By Rodger Skidmore
Spring leads to summer
And the man to lead you on this journey, May 13 through June 11, is the Man of La Mancha. He, and his faithful manservant Sancho Panza, will meet with you most evenings at Asolo Rep’s Mertz Theatre (previews May 10 and 11).
The original book, Don Quixote of La Mancha, was first published in 1605 and is considered to be not only the first modern novel, but one of the greatest in literature. No wonder then that it is a beacon drawing the most illustrious stars to the plays and musicals about this most chivalrous of men. The non-musical play on which the musical is based starred Lee J. Cobb, Colleen Dewhurst, and Eli Wallach. The lyrics first written for the musical were by W.H. Auden but were dropped as they were considered to be too overtly satiric in this satiric play about, among other things, the Spanish Inquisition. Rex Harrison was to be Don Quixote in the original production, but this star of My Fair Lady was considered to be not quite good enough. Richard Kiley and then Jose Ferrer took his place. Robert Goulet starred in the National Tour, as did Peter O’Toole in the film, with Placido Domingo singing that role in the studio recording. Quite a constellation of stars.
The original novel Don Quixote was a work of fiction within a work of fiction. In the book, Cervantes was imprisoned in Spain (he was imprisoned in Istanbul) by the Spanish Inquisition (by the Ottoman Empire). The book is a fun read full of comic adventure, but the question arises, why did he write this extraordinary tale, besides the fact that he really could use the money?
It has been said that his family might have been “new Christians” – meaning that his grandparents, or great-grandparents, might have once been Jewish. Under the Inquisition, while might made right, might put one under an ongoing cloud of suspicion. So, if one is going to write a tell-all book about one’s current government’s evils, and how they twist a decent citizen’s attempts to do good works and make him a laughing stock to all onlookers, what better way to do so than to portray oneself as being a laughing stock that is imprisoned by that country’s enemy (as Cervantes had been). And then, while in a fictional prison, have that person, and his fellow prisoners, put on a play highlighting the evils of his county’s enemy (which actually were those of his own country). And how, today, to make it even more fun – or politically palatable – why not make it into a musical.
When an author, who worked for his government in many capacities for many years, writes a fun book that could be considered to be political, then you know it was all about putting it to the man. More info about this Tony (five) award-winning musical at Asolorep.org.
Slow boat to London
In 1938 all boats to and from London (relative to today) were slow. Not as slow as the ones that arrived at Plymouth Rock a few years earlier, but slow enough. In the early summer of that year my grandfather, who liked to travel, and loved England, took a trip to London. As my grandmother, who did not like to travel, stayed home, he booked a solo trip, sharing a cabin with a stranger in order to get the lowest fare (this was during the depression, after all). The steamship line put my grandfather into a double cabin with another gentleman who traveled under the name of Thomas Wright Waller. The only thing my mother told me about this, was that her father said the man was somewhat heavy-set and was very nice.
Star Wars was a great movie so there were sequels and prequels. The Broadway hit musical Ain’t Misbehavin’’, about the life of the music legend Fats Waller, was just as acclaimed, so it was natural the Nate Jacobs, the founder of the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, would create a pre-sequel (seq-prequil?) which tells more about his life and times in Big Sexy: The Fats Waller Revue. This world premiere musical runs through May 28 at the WBTT’s Donelly Theatre on North Orange.
Besides creating and directing this show, Nate Jacobs chose the Fats Waller tunes, out of the 400 or so that Mr. Waller wrote, that would best characterize the high times and hard times of the 1920s and 1930s – “Honeysuckle Rose”, “Ain’t Misbehavin’”, “The Joint Is Jumpin’”, etc. The show will feature WBTT favorites Leon S. Pitts II as the big man himself and Ariel Blue as Edith Hatchett, his first wife.
Whether it was Louis Armstrong, Josephine Baker, Billie Holiday, or others, hard times brought out the best in many of America’s great entertainers. More info at Westcoastblacktheatre.org.
The key to good feelings is Grace – preferably grace with a little kick. And that may be why Grace: The Spirit of Aretha may be just the kind of grace you need. This lively co-production of the WBTT (Nate Jacobs) and the Key Chorale (Joseph Culkins) is being held May 8 at the Van Wezel, on the 50th anniversary of Aretha Franklyn’s release of her Grammy award-winning album, Amazing Grace. Besides this iconic song, you’ll hear Mary, Don’t You Weep, What A Friend We Have in Jesus, Chain of Fools and so many others. More info also at Vanwezel.org/boxoffice and Keychorale.org.
Schools letting out, and nothing to do?
Were the kids bored last summer? Well, here are some possibilities. From May 30 to Aug. 4, Art Center Sarasota will host the young ones for 10 weeks of creative summer fun! Days are full of activities, from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and before- and aftercare is available. The Art Center will be catering to two different age groups (6-10 and 11-15) with appropriate activities. The masterpieces they create will be exhibited at the end of each week. Fun plus recognition for all that participate. Register at Artsarasota.org/summercamp.
Ten weeks too long? Well, there are one- and two-week sessions at the Opera Summer Camp that will be held at the Sarasota Opera House this June. A team of professionals will be doing some hands-on teaching for all skill levels and for two different age groups – singing, costume design, props and staging; all aspects of an opera production. Registration through May 15 at Sarasotaopera.org/summer-camp.
How does acting sound instead of singing or painting? If that’s what interests them, then Florida Studio Theatre’s summer camp might be just the thing. This camp for young ones from ages 4-17 has classes in acting, music, dance, and improvisation, involving the entire creative process; from writing to playmaking. Registration at floridastudiotheatre.org/fst-school-youth.
Kids jumping up and down driving you crazy? Then get them a bit of dance direction at Sarasota Contemporary Dance’s Kids Summer Program in July. They can explore a variety of dance styles, including creative movement, contemporary, jazz, afro-modern, and hip-hop. They will be bounding with joy. Registration at https://sarasotacontemporarydance.org/k-12-education.
Music without words
Just because something is difficult to do doesn’t mean the end result will be worth the effort – but sometimes it is. Joaquin Rodrigo was blind from the age of three and wrote more than 200 pieces of music. Were any worth listening to? Good things happened in 1939, and one was that Rodrigo composed Concierto de Aranjuez – one of eleven concertos – in Braille. Good? It was premiered in Catalonia by the Orquesta Filarmónica de Barcelona in 1940 and this guitar and orchestral masterpiece has been performed by Julian Bream and the Monteverdi Orchestra, Pepe Romero with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, The Modern Jazz Quartet, and Bokyung Bryn with the Sarasota Orchestra. Well, the last performance hasn’t happened yet and won’t until May 13 at the Sarasota Opera House. This means that you still have time to get tickets.
Like a twist of lemon in your martini? Well then, you’ll like Bachianis Brasileiras No. 9, Heitor Villa-Lobos’s Brazilian take on Bach. Yes, an homage to Bach with a Brazilian twist. Wish to end this same evening with a different twist? How about a German composer (Meldelssohn, at age 21) writing a symphony called “Italian” after his grand tour of that seductive European appendage. Info for this set of performances conducted by Joseph Young, at Sarasotaorchestra.org.
A real lollapalooza of combined talents is at the Sarasota Opera House on May 2 when the Sarasota Ballet Studio Company (this is what they call the group getting ready to join ballet companies around the world), and the Margaret Barbieri Conservatory, join forces to celebrate up and coming dancers along with participants of the Sarasota Music Conservatory and the Sarasota Youth Opera. Info at the Images of Dance for this co-joining of talent at Sarasotaballet.org.
In between the mellow fellow (cello) and the high strung one (violin) is the Goldilocks called the viola. And what could be better than a viola solo? How about a viola quintet where two violas are joined by members of the Sarasota Orchestra to perform one of Mozart’s viola quintets – along with works by other viola-oriented composers. In this Viola Royale concert, the Laraia brothers, Steven and Paul, don’t compete with each other; Paul plays with the Grammy award-winning Catalyst String Quartet while Steven simply plays with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. They don’t compete, but they do collaborate – and will on May 14 when the Sarasota Artist series brings them to First Presbyterian Church. Oh, was it mentioned that Steven Laraia was once principal violist with the Sarasota Orchestra? Well, he was. More info at Artistseriesconcerts.org.