Arts on the Horizon: December

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By Rodger Skidmore

The play’s the thing

Shakespeare in Love was a pretty decent movie – it even won seven Oscars – for best actress, best picture, and, best of all, for best screenplay. Since Shakespeare was a very important writer-type person back in the late 1500s, it is only fitting that Hollywood screen writers did their best when writing about him. Too bad they were not making movies back when Shakespeare was writing, he would have cornered the market in little gold men if he had a gig as a screenwriter.

Since Mr. Peabody and Sherman’s Wayback machine was not working at the time this film was in production, it is presumed that most things that took place between characters in the movie were fictionalized versions of what someone thought might have happened.

Ah!, but what if the Wayback machine was once again in working order? We could go back and see, not just Shakespeare and how he plied his craft, but the entire theatre scene of that time. While we believe (because our English lit professors told us so) that Shakespeare was the most important playwright of his time, was that true? A contemporary of his, Thomas Kyd, wrote The Spanish Tragedy, a play which included horrors of ghosts, insanity, murder and suicide. The number of times that play was reprinted show, that at that time, it was more popular than anything Shakespeare had written.

We know of Kyd, Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, and others, but what about the Bottom brothers? Shakespeare knew of them, he even made fun of them by naming a donkey “Bottom” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. So, who were they and for what were they famous? That is the subject of the Broadway hit Something Rotten!, that has made its way to the Florida Studio Theatre, and is running through Jan. 1.

This musical was nominated for 10 Tony awards (which is 10 more than Shakespeare was nominated for in his entire career) and has brought joy, via national tours, around the U.S. Korean and Swedish language productions show that a musical set in London in 1595 has broad international appeal.

Not saying that Shakespeare was a scoundrel, but he might have stolen the idea for his proposed play Richard the II from Nick and Nigel Bottom. And they, in order to keep being funded by their investors, invented the musical play – where speaking actors, for no apparent reason, start to sing their lines. Actually just “his” lines, as it was illegal for a woman to be on the stage back then.

At first, they planned on doing a musical about the Black Plague but settled on one somewhat, sort of, possibly, akin to Hamlet. So, just settle into your comfortable FST seats and enjoy the show. More info at Floridastudiotheatre.org.

Want an in-tents musical experience?

Sarasota certainly is the musical capital of, at least, the entire southeastern portion of the North American continent. And the music here is about as laid-back or intense as anyone would want. But true music appreciation is not just about quality and quantity, it also concerns venue.

Sarasota has the Van Wezel, the Opera House, Holley Hall, FST’s Cabaret, a host of churches, schools and nightclubs, the Drum Circle on Lido Beach, and special musical events at an ever-changing and expanding variety of venues. One that pops up each year (except during plague years) is the Perlman Music Program Winter Residency (created by Itzhak Perlman’s wife, Toby Perlman). On the quality side Itzhak Perlman is truly hard to beat. He has been performing publicly since 1945 and, according to quite a few sources, has improved considerably since then.

But Mr. Perlman doesn’t just create music by playing the violin or conducting orchestras, he also creates music by energizing hundreds of other musicians, and by pleasing thousands of listeners. He does this with the PMP residency program. Between Dec. 29 and Jan. 8, the music students that have descended upon Sarasota from all over the world, perform in multiple ways.

Gaining skills and stage presence help provide these students with the knowledge and experience required to move up the ladder towards a position with an orchestra. What better way to do so than to perform in a tent on the grounds of the USF Sarasota-Manatee Campus, just north of the Ringling Museum. Each evening the students rehearse various orchestral compositions that will be part of the Celebration Concert, to be performed on Jan. 5 at the Sarasota Opera House.

In addition to the orchestral pieces, a number of the students will be presenting Works in Progress, concerts where they perform various chamber works. There will also be a student chorus, led by Maestro Patrick Romano, who will explore choral masterworks for their knowledge and training and for your pleasure. A special performance, also at the Opera House, will showcase violinist Randall Goosby, and pianist Zhu Wang. Previously they have performed Adoration, by the composer Florence Price, at Ground Zero for the 20th Anniversary Commemoration Ceremony of 9/11.

There is no charge for attending rehearsals, Works in Progress, or Choral selections at the Performance Tent at USF, although donations will provide you with reserved seats in the center section. Information for all performances at Perlmanmusicprogramsuncoast.org.

Hello, Goodbye – or, more accurately, Goodbye, Hello

Every once in a while, thank goodness, there is a revival of that great musical, Cabaret. Most know of the movie, starring Liza Minelli and Joel Gray, which, of course, was based on the Broadway musical of the same name. But that show was based on the straight play, I Am A Camera, by Christopher Isherwood. Which, in turn, was based on his short story, Goodbye to Berlin.

Why “goodbye,” “who” is a camera, and how did that turn into “Willkommen” (hello)? Isherwood, a British author, was in Berlin in 1939, and observed the continuing Nazifacation of Germany. His short story, and the straight play, told what was happening to that country and to the Jewish population that lived there. Told with as little emotion as possible, just as it might be recorded by a camera – “Just the facts, ma’am” seemed, back then, horrible enough.

After writing that story, Isherwood exited Berlin – and many others tried, unsuccessfully, to do the same. By 1966, things that were a bit darker were more “Willkommen.” especially if portraying the Nazi in an ironic, satirical, definitely non-PC kind of way. Such an approach brought just as much bite, but made it a bit easier to swallow. While the musical still showed everything as it actually was, the structure and content of the show permitted the audience to put their own emotions onto each character, act, and deviative motive. And it still does. Cabaret, at the Asolo repertory theatre, is the total package, and runs through the end of the year. More info at asolorep.org

Rodger Skidmore
Author: Rodger Skidmore

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