By Rodger Skidmore
A theatre production of Secret Garden?
No. An actual Secret Garden? Yes!
Yes, in Sarasota there is a secret garden in plain sight and also a secret gallery that is hidden away. Both are available to you this May.
Spring is here and on May 6 the time is right to attend an outdoor party at the intersection of Pineapple and Lemon avenues in downtown Sarasota. Early in the month there are still breezes on most evenings (is “still breezes” an oxymoron?) and there is plenty to see and do. At least through September, Sarasota is throwing a Fresh Friday series of themed parties in a different part of Sarasota on the first Friday of each month. Kick-off time is 6 pm. In May, it’s a garden party called Bloom in the Park, at the Paul N. Thorpe Jr. Park.
Historical Note: Paul Thorpe had dedicated his life to making downtown Sarasota a more inviting place; he helped start the Lemon Avenue Farmer’s Market, Sarasota’s Grand Prix Boat Races, the New Year’s Midnight Pineapple Drop, the Fourth of July fireworks in Bayfront Park, and brought the Selby Public Library to its current location. The park’s previous name had been Pineapple Park, and before that, Goodheart Place, named after the artist Nancy Goodheart Matthews who created the mermaid that is at the heart of the park’s famous fountain.
Lighting up this soon-not-to-be-so-secret garden will be Cassie Jean and the Fireflies — a newly bloomin’ county vocalist backed by guitars, dobro and drums. There will also be beverages, light bites, and a Polaroid photographer making selfie quality photos just for you. More info at Freshfridayssarasota.com.
It seems everyone knows that Palm Avenue is “art gallery heaven” but there is one gallery that only concert goers know about. That is the Harmony Gallery in the long lobby outside the Holley and David Cohen Halls in the atrium of the Beatrice Friedman Symphony Center. Through May 27 one can see the realistically unreal (or unreally realistic) art of Tony Reinemann. The Harmony Gallery has five or six shows each year — watercolors, oils, acrylics, and photos. This show hits the spot with everything from slightly off-key renderings of perturbed cats to full scale oils of gothic cityscapes with different things happening in each window. Intermissions at the concerts held there usually run 10 to 20 minutes, so if you spend five minutes looking into the windows of each painting you’ll have to go to a lot of concerts — or come during the day and take your time. Art info at TonyReinemann.com, art and concert info at Sarasotaorchestra.org.
The distant and recent (very recent) past
It’s funny how fame works. The poet, novelist, film and book critic, friend of the famous, screen writer, and alcoholic James Agee had great critical and limited public success during his life time.
Examples of his talents are evident in his having been editor-in-chief of the Harvard Advocate, one of the screenwriters for The African Queen, the author of the text for Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and of the novel A Death in the Family.
The latter has morphed into many things: while Agee died in 1955, his novel became a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1958, inspired Samuel Barber’s work for soprano and orchestra, Knoxville: Summer of 1915, was the basis for the play All The Way Home (another Pulitzer Prize), and has now been turned into the new musical Knoxville that recently opened (world premiere) at the Asolo Rep.
This show focuses on Agee’s youth when he lived in Knoxville, Tennessee at the time of his father’s death in an automobile accident. But this is not simply taking the Knoxville section of the book and adding lyrics and music. It also intertwines Agee’s later life with his youth, as he struggles to write his famous novel. The musical runs through May 11. Info at Asolorep.org.
Music: here and there
The snowbirds must still be here because music concerts just keep popping up.
Church of the Palms is a very accessible venue and there will be six accomplished musicians providing the music on May 5 for all of your listening ears. The featured pianist is Ying Li, a graduate of Curtis and Juilliard. Miss Li stands tall, and will be standing tall with others at her side — Daniel Jordan, concertmaster of the Sarasota Orchestra will be accompanying her, along with Rachel Halvorson, Natalie Helm, and John Miller, principles of the SO (viola, cello, and double bass, respectively), Matthew Albert, Chair of Chamber Music at the University of Michigan will also be on violin.
The program will be a flight of fancy with Dvořák’s Piano Quintet and Mozart’s Piano Concerto — both in A major — followed by Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite.
If you think the Firebird is hot, just wait until May 22 when the group 2 Hot 2 Tangocomes to the Historic Asolo Theater and starts pressing the buttons and hitting the keys. Ben Bogart on bandoneón and Winnie Cheung on piano will be providing the music, not just for you, but also for the world-renowned tango dancers Fernanda Ghi (World Argentine Tango Champion) and Silvio Grand.
Selections will be some made famous by Argentinian orchestra leaders from the 1920s through the 1950s; (Carlos di Sarli, a one-eyed piano-playing son of Italian immigrants, was nicknamed El Señor del Tango; Osvaldo Pugliese’s style moved to the left from the salon tango to, in the 1950s, more of a theatrical dance performance; Aníbal Troilo, a bandoneón player and composer famous for his instrumentals had a band in which Astor Piazzolla played and arranged. In Argentina, July 11, Troilo’s birthday, is National Bandoneón Day; and Juan d’Arienzo, also a son of Italian immigrants, was known as Rey del Compás (King of the Beat), because of his “very swinging, much nervous, vibrant beat”.
And, of course, selections by Astor Piazzolla, such as Milonga del Ángel and Verano Porteno. Info for both concerts at artistseriesconcerts.org.
The English word concert, a noun, is derived from the Italian concertare, to “harmonize” — as in musicians, working together. Harmony, another noun, is a blending, having a pleasing effect. So, when people are working together, blending in a pleasing way, one could say it is a concertedeffort. With these definitions, The Ski-A-Rees, Sarasota’s famous waterskiing team, put on a first-class concert. And their last concert of the season is May 8 at water’s edge just beyond the Mote Marine Aquarium parking lot. Info at Skiarees.com.
Blending of another type is the bringing together the world premiere of two totally different one-act plays at the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s Orange Street location, running from May 4 through 29. One is about someone that everyone who is over 30 has heard of — Muhammad Ali. The show, naturally, is named Float Like a Butterfly and stars Darius Autry as the most famous boxer of all time. The other play is Birmingham to Broadway, a musical about the actress and singer Nell Carter. Miss Carter had a hard life in Birmingham and, as with so many in the entertainment field, music saved her soul. She won a Tony and an Emmy for her starring role in the Broadway show Ain’t Misbehavin’ and its later TV version. One might say that Tarra Conner Jones was made for the role of Nell Carter — or rather, that she made the role — as she wrote this play as well as starring in it. More info for this duo at Westcoastblacktheatre.org.
Another blending, or harmonizing, of effort is that of what goes on between the choreographer and ballet dancer (sometimes one and the same person) that we see as a unified effort on the ballet stage. The Sarasota Cuban Ballet School has just celebrated this union, coupled with the teaching aspect which impacts both, with its 10th Anniversary Gala, bringing in stars from the Washington and Syracuse Ballet Companies in an outstanding show. A highlight of that gala was the choreography and dancing of Jason Shuman and Nia Townsend. Each of these SCBS students are finalists in the 2022 Youth America Grand Prix Finals in both the Classical and Contemporary competitions that were held in April, two days after they performed their pieces for those attending the gala. Not just professional level work, but both choreographing and dancing of the highest world-class levels. Performers that should be followed as their careers blossom in the coming years.
How do young aspiring stars attain their skills? Attend the End of Year Show that the SCBS is putting on, on May 28, and watch its students perform on stage. More info about performances and the SCBS summer intensive program at SRQCubanballet.org.
Geographic blendings may also occur. The Mexican folkloric group Mariachi Cobre is uniting with the 72-piece Venice Symphony for a concert at Sarasota’s Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall led by the former director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra on May 20. Info at unidosnow.org/nocheunidos.