialized in bringing the musicals of Stephen Sondheim to the area, with a fairly recent production of Follies, also, all under the direction of Artistic Director Rick Kerby.
They have opened the new musical Happy Days for a January 12-29 run, the first for the show in this area. Still to come this season are Elton John's Aida, Ring of Fire and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
Titles of productions for the 2012-2013 season have just been announced, and highlights include Miss Saigon, Pump Boys and Dinettes, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (not seen in this area in almost 10 years), and Plaid Tidings (a Christmas Concert featuring the vocal group Forever Plaid). Also on the schedule are Evita, Fiddler on the Roof and a very current musical whose title can not be revealed just yet to open the season in August 2012.
The venerable Sarasota Players, 82 seasons and counting, are currently offering a revised version of Jerry Herman's Dear World January 11-22, 2012, with Three Tall Women, A Chorus Line, Noises Off and The Full Monty to come.
Artistic Director Jeffrey Kin always schedules at least one title that is a bit out of the mainstream. Next season he is offering his audiences the chance to see the Off-Broadway musical Violet, about a young girl with a deep facial scar who sets out on a Wizard of Oz kind of journey to be healed by a televangelist. It has a wonderful score by Jeanine Tesori (known for Thoroughly Modern Millie and Caroline or Change) and Brian Crawley. Next year will also bring Applause as the season opener, the area premier of 9 to 5, plus Side Show, Annie, Nunsense and the classic comedy play Harvey.
Venice Theater proudly hosted the 2010 International AACT festival, bringing community productions from around the world to this area for local audiences to enjoy. They did such a tremendous job that they were selected to host the next one in the Summer of 2014. Venice Theater is known for some edgier fare in its smaller theater, Theater II, along with the more usual offerings on The Main Stage. In recent seasons, Artistic Director Murray Chase gave his patrons the chance to see I Am My Own Wife, Falsettos and The Great American Trailer Park Musical. Currently showing are Smokey Joe's Cafe and Almost Maine. Highlights of what's to come for the remainder of the season include The Music Man, Avenue Q, Driving Miss Daisy and Stand by Your Van on the Main Stage and Altar Boyz and The Miser on Stage II.
Venice Theater has announced their upcoming season a few days ago, and it looks like there will be something for everyone. The mainstage season will lead off with 39 Steps and continue with How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying as well as Moon Over Buffalo, Hello, Dolly!, Crowns and Second Samuel. Still on the Mainstage, under the banner of the Generations Series will be The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas over the summer, as well as Heidi, A Christmas Carol, an annual favorite, and How to Eat Like a Child.
Highlights of the cabaret productions will include Hair, The Rocky Horror Show and The Trailer Park Musical. The second stage series will bring us The Vagina Monologues, Intimate Apparel, Our Town and A Behanding in Spokane
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The Players Theater