Arts & Entertainment Season Preview

Our annual sneak peek at what’s to come in Central Florida, including museum exhibits and musical, theatrical and dance performances.

Craig Mullins

Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts

While many of our long-established artistic venues celebrate double-digit birthdays this season, the newest kid in town is making the biggest splash, as the ribbon is cut on the $514 million Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, which will affect the downtown Orlando skyline and its arts community for a long time to come.

“We’re building an arts venue that belongs to the community,” says center president Kathy Ramsberger, who is banking on the local and international attention that the performing arts center will garner. The autumn reveal will find the center in its Stage 1-completed glory, with a ribbon-cutting scheduled for Nov. 6, 2014 for the 2,700-seat Walt Disney Theater—the main performance space—and the 300-seat Alexis and Jim Pugh Theater. (A 1,700-seat acoustic hall is expected by 2018.) A three-day open house with free concerts in the expansive CNL Arts Plaza outside the main entrance is planned, Ramsberger says. On November 20, the center’s Jazz Roots series begins with Georgia On My Mind: Celebrating Ray Charles, featuring Take 6, Clint Holmes, Nnenna Freelon and Jovan Jackson. Wrapping up the opening celebrations is a performance by the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra and two performances by the Orlando Ballet of Carl Orff’s masterpiece, Carmina Burana.

George Catlin, “Crow Lodge of Twenty-five buffalo skins,” 1832-1833, Smithsonian American Art Museum, gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr.

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Mennello Museum of American Art

George Catlin’s American Buffalo, Oct. 3, 2014-Jan. 4, 2015

True to its vision, the Mennello continues to present amazing examples of American art, and we are eager to see the collection of 40 works created between 1832 and 1848 by American artist George Catlin. Considered an important pre-photographic document of Native American life, Catlin’s “Indian Gallery” is a national treasure. The artist, a Pennsylvania native who worked briefly as a lawyer, traveled to the American West, inspired in part by his mother’s tales of her brief capture by the Iroquois in her youth, and by a group of Native Americans he met in Philadelphia in 1830. The artist visited more than four dozen tribes, including the Sioux, Crow, Kickapoo, and Comanche, and documented their customs, dress, and cultures, before their lives were forever altered by the westward-migrating pioneers and the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Catlin produced hundreds of works, showing details of the lives of the Plains people and the close relationship that existed between them and the buffalo. The exhibition is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Matthew Murphy

Broadway Across America

The Phantom of the Opera, Dec. 3-14, 2014

Who would have thought a story based on a 1911 French melodrama about a masked kidnapper and an innocent, opera-singing ingénue navigating the sewers of Paris in a boat would become a worldwide record-breaking sensation? But Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic play is approaching its 30th year, and Phantom will inaugurate the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts with what promises to be a rousing and over-the-top revival of this unlikely hit. The latest touring production has been revamped with new staging, scenic design, re-imagined costumes, state-of-the-art lighting design and updated choreography. Not to worry, the legendary chandelier still makes its grand appearance. With a cast and orchestra of 52 performers, Phantom is a remarkable way to usher in large-scale shows at the Dr. Phillips Center. Its spacious Walt Disney Theater is well-suited for the special effects, fire and explosions, and the vocal performances of Broadway vet Cooper Grodin and newcomer Julia Udine, playing the Phantom and his beloved Christine Daaé.

lisa buck/Mad Cow Theatre

Mad Cow Theatre

The Who’s Tommy, Oct. 3-Nov. 2, 2014

Mad Cow Theatre, which first raised its curtain in 1997, always has at least one play each season that is a must-see. This year’s entry is Tommy, the Tony Award-winning rock opera by The Who leader Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff, based on the 1969 rock opera that combined pounding rock music with deep philosophical ideas. The play tells the story of a “pinball wizard,” unable to see, hear or speak, who becomes the leader of a spiritual movement.

Mad Cow Executive Director Mitzi Maxwell understands the innate power of this work. “So many people have a relationship with Pete Townshend and The Who,” she says, “and we want to fulfill all their fantasies.” The unique constraints of producing such an ambitious project in the intimate 167-seat Harriett Theatre in the 54 West building means that video projection and the power of the music (performed by a live rock band) have to take the place of a giant stage and cast. “We’re going to bring this classic music front and center,” Maxwell says. “We’re going to shake 54 West to the roof.”

UCF School of Performing Arts

UCF-Orlando Jazz Festival

Mar. 20-21, 2015

Previous seasons of this 8-year-old jazz showcase have included headline performances by NEA Jazz Master saxophonist Benny Golson, sax innovator Lou Donaldson, legendary organist Dr. Lonnie Smith, Grammy Award-nominee trumpeter Michael Philip Mossman, and influential pianist Mulgrew Miller. Perhaps as important, the festival showcases students in the UCF Jazz Studies program, whose Flying Horse Big Band has recorded several CDs that have placed on national radio airplay charts. The program features an invitational All-Star High School Jazztet of student musicians from across the country competing for the opportunity to open for the big-name performers, and the level of talent from these young stars is impressive. It’s also a great opportunity to sample the talents of the world-class faculty who, as The Jazz Professors, have recorded three acclaimed CDs. The head of the jazz program, Grammy-winner Jeff Rupert, leads the group that includes pianist Per Danielsson, bassist Richard Drexler, guitarist Bobby Koelble, trombonist Michael Wilkinson, and percussionist Marty Morell. It’s a rare chance to enjoy a weekend of creative entertainment, and to see and hear the future of jazz.

Courtesy National Theatre Live and Enzian


Medea, Oct. 25, 2014

While 11 a.m. on a bright October Saturday may not seem like the most ideal time to watch an ancient play about the darkest aspects of revenge, the opportunity to see the best of British theater on screen does offer a tempting incentive. The Enzian’s series of National Theatre Live events, along with other special screenings of opera and ballet, uses film to capture significant theatrical events that only a rare few audience members experience live. Euripides’ classic play has been rewritten by playwright and associate director at the National Theatre Ben Power, whose specialty is revamping ancient works for modern audiences. This Medea, which he describes as “the ultimate divorce play,” remains a stark tale of the appalling and ultimate revenge taken by a broken-hearted wife and mother. Directed by Carrie Cracknell, Medea stars Helen McCrory in the title role. Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp of Goldfrapp, a British electronic/dance duo, wrote the original music.

Lamar Peterson “Bliss,” 2013,

Courtesy of the artist and Fredericks & Freiser, New York

Orlando Museum of Art

Lamar Peterson: Suburbia Sublime, Sept. 27, 2014-Jan. 4, 2015

Lamar Peterson’s vibrant, primary-colored mash-ups of American culture, surrealism, comic books and imaginary landscapes have at their center a fearless exploration of race, middle-class suburban existence, community, social and economic upheaval, innocence and danger. The artist’s works often feature a set of quirky characters who appear oddly happy, or at least smilingly unperturbed, in the face of sometimes perilous surroundings. Peterson, a Florida native who now lives and works in Minnesota, graduated from Florida A&M, and earned his MFA at Rhode Island School of Design. He acknowledges diverse influences, from “painterly painters” to outsider art. The exhibition includes paintings, drawings and collage.

Landon St. Gordon

Orlando Shakespeare Theater

Les Misérables, Sept. 10-Oct. 12, 2014

The politics of persecution and violent revolution echo in current affairs as well as on the theatrical stage. And as Orlando Shakespeare begins its 26th season, it brings a new vision to Victor Hugo’s passionate story of love and survival during social upheaval in an intimate staging of Broadway’s longest-running musical. Starring Broadway veteran and Orlando native Davis Gaines as police inspector Javert, and South Florida actor Michael Hunsaker as oppressed hero Jean Valjean, the show is based not only on actual events, but also on real historical figures—a history lesson that has entertained audiences since 1980.  Even with an unprecedented budget of approximately $350,000, Artistic Director Jim Helsinger can still summarize Orlando Shakespeare’s staging of this play succinctly: “Turntable, trap floor, dry ice and fog, rake, bridge, projections, live orchestra. And a great big barricade,” which will fill the 324-seat Margeson Theater with song and spectacle. New York-based director DJ Salisbury has previously staged the play at the Riverside Theatre in Vero Beach, and set designer Bert Scott regularly works with Orlando Shakespeare when not teaching at UCF.

Wu Man

©2011 Stephen Kahn. All rights reserved.

Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra

Scheherazade, and guest Wu Man, Jan. 10, 2015

Now in its 24th year, the Philharmonic is conducting an experiment as it chooses a music director this season to replace Christopher Wilkins, director since 2005, whose last appearance with the orchestra was in May. Each of the five finalists has chosen their own program and will conduct one of the main concerts. After each concert, audience members and musicians will be surveyed. Those opinions will be considered before the final choice is announced in mid-April next year, says David Schillhammer, executive director. Finalist Eric Jacobsen chose January’s sweeping Scheherazade program, which opens with Debussy’s haunting Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. The centerpiece is something new and different: Concerto for Pipa is by Zhao Jiping, a contemporary Chinese composer known as “the John Williams of China.” He wrote the piece especially for soloist Wu Man (shown), internationally acclaimed master of the pipa, a traditional Chinese lute-like instrument. The storytelling continues in the second half with Russian composer Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s massive Scheherazade, a musical interpretation of the 1001 Nights, which sees the orchestra swell to 86 members, including two harpists and five timpanists, and features concert master and violinist Rimma Bergeron-Langlois.

Brett Reighn

Orlando Ballet

Coppélia, May 1-3, 2015

Even as the Ballet embraces a new home at the Loch Haven Community Center, its 2015 season offers enduring works such as Swan Lake and The Nutcracker at the Dr. Phillips Center. But the show that has us excited is Coppélia, a 145-year-old, rarely seen comic ballet about an enchanting, life-sized mechanical doll. Embracing Artistic Director Robert Hill’s philosophy of making ballet relevant to today’s audience, this slightly steam-punk tale should have wide appeal. Mechanical dolls have entranced audiences since the 18th century. Fans included E.T.A. Hoffmann, who wrote the tales upon which this ballet is based, and 19th-century inventor Charles Babbage, who was so spellbound by an automaton as a child that the memory inspired him to invent the Difference Engine, precursor to the computer. In this ballet, Franz, the male lead, is so smitten by Coppélia, an automaton created by inventor Dr. Coppélius, that he dumps his fiancée, Swanhilde. To win him back, the distraught Swanhilde assumes the doll’s herky-jerky motions, and dances her way into everyone’s hearts. Being considered for the lead roles are 18-year-old dance phenom Arcadian Broad, as well as Kate-Lynn Robichaux and Daniel Benavides (both shown above).

Courtesy Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival

Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival

May 13-26, 2015

As Orlando’s Fringe, the oldest alternative theater festival in the U.S., enters its 24th year, there’s no telling who—or what—will be gracing the stages of Loch Haven Park, since participation is decided by a lottery in November, but there’s bound to be something to delight, confuse, amuse or offend just about everyone. Last spring, nearly 50,000 enthusiastic theatergoers experienced shows as varied as soaring puppetry (Heather Henson, daughter of the late Muppetmaster Jim, and her touching Flight: A Crane’s Story (shown), raucous and profane comedy (Peter McGarry’s sex farce, Black Stockings), heartfelt drama (the moving Reincarnation Soup from Orlando’s Viet Nguyen) and an occasional celebration of nudity (the burlesque of Return of the Skill Focus). The record-breaking 14-day event sold more than 34,000 tickets, paying more than $274,000 directly to the performers. While a majority of the Fringe productions hailed from Orlando and environs, visiting companies presented some outstanding short works of theater, dance and more, such as standup comedian Stewart Huff from Georgia, Edinburgh satirist Jem Rolls, Australian monologist Jon Bennett and Massachusetts rapper Erika Kate MacDonald.

Artwork design by Scott A. Cook

Garden Theatre

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street, Sept. 12-Oct. 5, 2014

First produced on Broadway in 1979, Stephen Sondheim’s musical thriller has always been presented as a work of fiction. But according to Scott Cook of TheatreWorks Florida, partnering with the Garden Theatre for this production of Sweeney Todd, that may not be entirely true. Drawing from multiple sources of historical research, the director/choreographer says, “there’s a 50 percent belief that Sweeney Todd was a real character.” Todd is the English Bogeyman, the shape in the closet, the monster under the bed and, according to some British researchers, an actual mass murderer who used the straight razor, the trap door and the meat pie to dispatch his enemies, working in the shadow of the Tower of London in the early 19th century. Cook is taking the textures and environment of Georgian Britain and creating a “gothic, dark and scary” setting on stage for this tale of revenge and murder, aided by costume designs from award-winning New York costumer Nicholas Hartman. Cook says he’s formulated completely original sets and stages for the 17-member, multi-ethnic cast.

The Arts, 1894, J. & R. Lamb Studios, Tenafly, New Jersey

© The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art

The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art

Gallery II and III Installation, Opening Oct. 21, 2014

For those of us who can’t get enough of the lush art glass and other splendid works at the Morse, a treat is in store come this fall. Galleries II and III will be the home for a large installation of objects from the Morse Museum Collection, many never seen before at the museum, and others returning after cleaning and conservation. The centerpiece of the installation will be “The Arts,” an 8-foot-diameter window created in 1894 by Lamb Studios, a prominent American glasshouse. If this neoclassical beauty looks familiar, you may have glimpsed it at La Belle Verriere, a former Park Avenue restaurant designed by museum founder Jeannette McKean. The window will be joined by other revival-style objects of the late 19th century, including Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company’s Aurora window, absent for a year for conservation; Edward Burne-Jones’ Flora fire screen; a Heaton, Butler, and Bayne Annunciation window; and examples of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s Favrile Pottery, all of which express the avant-garde and design reform movements of the era.

Also Watch For…

Orlando Shakespeare Theater presents the Bard’s Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry V in repertory, Feb. 4-Mar. 22, 2015.

Broadway Across America’s Pippin, the Tony-winning revival of Stephen Schwartz’s musical, is still magical 42 years after its Broadway debut, Apr. 21-26, 2015.

Modern dance icon Pilobolus comes to the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on Apr. 4, 2015.

Mad Cow Theatre presents Tribes, a Drama Desk Award-winning play by British writer/director Nina Raine, Aug. 21-Sept. 20, 2015; and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Clybourne Park, Aug. 7-Sept. 6, 2015.

Vampire’s Ball is Orlando Ballet’s homage to Halloween and all things erotically frightening, Oct. 17-19, 2014.

The 80th season of Winter Park’s Bach Festival begins on with a Mozart choral festival at the Knowles Memorial Chapel on the Rollins College campus, Oct. 18, 2014.

September through April is the season for the St. Luke’s Lutheran Concert Series, celebrating its 22nd year of classical presentations at the church in Oviedo.

The Annie Russell Theatre on the Rollins College campus in Winter Park presents Our Town, Nov. 14-22, 2014, as part of its 82nd season.

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