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Loney's Show Notes


By Glenn Loney, May 2009.
About Glenn Loney

Glenn Loney
Caricature of Glenn Loney by Sam Norkin.

INTRO: A Footnote on The Deaths of Great American Newspapers:
Seriously Endangered Theatre Critics Congregate in Circusy Sarasota!
Kim Cool’s Ghosts
Downtown & Strung Out Sarasota
Sarasota Opera, Symphony, & Ballet
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
The Ringling Arts Complex
The John & Mabel Ringling Museum of Art
The Circus in Miniature: The Howard Bros. Circus Model
The Ringling Circus Museum
The Historic Asolo Opera House & The Asolo Rep
Florida Studio Theatre: Playhouses & Programs
Dinner Theatre Alive & Well at The Golden Apple
The Color Purple at the Van Wezel


INTRO: A Footnote on The Deaths of Great American Newspapers:


Seriously Endangered Theatre Critics Congregate in Circusy Sarasota!

In all the on going ritual agonies about the imminent demise of Major American Newspapers, those Journalists & Critics who appraise & write about The Arts in America seem to be most At Risk.

Even as out of town News Bureaus in Stateside & Foreign Cities are closed down leave the reportage to AP & Reuters! as well as the burgeoning dismissals of local Reporters & Opinion Molders at im rtant regional newspapers, nowhere, so far, have there been outraged Outcries about the firing of Major Sports Writers!

That is no doubt because Sports Coverage is not being slashed. As newspapers slim down in both size & thickness, Sports Reports may finally be the only "News That’s Fit To Print."

When members of the American Theatre Critics Association recently gathered in Sarasota, Florida, for their Annual Conference, their President long time drama critic of Pittsburgh’s major newspaper had already been bought out by e Publishers.

As Pittsburgh has admirable Performing Arts Programs & Venues, this is surely a loss for both Arts Organizations & Potential Audiences: Producers need both pre show info in print & reviews after openings; audiences w t to read responsible & well informed reports & reviews.

In a number of American cities, many of the subscribers to Theatre, Dance, Opera, & Symphony Seasons are Grey Panthers, many of whom are not yet Internet Adept. So filing reviews & reports On Line in Individ l Critic Blogs is not yet the Answer: Who will know where to look for their favorite no longer in print Reviewer?

Your Reporter used to theorize that, when all the Grey Panthers died out, the Living Theatre would also at last expire, as few Teens, Twenties, or Young & Middle Marrieds were to be seen in typical audiences.

What I had not realized was that, for many of these people, theatre was not all that important; raising a Family & paying the Bills took precedence; Ticket Prices were too high, compared with cessities, and so on & on.

[But, fortunately for the Performing Arts, Grey Panthers are a Renewable Audience Resource! The Nest empties; Leisure Time expands; Pensions arrive…]
The fact that there will apparently be audiences for theatre, dance, opera, & concerts for some time to come is Good News. The fact that some Performing Arts Ensembles are threatened by America’s on going Economic Collapse i not.

There would be small satisfaction for a fired Theatre Critic who can no longer write reviews for Print Media getting two free tickets in the bargain when functioning as a critic to realize that there is also no longer any Theatre to write about…

In Sarasota, some of ATCA’s most important & active critic members were missing: some of them were wary of leaving their hometown newsrooms for a week of Floridian Hospitality & Culture. Some of them couldn’t afford the trip, a most newspapers are no longer paying for such jaunts.

All around the nation, arts journalists & critics are being pensioned off, bought out, or outright Fired. The Lucky Ones are invited to continue to contribute at Freelancers: no Health or Pension Benefits; with only s ll payments for each piece actually published.

Some ATCA members had already created Arts Blogs, not only to survive as Critics but also to get the word out about forthcoming & current Cultural Events their newspapers & magazines were no longer interested in covering.

It has long been the custom for New York based Theatre PR People to honor out of town Theatre Critics with two seats on the aisle or in the middle of the row in return for a review back home in Indiana, Texas, or Minnesota

But if they no longer have a Print Outlet, what then?

This coming Fall, there will be a Mini Meeting for ATCA members in Manhattan. But they will have to arrange their own Press Seats. If they have no Media Site to vent their Critical Spleen or rave their Huzzahs , will Shrek comp them still?

Actually, before our Florida Conference, several NYC PRs had suggested to me that it would be a very good idea if out of towner ATCA critics could post their reviews, interviews, & comments on the ATCA Website! Even v y successful, long running Broadway shows want on going reviews of productions in progress, especially from non New York critics.

Discussions among ATCA members in Florida indicate that the Website soon will be able to welcome Member Reviews from all over the Nation!

If you would like to follow up on these developments or just get more information on ATCA please visit our Website: www.americantheatrecritics.org

Yes, that requires a lot of key strokes, but you could bookmark it!

Not only were there panels & discussions about the Future of Criticism at our conference, but various Sarasota Performing Arts Leaders & other Cultural Venue Spokes persons introduced ATCA delegates to the rich variety o Arts in the Area.

Jay Handleman arts expert & theatre critic for the Sarasota Sun Sentinel arranged all these events for ATCA fellow members. Jay had been campaigning for some time to get us all down to Sarasota, and he was very right to do so.

Jay is famous for having everything very well organized. He is usually at the bus to see that everyone gets on board. But on our second day in Sarasota, we were all on the bus but Jay was nowhere to be seen.

When he finally arrived, he told us he’d just been at his paper’s newsroom, where he had to console crying & angry arts journalists who had just been fired. He didn’t get the axe, possibly because it would have been e arrassing for the Publisher to do that when her newspaper was a sponsor of our Sarasota Outing.
The day after the day after her firings, the Publisher published an Op Ed explaining that a Slimmer Newspaper would be a better newspaper! Presumably all those Rich & Retired Folks in Sarasota wer exhausted from having to read so much Arts Coverage?

For a spread out city of composed of Seacoast & Keys, with a population of only 300,000, Sarasota including neighboring Venice has an Opera, a Ballet, a Symphony, & Concert Seasons, plu seven or eight theatre venues!
It also has some Supernatural Visitors!


Kim Cool’s Ghosts:

If you believe in Ghosts especially in Theatre Ghosts you should meet Kim Cool when you visit Sarasota & its sister Circus city, Venice. Kim is an expert on Hauntings in this area of West Coast Florida.

Ghost stories of Venice old & new by Kim Cool.

Considering that the famed Asolo Opera House is now a long way off from its original hill top site in Italy, it may have brought some ghosts with it to the New World, even though its lavish interior decorations have been re installed in a modern complex.

The same may be said of the Asolo Rep’s Dumfermline Opera House, transported from Andrew Carnegie’s Scottish Birthplace to the Ringling Complex.

Dumfermline burial site of Ancient Scots Kings & the Shrine of St. Margaret thus surely has its share of ghosts. It also has its very own Carnegie Hall, smaller than the more famous one on West 57th Street Manhattan, but bearing the same name!

[So be wary the next time the New York version flies banners with the motto: THERE’S ONLY ONE CARNEGIE HALL!] Author, Publisher, Journalist, & Activist Kim Cool has written several books about Venice & Sarasota, so if you cannot make this very rewarding trip soon, do check out her titles: Ghost Stories of Sarasota, Circus ys in Sarasota & Venice, & Ghost Stories of Venice.

They are all available from the Historic Venice Press, PO Box 800, Venice, FL 34285. But you might also want to contact Kim directly for orders & more information about Her Repertorial Beat in West Florida: kimcool@histori enicepress.com.

If you are an Endangered Theatre, Opera, or Dance Critic & need to create your own Blog or Webpage to share your future reviews, interviews, reports, & observations, Kim’s daughter, Heidi Cool, has a website where ou can discover how to start up with free advice & formats! Just log on to: HeidiCool.com!

Downtown & Strung Out Sarasota:

The most interesting Tourist Sites in Sarasota are either in the Ringling Complex or strung out along the Tamiami Trail. This sounds like the name of a vanished Native American Tribe, but it is actually a conflation of , celebrating the terminals of travel.

There is apparently a High End Shopping Center where all the Big Brands can be admired & even purchased, but I didn’t have a rental car to get there. You need keys to a car to get to the various Keys which flank the S asota Coastline: Longboat Key, Lido Key, Siesta Key, Casey Key.

The rather humdrum downtown shopping street could be in Roseville, Salinas, or Yuba City. Even Auburn, using California for comparisons.
What the Downtown has in abundance are THEATRES!

Mexican Spanish is the dominant design motif. But there is a towering Mirror Glass building at an intersection between Mainland & Key.

Across the avenue from this is W. Stewart Johnson’s towering Unconditional Surrender statue. This was inspired by that famous V E Day photo of a Sailor kissing a Nurse. We were told that he wants to sell this for $750,000. Even by weight it may be some kind of fibre glass that may be too much…

Some locals regard this Thing with horror, but it was part of some kind of Season of Sculpture. The Johnson & Johnson Heir’s sculptures are usually much smaller, bronze benches with bronze types sitting them. [He has a Sculpture Park in New Jersey…]

Opposite my window in the Hyatt Regency, the G.Wiz kids science museum was the first thing I saw every morning, enveloped in palm fronds, for this is, after all, Florida. They don’t have to send away for fresh palm fronds on lm Sunday!

The Powel Crosley Theatre on Sarasota Bay.

Aside from the Theatres, Museums, & Venues ATCA delegates visited, the Sarasota Map shows a number of other Sites & Complexes that seem worth exploring. Next Time!

Unfortunately, ATCA was not able to savor a production at The Players, as their mounting of Titanic: The Musical was staged in March. Nor did we get out to the Powel Crosley Theatre, at the Historic Powel Crosley Estate on Sarasota Bay, where Gwendolyn Crosby was to "invite Hemingway into her home for performances of some of his best loved works" why we were staying at the Hyatt Regency. Earlier, she had hosted Charles Dickens & Edgar Allan Poe.

Sarasota Opera, Symphony, & Ballet:

The Historic Asolo Theater is thought to be the only 18th century theater in America. It was built in 1798 in the Castle of Caterina Cornaro, in the Italian town of Asolo, near Venice. It was relocated to the Ringling Museum and after extensive restoration, it continues to offer theater, dance, music and film. Photo by Giovanni Lunardi, courtesy of The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art.

The current season [2008 2009] of the Sarasota Opera marked its 50th Anniversary! Initially, its productions were presented in the historic Asolo Opera House in the Ringling Complex, but, in 1984, it moved to i very own Opera House in Downtown Sarasota.

This is actually a remodeled theatre, that, in its time, has played host to a variety of Entertainments, including Minstrel Shows! It is near other downtown theatre venues & catty cornered from the new Post Modernist Public Library.

ATCA members took the facilities tour, but no opera productions were on view, as there was only one staging this past Fall, with four productions in the Winter Opera Festival, which ran from February through March.
"The Elixir of love" at the Sarasota Opera. Photo by Richard Termine

The Barber of Seville was the Autumn offering, with Tosca, The Elixir of Love, L’amico Fritz, & Don Carlos gracing the Winter Spring schedule. All operas are sun in the language of their original libretto! But there are Super titles, of course…

Shortly before ATCAns arrived in Sarasota, the Opera House was the scene of Celebrate Mozart, with Robert Levin’s completion of Mozart’s great unfinished Mass in C Minor. This joined the forces of the Saraso Orchestra & Gloria Musicae, celebrating its 30th Anniversary. For the Record, there is also a Jewish Chorale in Sarasota!

For the coming opera season [2009 2010], Sarasotans & neighboring Venetians will be able to savor La Traviata in the Autumn, with Cav & Pag, The Magic Flute, Hansel & Gretel , & Giovanna d’Arco set for the Winter Opera Festival.

If you are one of those annual Florida bound Snowbirds, you might want to try Sarasota instead of Fort Lauderdale. If you will be there in Opera Season, check it out in advance: info@sarasotaopera.org.

In the recent Juilliard Opera Theatre production of Verdi’s Falstaff, Dame Quickly was sung by a Juilliard Alumna, who has also sung at the Sarasota Opera & the Tampa Opera.

But neighboring St. Petersburg also has an opera company! When Your Reporter left Sarasota for a few days in Tampa, he had barely set down his carry ons when the St. Petersburg Opera ensemble gave a concert in the Monte Carlo Towers, where he was visiting!

Mark Sforzini, the Artistic Director & Musical Factotum, programmed Puccini, Verdi, Carlisle Floyd, & Steve Sondheim for the concert. A production of Into the Woods seems a distinct possibility, but e company will certainly be performing La Traviata this June in St. Pete at its Palladium venue. Check it out in advance: www.stpeteopera.org.

The Sarasota Ballet, based in the Ringling Complex, recently had its Imperial Gala at the purple colored Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. This was in celebration of its performance of André Provoksy’s Anna Karenina. Its director is Iain Webb.

Other ballets this season have included Lilac Garden, Façade, The Rake’s Progress, Les Sylphides, Checkmate, Les Patineurs, & Pineapple Poll
Not to be outdone by Symphonic Sarasota, nearby Venice also has its very own Symphony, led by Wesley John Schumacher. In the current season, three of the four Roman Numeraled Concert Programs are Classica, with only one labeled Pops.

Four performances of each program are offered, plus the Holiday Concert, the Spring Pops Concert, & the Free Outdoor Pops Concert: in Florida, you can have an Outdoor Concert in March, with no worries about Rain…

The regular venue for the Venice Symphony is The Church of the Nazarene: Would Jesus the Nazarene have liked a mixed bag of Grieg, Enesco, Bizet, & Rossini? For more Info: www.thevenicesymphony.org.

Natasha Parry and Bruce Myers in "Love is my Sin." Photo by Pascal Victor.

The Big News for this coming October is the inauguration of the Ringling International Arts Festival, in association with the Baryshnikov Arts Center of New York.

This is set for 7 11 October: not many days, but a very full program, including Peter Brook’s new production of Love is my sin, based on Shakespeare’s Sonnets & featuring Natasha Parry [Mrs. Peter rook] & Bruce Myers!

Also featured is the Florida State University Symphony Orchestra: The entire Ringling Complex operates under the Academic Wings of FSU, which on the curtain of the Dumfermline Opera House venue is identified as both Florida Stat University & The Florida State University! Why this odd semi duplication?


Marie Selby Botanical Gardens:

If you want to surround yourself with Banyan Trees dripping with Spanish Moss, the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is the Sarasota Site for you. But there is so much more to see in this 12 plus acre Nature Preserve, tting out into Sarasota Bay & Hudson Bayou.

The Orchid House alone is worth the visit, but there are also orchids, bromeliads, & aroids growing outdoors on oak trees in the Oak Grove. Other groves include the Banyan, the Palm, & the Bamboo Grove.

Multi millionaire Bill Selby [Croesus rich from oil & mining investments] & his nature loving wife, Marie, decided to develop these remarkable gardens to enhance the site of their Spanish style home on the Bay.

But they also had a Purebred Angus Cattle Ranch in Montana & were eager Outdoors People. Marie Selby was the first woman to cross the country in a motor car!

The Mary Selby Botanical Garden in Sarasota. Photo by http://www.selby.org

When Marie Selby passed on in 1971, she left the garden estate to Sarasota. In consultation with the New York Botanical Garden which is many acres larger the new Board of the Gardens decided to concentrate on Epiphytic Plants, t help distinguish it from the more than 200 other US Botanical Gardens.
The modest but handsome Selby Mansion is now a Museum of Botany & the Arts. There are seven greenhouses, with walkways, pavilions, & a gazebo placed around the grounds. Among other attractions: the Outdoor Butterfly Garden, the Hibiscus Garden, as well as the Succulent, Wildflower, Fragrance, & Tropical Foods Gardens!

As for Mangrove Forests, the Selby preserves red, black, & white Mangrove trees.

The way in which the various walks & paths have been laid out gives visitors ample opportunity to inspect almost every species growing in the gardens. In Florida heat, the gardens are also a very good place to take shelter & smell the flower

All the Selby trees, bushes, & plants have their names displayed in both English & Latin, but I was disappointed not to find even one specimen of Rumsfeldifolia Waterboardiensis Bushii

The Ringling Arts Complex:

Portraits of John and Mable Ringling, creators of the Ringling Arts Complex.

John & Mable Ringling built their own Hearst like San Simeon, but they called it Cà d’Zan, or House of John. It is a magnificent Renaissance Venetian Palazzo style pile, richly outfitted, like San Simeon with art treasures, historic ceilings, murals, & tapestries from Europe.

Designed by Dwight James Baum before the disastrous Crash of 1929, it became the center of Sarasota Society, even if some older residents resented Circus People.

When John Ringling was on the verge of Bankruptcy in 1936, he very wisely left the Mansion, his fabulous Art Collection & Museum, as well as the sixty six surrounding acres to the State of Florida, thus avoiding the disposal of all he treasures in a Public Auction!

Slightly up the coastline is brother Charles Ringling’s great mansion, now home to the Ringling College of Art & Design. In addition, the Landmarked Neo Gothic Sarasota High School will soon be home of SMOA, or the Sarasota Museum of Art, as well as of the College’s Visual Arts Education Center.

The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art:

On a swift visit through only a section of the vast Ringling Museum of Art like doing the Louvre on roller skates one is temped to call it a Mini Met. But it was, in fact, inspired by Florence’s famed Uffizi Gallery.

Architect John H. Phillips obliged, with the two long Neo Renaissance wings of the Museum opening onto an Italianate Garden. The monumental wings house not only Ringling’s own discriminating Art Collection, but also gifts from o er Art Lovers & collections purchased by the Museum, notably the Cypriot Antiquities, bought from the Metropolitan Museum or Art in New York!

[Could this purchase have been inspired by the fact that Ringling’s Asolo Opera House was created originally for the former Queen of Cyprus, Caterina Coronaro?]

Like those Robber Baron Art Collectors Henry Clay Frick & JP Morgan, John Ringling had an Educated Eye & an insatiable taste for European Masterpieces, but he was no Robber of the Workers & the Poor. His immense traveling Ringling Bros. Circus was filled with tireless Workers, as well as Artistes & Wild Animals!

El Greco 1541 1614 "The Crucifixion with Mary and Saint John." Oil on canvas, 42 3/8 x 27 3/4 in. (107.6 x 70.5 cm).

Some of the Rubens, Van Dyck, Titian, Poussin, El Greco, Gainsborough, & Velazquez canvases in his collection were surely paid for out of profits from The Greatest Show on Earth! [Of course, Ringling also had Florida Real Estate & other investments…]

In one great chamber, several outstanding El Grecos are on view. One of them shows St. Martin dividing his cloak to share with a Beggar. I was admiring this in company with a San Francisco critic colleague.

I asked her: "Have you seen this El Greco before?

"It’s also in San Francisco! It used to be in the MH DeYoung Museum, but it’s now in the Palace of the Legion of Honor."

"It can’t be in two places at the same time!"

"It’s not the same one. He painted this scene at least twice. There are three versions of his View of Toledo.

"Obviously, El Greco knew when he had good Subject Matter. Had he known about the process of Silk Screening in his day, he could have Out Warholed Andy Warhol!"

I have to return to Sarasota, not least because I need to see the rest of this remarkable museum! And also the upper floors of John & Mabel Ringling’s Cà d’Zan neo Renaissance Italian Mansion. We were rushed th ugh the ground floor only, as the Mini Trams were waiting to whisk us off the Circus Museums.

The Circus in Miniature: The Howard Bros. Circus Model:

One of the most amazing Circus Shows in Sarasota now that the Ringling Bros. Elephants winter in Tampa/St. Pete instead is the Howard Bros. Circus, which has its own building, deceptively named the Tibbals Learning Center.

This impressive display presents an immense circus layout, complete with tracks & trains for transporting The Greatest Show on Earth across the nation & under canvas!

The trains, the tents, the animals, the performers are all Miniature, but not on the scale of miniature trains such as the Märklin Minis. No, the track scale is ¾ of an inch!

This remarkable reconstruction was built by Howard Tibbals & his wife over many years, having its first major exposure at the Knoxville World’s Fair of 1982. If you missed the Knoxville Fair aside from Tibbals’ Circus you weren’t m sing much. [Lisbon, Hannover, & Seville were much more astounding…]

Tibbals greeted ATCA members, explaining the gestation of his vast circus display. He had intended to call it Ringling Bros Barnum Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth, but John Ringling North was being over protective of the Brand Name. So he gave his fascinating Model World of Circus his own first name.

As now installed in the Learning Center as part of the extensive Ringling Circus Museum Howard Bros. boasts eight main tents, 152 circus wagons, 1,300 circus performers & workers, ov 900 animals, plus a 55 car circus train!

Also on view is the truly miniature circus of Harold Dunn, who was Tibbals’ Mentor. This features a seemingly endless Circus Parade! There are also Historic Circus Posters & Memorabilia in the Center.

When you visit the Ringling Complex, you should set aside an hour or two to do justice to these amazing displays.

The Ringling Circus Museum:

Ringling Bros' Circus poster. Ink on paper 30 x 40 in.

When Your Reporter was earning an MA in Oral Interpretation at the University of Wisconsin, in Madison, one important Tourist Destination was Baraboo, where the Ringling Bros. began developing the Greatest Show on Earth, which used to winter in Baraboo, before removing to sunnier Florida for its Winter Quarters.

But there is still a Ringling Circus Museum in Baraboo, worth a visit when you come to Wisconsin. Of course, there’s always Milwaukee, with the restored Pabst Theatre & the Blue Ribbon Beer That Made Milwaukee Famous or La Cerveza que hizo famoso a Milwaukee!

[The Frank Lloyd Wright Taliesin HQ is at Spring Green; then there all those formerly French Outposts such as Eau Claire, Fond du Lac, & Prarie du Chien. Also Green Bay, famou for Packers.]

Can you imagine what a Wisconsin Winter must have been like for Lions, Tigers, Elephants, & Zebras? At least the Bears could hibernate
Over time, the famously Mustachioed Ringling Brothers consolidated or devoured competing circuses: Phineas Taylor Barnum’s famed Barnum & Bailey Circus was added to the Ringling Name.

Fortunately, for Circus Buffs at least, other once noted Names are on view inscribed, on posters, or on other Memorabilia: Hagenbeck Wallace, Al G. Barnes & Sells Floto Circus

The Tom Mix Circus is also remembered, although its Animal Wagons & Animals were destroyed in a crazy drivers race down the Rough & Ready Grade near Your Reporter’s childhood home, Willowbrook Farm in the Depression Thirties.

Sadly, Circus Madigan & other Historic European Circuses are missing from the Honor Roster. Those who have seen & loved the film Elvira Madigan may be surprised to learn that Circus Madigan ha survived into our time.

Most famous fixed indoors European Circuses have only one Ring, with a small stage facing the semi circular audience seating, for special acts such as Juggling, Knife Throwing, Sawing Women in Half, & Magic icks. These venues are often open all year: the performers & animals don’t have to Tour.
[Paul Binder’s Big Apple Circus was inspired by those One Ring European Circuses.]

PT Barnum always seeking the Exceptional, the Gargantuan, & the Fabulous increased the number of Rings to three.

Adam Forepaugh: M. Albion. Ink on paper, 1 sheet (H): 29 1/2 x 39 1/4 in.

John Ringling improved on that: the Five Ring Circus. Eventually, even Six, but World War II forced some Visual Contractions & severe economies. Those who have seen The Greatest Show on Earth either Under Canvas or in a great arena such as Madison Square Garden may have often have felt they were missing something, as so much was going on in all five ngs: You didn’t know where to look next…

One unusual Modernization was John Ringling North’s contracting Broadway Musical Director, John Murray Anderson, to devise immense Elephant Engined Production Numbers, complete with Sequined Showgirls in all the Rings.

Anderson also introduced the Concept of the Singing Ringmaster! His favorite was handsome Harold Ronk, a charming performer & person who once gave one of his red Ringmaster Coats to my college chum, Chris Ca e, who had written a mini musical for kids: The Littlest Clown!

There are actually two versions of The Greatest Show on Earth: the Red Tour & the Blue Tour. You can tell which one is coming to your city by the dominant poster colors. These are two different shows, doing two circui in two seasons before being retired & replaced with new Themes.

The actual Ringling Circus Museum is filled with colorful Posters, Calliopes, Animal Wagons, Props, & all sorts of displays detailing Circus Daily Life in Quarters or On the Road. Stars such as th late great animal tamer, Günther Gabel Williams, are in the spotlight once again.

A special section is devoted to the making of Cecil B. DeMille’s cinema epic, The Greatest Show on Earth, here in Sarasota. Two large if miniature circus train cars used in the filmed Circus Wreck are also o view: they were created by Howard Tibbals.

[For the Record: For a Circus Issue of Theatre Crafts, Your Reporter once went out with The Greatest Show on Earth for two weeks, including the triumphal entrance into Madison Square Garden. The anima paraded from the Penn Station railyards up the avenue to the Garden!
[My greatest moment was when the Star Aerialists before climbing upward told me: This one’s for you!]

The Historic Asolo Opera House & The Asolo Rep:

For Theatre buffs as well as for Theatre historians the Asolo Opera House is in a class by itself: It is the only Historic European 18th Century Court Theatre to have been dismantled & reconstructed in the United States!

European Monastery Cloisters plundered or purchased by Wm. Randolph Hearst & others have been imported to Upper Manhattan for the Met Museum’s Cloisters Museum. And both Hearst at his California mountain top castle of San imeon and Ringling, at Ca d’Zan in Sarasota, furnished their Magnificent Lairs with European Interiors & Art Treasures.

But Caterina Coronara’s glittering Venetian Court Theatre is Special, lovingly restored & adjusted into a modern building in the Ringling Complex.
There used to be a Queen for a Day contest on the American airwaves, but Caterina was Queen for a Year. She was married to the King of Cyprus, to help Venice & the Doge secure that strategic island for their .

But after a year of Arranged Connubial Bliss, the King died. Caterina was retired to Asolo, where the Venetian State provided handsomely for her new Court, where she welcomed artists & poets.

Her lovely Court Theatre designed by Antonio Locatelli is now home to the Asolo Repertory Theatre. But most of the Asolo Rep’s productions are shown in the Mertz Theatre, an historic theatre reconstructed from its original confo ation in Dumfermline, Scotland, Andrew Carnegie’s Hometown.

[In Manhattan, her theatre donation is known as the Lu Esther Mertz Theatre, but in Sarasota, she is remembered as Esther Mertz, her picture even being projected on the theatre curtain before the shows begin!]

Everywhere in Sarasota’s theatres, every nook & cranny, every foyer & lobby, every lounge & arcade bears the name of generous & wealthy Wives & Husbands: supporting Culture & Education is certainly a Mitzv !

This is very important as the various Sarasota Performing Arts facilities & ensembles have no major Corporate Sponsorship to underwrite their ambitious programming.

Mercedes Herrero and Dan Donohue in Shakespeare’s "A Winter's Tale."

This season is the Asolo Rep’s 50th Anniversary. This Long Run is all the more remarkable because so many vaunted Regional Repertory Theatres especially those that came into being in the 1960s over time have ov time given up on the European Repertory Model, with daily rotation of productions & a contracted ensemble.

The Asolo Rep still has an admirable company & a stimulating Repertory Program. After all these years!

It is the titular Florida State Theatre, though it has to depend on a variety of funding resources other than the State of Florida.

Of the three stagings viewed by ATCA delegates, Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale staged by Artistic Director Michael Donald Edwards was the most ingeniously innovative, especially in its design aspects.

For those who had already seen the Bridge Company’s astonishingly revelatory Winter’s Tale at BAM with Simon Russell Beale as the insanely jealous King Leontes this production explored the themes of Destruction mp; Redemption in an elegantly different manner: but no less riveting that that at BAM.
This is, in fact, a staging that ought to be seen more widely, especially in New York & especially as the drama is so seldom mounted. For some ATCA members, this was a First Time!

Outstanding as the troubled Leontes was Dan Donohue also excellent in Shaw’s Devil’s Disciple as Dick Dudgeon but all the major roles were strongly cast: notably Mercedes Herrero as Paulina & Kris Dan rd as Hermione even though she is seen only at the beginning & the end of the drama.
That famous Shakespearean Stage Direction: Enter Antigonus, Pursued by a Bear was wonderfully realized by a sudden roaring Video of a Raging Bear! No actors in Bear Suits…

The Winter’s Tale cast was fleshed out with the entire third year class of the Florida State University/Asolo Conservatory!
[There used to be a Clown School at the Ringling Complex, but it closed, owing to the Law of Supply & Demand: They were turning out more Clowns than the surviving American Circuses actually needed

Florence (Judy Kaye) finishes her Carnegie Hall concert with a rendition of "Ave Maria." Photo by David Zwickl.

Asolo Rep’s DevilDavid Zwickl’s Disciple was substantially the same production Designer/Director Tony Walton had created for Charlotte Moore’s Irish Rep in Manhattan. In Sarasota, it had the advantage of a larger & conventional stage, unlike the odd space at the Irish Rep.

But the cast was somewhat weaker than that in New York. Nonetheless, Dan Donohue was a wonderfully devilish Disciple.

Of the four shows in rotating rep, ATCA members regretfully missed Inventing Van Gogh, by Steven Dietz. Instead, they were able to savor the three devilishly ingenious Murderous Monologues that make up Jeffrey Hatcher’s Murderers. These were distinctively performed by Mercedes Herrero, Ann Morrison, & Bryan Torfeh, directed by Mark Rucker.

Asolo Rep & the Conservatory actually have three theatres in which to show their shows: the Dumfermline/Mertz, the Historic Asolo Theatre ["Historic" seems to be part of its name now], & the Cook Theatre

In the current Anniversary Season, that wonderful circus musical, Barnum, was on view, as were Molière’s Imaginary Invalid, This Wonderful Life, The Giver, & Visiting Mr. Green B, with the world premiere of Jason Wells’ Perfect Mendacity in May, followed by Judy Kaye in the Florence Foster Jenkins tribute, Souvenir.

The FSU/Asolo Conservatory students mounted four of their own shows: Strindberg’s Miss Julie, Craig Lucas’ Three Postcards, Melanie Marnish’s Blur, & five short plays by Thornton Wilder: Willder! Wilder! Wilder!

Next season, they will tackle Sophie Treadwell’s Machinal, Marivaux’ Game of Love & Chance [Le Jeu d’Amour et du Hasard], Joe Penhall’s Blue/Orange, & The Mystery Pla . [All this imaginative activity at the Conservatory is something for potential Acting Students to think about!]

Previously produced by Asolo Rep was the Broadway bound musical, The Tale of Two Cities. It didn’t last long, but Your Reporter liked it & it received some Awards Nominations this Spring!

In the coming season, 2009 2010, the Rep will mount Brecht’s Life of Galileo & Susan Stroman’s Contact, in association with the Sarasota Ballet. Among other stagings!

If you are thinking about a visit to Florida in General & Sarasota in Particular, plan ahead for Theatre Evenings Extraordinaire: Check out www.asolo.org.

Florida Studio Theatre: Playhouses & Programs:

FST is not to be confused with FSU which dominates the Ringling Complex as its State University Connection. Instead, FST seems to dominate Sarasota’s Downtown with a total of three stages, plus office spaces & actor a ommodations.

Its Mainstage is the Keating where ATCA members were treated to an intimate production of Frank Higgins’ Black Pearl Sings. A frustrated female Smithsonian Etnic Musicologist [Forrest Richards] is searching for authentic Slave Songs with a distinctive African Origin.

She seems to have been ripped off on her earlier discoveries of Authentic American Songs by a male expert who sounds like Allan Lomax, who pioneered the field.

Jamie Day, Patrick Frankfort, Stephen Hope and Richie McCall in "Laughting Matters" at the Goldstein Cabaret.

Alice M. Gatling was impressive as Pearl, a downtrodden prisoner in shackles, who sings like an Uncaged Bird when encouraged. Kate Alexander staged.
The Keating specializes in Contemporary American Plays, with stagings set for limited runs no Rep of 8 or 9 weeks. There were three other shows this season: José Rivera’s Boleros for the Disenchanted, Michael Hollinger’s >Opus, & another Mark Twain inspired musical fiction: A Murder, A Mystery & A Marriage.
FST’s Stage III, in the Gompertz Theatre, is dedicated to "edgier plays that show an uncommon human experience, challenging previously held beliefs & values." That is to say: "Socially Significant Pr uctions."

Previous productions included Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? & John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig & the Angry Inch.

Visiting ATCA reviewers were confronted with a harrowing staging of David Harrower’s Blackbird which Your Reporter had seen in its World Premiere at the Traverse Theatre during the Edinburgh Festival.

Although Dan Patrick Brady & Sarah Stockton gave their best, this troubling drama of a Child Abuser seemed designed for the Terminal Shock: that Prison had not reformed him…

Artistic Director Richard Hopkins is responsible for much of the innovative activity at FST, but he is certainly strongly supported by a core company of artists & theatre workers. Without his team, it would not be possible to keep three t atres buzzing with shows, to develop New Plays, to tour, & to provide Education Programs.

At the Goldstein Cabaret, we were treated to samplings of Laughing Matters, a show that could do well in any fairly sophisticated American city. This is not only thanks to the Comic Genius of Head Writer Rebecca Langfo & her team, but also to the ensemble: Jamie Day, Patrick Frankfort, Stephen Hope, & Richie McCall.

Also on offer were often audience inspired riffs by the talented & charming Improv ensemble, kept in line by Rebecca Langford. One of the most amusing Improvs was Signing for the Deaf. Hilarious!

Decades past, Will Rogers used to walk out on stage with a newspaper: "All I know is what I read in the papers," he’d say. Then he’d pick a headline & improvise…

Mort Sahl did much the same, but with different newspapers often the San Francisco Chronicle, now sadly threatened in the Post World War II Era.
In the tumultuous 1960s, Improv from Headlines or random Slogans or Mottos was Very Big in New York. When did this die out?

FST’s Improvisers prove that Improv deserves a Come Back!

Just as enjoyable but completely different was Under Six, the show with ten new plays written by kids from Kindergarten up to Grade 12. These included short scripts from China, Russia, Israel, & China B.

Why no plays from Ghana or Andorra? Well, the countries listed above contain Sister Cities to Sarasota!
This is made possible by FST’s Write a Play Program, which began with a fall production that Set the Example in Sarasota & Manatee County. This was followed by a Playmakers Tour, with four Teaching Ar sts visiting 77 Florida elementary schools, giving 136 performances of youth plays, & conducting 327 workshops!

Later, two Teaching Artists did a Secondary Tour to 20 Middle & High Schools, giving over 90 workshops. [Russia & China could not be included, obviously…]
Over 5,400 students submitted plays. The Winners their brief but insightful plays brilliantly brought to life on stage by FST troupers were thus able to share their visions with more than 9,000 Florida students on the tour.

This is an Idea that could very well be used in other Theatre Cities around the United States!
For more information, check out www.floridastudiotheatre.org.

Dinner Theatre Alive & Well at The Golden Apple:

How many times have I seen Lord Lloyd Webber's Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in how many different productions? Let me count the ways…

The current production at Sarasota’s Golden Apple Dinner Theatre was enjoyable: the company made up in Energy what they may have lacked in acting & musical skills. And the ample evening buffet style meal was cleared away bef e the action got underway.

Dinner & Theatre all Rolled into One once seemed a Dynamite Idea for luring theatre patrons. But somehow it lost its two in one charms on the East Coast. Usually the food was not all that good & the musicals were cut to Tab Versions.

Northward of Sarasota, but still in the South, Dolly Parton’s Horse Opera Dinner Theatres are doing quite well. Maybe Dolly could have used some of her Thoroughbreds on Broadway in 9 to 5

Still, if FST can keep Improv Alive, as does Robert Ennis Turrof with the Golden Apple, perhaps it’s also time for a revival of Dinner Theatre North of the Mason Dixon Line, now that Eating Out & Theatre Going e Economically Endangered?

In the Golden Apple’s Dreamcoat staging, Heather Kopp is a strong voiced Narrator, with Turoff as a Moses/Tevya type Father Jacob. Craig Weiskerger is a bare chested Joseph who really needs gym workouts if he inten to do more Shirts Off roles…

Golden Apple is surely one of the longest running dinner theatres in America. It began in 1972, when Turoff turned an abandoned Morrison’s Cafeteria into his restaurant playhouse. Later, he was offered deserted Morrison p mises in other cities, but Sarasota was challenge enough.

In the initial season, there were some 15 drama & musical productions, but as the subscription list has grown, the show turnover doesn’t have to be so hectic.
In 2008, shows included Evita, Funny Girl, Chicago, La Cage aux folles, & something typed in as Golddiggers of 1633, which must surely be 1933, although it would e very interesting to see & hear what Golddiggers were like in London that far back…
Li’l Abner
is coming up next. Be sure to keep your dinner down…


The Color Purple at the Van Wezel:

Although we American Theatre Critics both in print & out of print, as well as on line were royally hosted in the Imperial Purple Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, we didn’t see an actual production there. This immense venue was between B adway Blockbusters.

I didn’t have to keep my dinner down as I was feeling so queasy, being surrounded with so much Purple, that the mere thought of food was making me ill. But fellow critics at my table were tucking into huge plates of food, s though Swine Flu would close all the Supermarkets on the morrow…

My problem with The Color Purple has nothing to do with the Novel, the Movie, or Oprah’s Musical. No. Purple was my Mother’s Favorite Color along with shades of Lilac & Lavendar so it has g en me a Life Long horror of this saturated segment of the Spectrum.

Sorry about that, you generous hosts at the Van Wezel!

Among the treats at the Van Wezel in the initial months of 2009 were: Pilobolus, the Dublin Philharmonic, David Copperfield, Drowsy Chaperone, Jazz at Lincoln Center w/Wynton Marsalis, Budap t Festival Orchestra these were only in January!

Plus Dame Edna, the National Philharmonic of Russia, National Acrobats of China, Wizard of Oz, Johnny Mathis, Natalie Cole, Bobby Vinton, Kenny Rogers, Sweeney Todd, Eng bert Humperdinck, the Munich Symphony, Garrison Keillor, Catskills on Broadway w/ the lovable Freddie Roman, Paul Anka, Jesus Christ Superstar, & Ben Vereen!

No, Virginia, Sarasota is not one of your old tired Florida Backwaters, with platoons of decaying Snowbirders & Golden Agers waiting for the Grim Reaper!
Next season, audiences will thrill to Mamma Mia! as they continue to do all over the Civilized World, Avenue Q, The Wedding Singer, Camelot, Hairspray, Xanadu, & ther post Broadway delights.

But, before we say a Fond Farewell to Sarasota & The Greatest Show on Earth, the reason the Van Wezel is colored Purple needs some explication.
This was, apparently, the favored color of Olgivanna Wright, the domineering widow of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who was also doyenne of Taliesin West, Wright’s major western design outpost & p; architecture school in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The Van Wezel was designed by Wm. Wesley Peters, Wright’s effective Heir & Olgivanna’s favorite. Was it she who arranged his brief marriage to Svetlana Stalin, the dread Soviet Dictator’s only daughter?

Post Scriptum: Your Reporter even had some talks with Wesley Peters years ago. But not about why the Van Wezel is Purple. I only saw it this April for the first time…

Long ago, after photographing the Winchester Mystery House in Cupertino, CA, I was driving back into neighboring San Jose, where my cousin Jim Adcock sold liquor, to the immense embarrassment of our Teetotal Family.

I planned to photograph the new & as yet un opened Frank Lloyd Wright style San Jose Civic Auditorium, designed by Wesley Peters.

As I parked alongside, I heard a tremendous crash inside. I rushed in, camera at the ready, to see that the widely praised & innovative adjustable ceiling to close down or open up seating areas had just crashed to the floor the left hand side, crushing rows of Orchestra Seats. Fortunately, with no one sitting in them…
I made a number of INFOTOGRAPY™! photos before the Sheriff & deputies arrived & ordered me out.

After that, there was No Access to the Press. And certainly not to the Public. It took months to repair the damage & finally secure the ceiling in place, so it could not move.

Having already visited Taliesin West several times, I phoned Wesley Peters, who was extremely upset by what had happened. The Great Chicago Architect, Louis Sullivan, had pioneered the Adjustable Ceiling in the Chicago Audito um Theatre: he made it work & it still can change the volume of the auditorium.
Peters was very concerned that I might write something negative about his designs, but I told him I realized the fault was not his, but of the technical expert who designed the Ceiling System. It was suspended alof by cables, which had slipped on the left side, as the right side cables were being secured by inexperienced workmen.

[Both sides should have been secured simultaneously, with the hinged ceiling piece resting at its lowest possible level. That would have avoided the disaster.
[But there would owing to the design always have been the danger, years later, that the cables might come loose, with the ceiling plunging to the floor with people sitting in the seats!]

My report was to appear in Theatre Design & Technology, the professional journal of the USITT the United States Institute of Theatre Technology.
It would have been a Scoop, as well as an important cautionary note to future theatre designers. The Editor was very excited about publishing it, but suddenly he decided against it: an important Advertiser had nixed the piece!

He told me: "You need to talk to Ed Kook!"

Eddie Kook was the head of Century Stage Lighting, a big but genial man who had helped me on several projects.

"Glenn! You can’t run that piece on San Jose! You know very well as you have reported in your article that the ceiling was designed by George Izenour! Georgie is my Sweetheart! I’ll pull my ads if you go ahead with this!"

Actually, there was nothing as far as I know sexually questionable about the longtime friendship of Eddie & George, whom I also respected, except when he didn’t design fail proof Theatre Technology. Izenour was, after all, a Professor at the Yale School of Drama!

Today if You Know the Way to San Jose you can sit safely under the secured ceiling of the Civic Auditorium. But you can’t buy any booze from my Cousin Jimmy: he has long since gone to that Great After Hours in the Sky!

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