There's no doubt about it: the Gulfshore cultural season is a crowded one. From Naples to Fort Myers to Sanibel, the quantity and variety of concerts, plays, art exhibitions and dance performances are staggering, leaving an arts lover sometimes bewildered or at least bemused.
But don't give up. While we can't detail every cultural event of the season for you here (check into each issue's Calendar section for that), we can provide a guide to some of the newest, most exciting, biggest and splashiest shows and events coming up. Take it a month at a time and you'll make it through, with a renewed appreciation for all the enriching experiences the area has to offer.
The season begins with a celebration of the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra's 20th anniversary year. Frequent Met star Richard Leech sings opera arias and the NPO premieres a new Te Deum written especially for the occasion by Steven Reineke. That's Nov. 2 at the Phil ... The Southwest Florida Symphony also unveils its season Nov. 2, with a celebration of the 20th anniversary of concertmaster Reiko Niiya. On the program for this one: Scheherazade.
For a musical experience of a different kind, the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre presents Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse's version of the classic good-and-evil story, Jekyll & Hyde, through Nov. 23. It's melodrama to the max, if you're in the mood.
Theatre Conspiracy, at the Foulds Theater, takes an opposite tack with the wildly crazy Wonder of the World by David Lindsay-Abaire, onstage Nov. 21-Dec. 8. It's the tale of an unhappy wife leaving home for Niagara Falls and her encounters with a variety of eccentric characters; "outrageous" is the word most often used to describe the play, as it was with the writer's earlier work, Fuddy Meers. And the Cultural Park Theatre Company in Cape Coral offers a Southwest Florida premiere of Children of Eden by composer Stephen Schwartz (Godspell) and John Caird; this one centers around the story of Noah's Ark, but there's relevance to contemporary family problems, too, even if they don't involve major flooding. Onstage Nov. 8-24.
Several shows are worth seeing at the Naples Museum of Art this month. You can view lithographs, etchings and aquatints by modern masters Picasso, Braque and Leger; you can contemplate growing older gracefully through the photographic exhibition Wise Women, offering glimpses of Sandra Day O'Connor, Jane Goodall, Judi Dench, and others as captured by Joyce Tenneson; and you can also catch woodcuts by Helen Frankenthaler, screenprints by Jasper Johns and video art by Nam June Paik. You may need to visit twice.
I've always had a soft spot in my heart for the Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street, and Broadway Palm offers the musical version of the tale, Here's Love, with songs by Meredith Willson, through Jan. 4. Lots of nostalgia there. For a play of more recent vintage, I'd head to the Phil for the Olivier Award winner Stones in His Pockets, a big hit in London and on Broadway. Two versatile actors essay 15 characters in this story of an Irish village in upheaval during the filming of a Hollywood movie there. The New York Daily News called it "a joyful, uproarious evening." Onstage Dec. 27-29.
Also at the Phil: For the first time, Miami City Ballet's Edward Villella will present all four pieces comprising The Neighborhood Ballroom. From quick step to mambo, Ballroom tells the story of 20th-century popular dance. One performance only, Dec. 11.
The season really takes off this month. At the Phil, the NPO adds a major American symphony to its repertoire; fittingly, it's by Aaron Copland. His Symphony No. 3 includes the stirring and oft-heard Fanfare for the Common Man. That's Jan. 9-11.
Also at the Phil this month: renowned tenor José Carreras makes his Southwest Florida debut, Jan. 19. Carreras has won praise from critics, international audiences and his fellows among the Three Tenors; he's one of the very best. And the recent Broadway hit (and Pulitzer Prize winner as well) Proof bows at the Phil starting Jan. 31. By David Auburn, it's the story of a young woman struggling to interpret her father's brilliant mathematical work and his accompanying madness-and what it means for her.
At the Sugden, the Naples Players bring to life one of those heart-warming intergenerational plays that tug at the heart and evoke laughter at the same time, Over the River and Through the Woods. The Joe DiPietro hit is turning up at theaters all over these days with its story of a young Italian man and his relationship with his aging grandparents. Onstage Jan. 15-Feb. 8. The Naples Dinner Theatre revives the Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim classic West Side Story Jan. 30-March 9, offering one of the loveliest Broadway scores ever written.
Eckert Fine Art brings environmental artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude to town this month, so you can view the drawings, collages and scale models for their latest two projects: The Gates, a Project for Central Park (11,000 gates will be spread over 23 miles around the park) and Over the River, A Project for the Arkansas River, State of Colorado, which will suspend fabric panels over the rushing waters there in the year 2004. The duo will lecture Jan. 29 at Edison Community College in Fort Myers; the Eckert show opens Jan. 30.
And you can catch some of tomorrow's finest young ballet artists today when 12 youthful dancers from the American Ballet Theater's Studio Company pirouette into Schein Hall at BIG Arts on Sanibel, Jan. 11. These dancers train with ABT for two years before joining the main company there or other leading companies around the world.
Another play about troubled Irish, Martin McDonagh's The Beauty Queen of Leenane, takes to the Tobye Studio at Sugden Community Theatre Feb. 12-March 8. It's a haunting, darkly comic tale of the relationship between a lonely spinster and her manipulative mother that's won praise for its energy, humor and distinctive voice.
February also offers two recent Broadway smashes on tour at the Barbara B. Mann in Fort Myers. The first is The Full Monty (onstage Feb. 4-9), adapted from the hit film about unemployed men getting down to the naked truth; and, yes, the very timid might want to avert their eyes just before the curtain. The second is Elton John and Tim Rice's version of Aida, (Feb. 25-March 2), telling the timeless story of the love between an Egyptian prince and a Nubian princess with a bit of pop flavor.
Edward Albee fans will want to turn to Theatre Conspiracy for its production of the Pulitzer Prize winner's recent Broadway hit The PlayaAbout the Baby, Feb. 6-23. It's a puzzler that offers a young man and woman, who appear to have just had a child, being visited by a mysterious older man and woman. Who's who and what's what? Those questions may-or may not-be resolved in this intriguing mix of thought-provoking drama and vaudeville show.
Over at the Phil, this is a month of double divas. First the great Denyce Graves unleashes her operatic star power, Feb. 6; then Broadway's Faith Prince (effervescent star of Guys and Dolls, Bells Are Ringing and the recent Noises Off revival in New York) brings stage and popular hits to the stage, Feb. 10. And the Miami City Ballet offers a company premiere of Tchaikovsky's Black Swan Pas de Deux from Swan Lake in performances highlighting the composer's "Princes and Poets," Feb. 4 and 5.
Finally, for a jazzier kind of evening, head over to Schein Hall for an appearance by the John Pizzarelli Trio. One of the country's most respected interpreters of the Great American Songbook, Pizzarelli is in constant demand in New York and other big cities, so it's a treat to hear his guitar and vocals right here on Sanibel, Feb. 8.
Tony Curtis sings and dances his way through the new musical version of Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot this month at the Phil (March 4-9), and it's a hot month indeed, probably the busiest of the season.
Besides Curtis playing lovesick millionaire Osgood Fielding III, March also offers us Master Class (a demanding piece for the actress playing legendary opera star Maria Callas), March 21-April 13 at Florida Rep; Marvin's Room, a tender play by Scott McPherson about a dying woman and the family she's always taken care of, March 26-April 19 at the Sugden's Tobye Studio; and the razzle-dazzle of the Bob Fosse hit Chicago, onstage at Naples Dinner Theatre March 13-April 30, starring NDT owner Barry Marcus as that flashy lawyer, Billy Flynn. And the Cultural Park Theatre Company takes a look back at its origins with A Visit to a Small Planet, Gore Vidal's comedy about a childlike alien that was the troupe's first production back in 1963; onstage March 21-April 6.
As if that weren't enough ... distinguished violinist Elmar Oliveira, the first and only American violinist to win the gold medal at the Tchaikovsky International Competition, joins the Southwest Florida Symphony in performances of "Symphonic Fantasies," March 21 and 22 (that includes Lalo's Symphonie espagnole and Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique); and the Naples Philharmonic's Pops Series revives the Phantom of the Opera, showing a restored print of the classic Lon Chaney film accompanied by organist Dennis James, live, March 25-30. On Sanibel, the Sanibel Music Festival offers, among other treats, pianist Olga Kern (the first woman to receive the Van Cliburn Gold Medal since 1969) and returning diva soprano Elizabeth Futral, along with a performance of Cosi fan tutti. The fest presents seven concerts in all, March 4-25.
Authors from around the state and around the country gather for the Lee County Reading Festival, March 8 at Centennial Park and Harborside Convention Center. Thousands of loyal readers attend in hopes of meeting the guest writers, which this year include early bookees Bob Greene, Ad Hudler and Connie May Fowler; lots more are promised.
On the visual side, the Von Liebig Art Center highlights Artists from the New York Studio School, drawings and paintings by New York Studio School emerging artists, as well as New York artist Creighton Michael in his first solo exhibition in Florida, Innuendo, March 8-April 26. And at Eckert, Lyrical Constructivist presents the sculptures and paintings of Don Gummer, the Louisville-born, Boston-trained artist who, yes, just happens to be married to Meryl Streep.
Broadway choreographer Susan Stroman's Contact, which won the Tony in 2000, tells three stories of love and romance through the art of dance, accompanied by music from Stéphane Grappelli, Bizet, Benny Goodman and the Squirrel Nut Zippers, among others. That's April 1-6 at the Phil.
That'll Be the Day when The Buddy Holly Story tells the tale of the early rocker who died so young, April 17-May 31 at the Broadway Palm. The first half of the show shows his rise to stardom; the second half is a re-creation of his final, fateful concert.
For two years, Tom Cronin has been working to establish the Museum of the Photographic Image, or MOPI, in the old Federal Courthouse Building in downtown Fort Myers. "For downtown to be successful, we need an attraction," he says. He's enlisting the support of the Edison-Ford Winter Estates (because of Thomas Edison's invention of the motion picture camera) and local artists to help fill "a niche that isn't being filled in Florida."
The museum will help to preserve historic work in what Cronin calls the "dying media" of traditional photography and film, which are fast being edged out by the digital revolution. (The museum will include digital works as well.)
Cronin, also a commercial real estate developer, cofounder of ArtHouse, and occasional local deejay, admits that progress has been slow. The city must approve the proposal and conduct a feasibility study before the group can begin raising the $12 million needed for the project. But he's not rushing anything. "We want to make it a home run the first time out," He says.
Barry Marcus walked away from a successful real estate career to pursue his dream of acting. Then he became co-owner of the Naples Dinner Theatre. "If you really want to be in a lot of shows, you buy your own theater," he jokes. When Marcus took the reins, the once-popular theater had closed after years on a downhill slope that included mud wrestling at the end. Now, three years later, it fills 90 percent of the seats in season.
This year Marcus will tackle three meaty roles. For season opener Dracula, he plays scientist Van Helsing. Then comes the irascible Horace Vandergelder in Hello, Dolly! Finally, the role of scheming lawyer Billy Flynn in Chicago. "The challenge [in that role] is holding a note for 24 beats," he explains. "I don't know if we're going to get to that."
Mark and Karen Danni move fast. Last year, they fell in love with Naples on a visit from New York, bought a house and took on two full-time jobs and a season's worth of work at the Sugden Community Theatre, all within two weeks. Mark, a director, and Karen, a choreographer, collaborated on last season's Oklahoma. This season they'll do three more shows. Karen also directs the Sugden's children program. In addition, Mark is the new director of performing arts at the Community School.
Their personal life is just as fast-paced. With the birth of twins this month, they'll have had three children within 13 months. "We're looking for a nanny," Karen admits. But don't expect her to slow down. While she was expecting her twins, in rehearsals for Something's Afoot, her cast kept saying, "If the pregnant lady can do it, we can do it."
After a summer spent in Japan, China and Israel working with opera students, the Southwest Florida Symphony's Paul Nadler returned to the United States to conduct opera star Placido Domingo at the Met. Nadler has conducted all over the world; closer to home, he wowed Orlando Opera Company audiences last season with La Traviata .
"He really loves opera music," says symphony marketing director Melissa Hamilton. "He so wants there to be opera down here, he can't stand it."
Perhaps in an effort to advance that idea, Nadler is featuring well-known choruses from operas like Carmen, Aida and La Traviata at the symphony's Showcase Spectacular on Nov. 2. And he'll move a step closer to local opera in March in collaboration with the Florida Repertory Theatre on Stravinsky's A Soldier's Tale, a Peter and the Wolf-type of production combining dance, theater and music.
Florida Rep's Bob Cacioppo will direct the performers, including the lead ballerina, while Nadler handles the music.