Back on stage
Theaters reopen doors after being dark during pandemic
BY SUSAN BURGESS
“The show must go on,” the legendary band Queen sang after tragedy threatened its very existence. Treasure Coast theaters wouldn’t have it any other way either. Defying the grim face of a pandemic, where audiences were afraid to go out and performers were afraid to perform, they nimbly picked themselves up from an unprecedented season of cancellations and pivoted to turn the downtime into something that would bear fruit in the future. Their speedy response changed COVID-19 lemons into shiny golden gifts you’ll love this season.
Not that it was simple. They first had to decide how to move forward after some were forced to cancel entire seasons and others had to scramble to cope with performer cancellations, demolishing their normal income stream.
The result? Many grabbed the unwanted idle time to rethink, remodel, renovate, expand and/or enhance their theaters — all while planning for the safety of their audiences in the coming year.
Perhaps the most extensive work, now nearing completion, belongs to the Maltz Jupiter Theatre on Indiantown Road. Its $36 million expansion and renovation was already on the drawing board and fundraising had put money in the coffers. It wasn’t planning to start work until next year. But, picking itself up from the disappointment of COVID-laced seasons, management decided to go for it and complete as much as possible while the theater was dark. Plans called for the 2021 season to be pushed to January 2022 and the heavy equipment moved in to begin new construction around the existing building.
Then they figured out the best way to begin their next season: outdoors. The first show, The Jersey Boys, is perfect for the venue they found — Roger Dean Stadium. It is the story of a band’s struggles to make it big, roughly following the musical biography of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, which often played in arenas. It’s followed by I Hate Hamlet performed at the Benjamin School in Palm Beach Gardens.
The new Broadway-size stage opens on Feb. 19 with Sweet Charity. There are lots of other innovations, said Andrew Kato, the producing artistic director and chief executive. Some are almost ready now — a new three-story building with floor-to-ceiling windows where people can look in and see actors rehearsing or observe costumes being made, an upgraded lobby, a new conservatory for student work, a café and a dramatic new entrance with a massive two-story porte cochere featuring floor-to-ceiling glass, seating areas on either side, two digital marquees and paver stones.
The shell of a second theater is under construction, but more fundraising will be needed before the 199-seat flexible space theater can open, probably for the 2022-23 season.
The Sunrise Theatre took a new tack. It, through the City of Fort Pierce, applied for, and received a $1.1 million grant from the Small Business Administration to help dig out of the hole that was worsened by the pandemic. The restored 1923 theater is an economic engine for the historical downtown, but it has struggled financially.
The Sunrise, and other theaters, had to cope with performers canceling their shows. The theaters were at their mercy — if the performer was sick, or didn’t want to come, nothing could be done about it other than work out a new date for their appearance, said Anne Satterlee, marketing director for the Sunrise. The good news is that many of the performers were re-booked for 2022. The Sunrise also hired a management team to help with booking, marketing and other aspects of theater management.
The Sunrise will allow 100 percent occupancy this year, double last year’s. With so many good performances rebooked and favorites from previous years on tap, too, they’re in for a great season. Terry Fator, a big favorite whose puppet is able to mimic most singing celebrities, is back. Masters of Illusion magic show, the National Dance Company of Ireland, The Price is Right LIVE — with audience participation and a chance to win, The Ten Tenors and the fan favorite One Night of Queen along with many others promise a great season.
“I think everybody should go to everything,” Satterlee said, “since we were deprived of shows last year.”
VERO BEACH THEATRE GUILD
The Vero Beach Theatre Guild made major renovations starting last year to cope with COVID and upgrade the interior as well. Workers literally ripped out seats and when they were finished with new flooring and other improvements, they put only half of them back — making their rows 6 feet apart, conforming with maximum social distancing requirements for protection.
Artistic director Jon Putzke said the guild is continuing construction to create more efficient ways of doing things, including a walkway for actors to get to dressing rooms without going through the lobby. A new smaller second theater is being added “which can be used for productions of new contemporary plays and musicals that the guild would normally not do as main stage productions,“ he said. Their new Actors Academy will make use of the smaller theater as well.
January brings the highly acclaimed Calendar Girls comedy to the guild stage followed by I Do! I Do! directed by Putzke, See How They Run, set in an English vicarage, and then the hilarious Native Gardens.
Riverside Theatre in Vero Beach decided to use the year to build sets for all the coming shows, which were originally scheduled for last year, and moved its season start date from the usual late fall to January. It is presenting inspiring fare starting with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, a heartwarming story of love and redemption that includes the song You’ll Never Walk Alone. Because its season starts in January, Riverside will have a show in May — Almost Heaven, John Denver’s America, said marketing director Oscar Sales. Management may decide to keep the scheduling format in the future.
The Riverside’s Billy Elliot is the inspirational tale of a young boy’s struggles to make his dreams come true — and become a dancer instead of a boxer. The musical score is by Sir Elton John. On Your Feet showcases the hits of Gloria Estefan and the story of how she and husband, Emilio, overcame tremendous odds with their passion for music. Ken Ludwig’s A Comedy of Errors is a tale of romantic indiscretions and madcap situations in 1930s Paris.
THE BARN THEATRE
The Barn Theatre in Stuart is engaged in a full season this year with Let’s Murder Marsha, a comedy of misunderstanding, finishing up in November and Rent: The Musical starting in January. It will have a strict COVID-19 protocol in place to keep audience members safe. Masks are mandatory for all.
“Our 51st season is packed with exceptional full-length comedy plays and Tony Award-winning musicals,” said Barn president Dennis McGeady. They include the hits Mamma Mia and Flashdance.
“We’re featuring several outstanding tribute concerts such as Ed Sullivan and His Rock ‘n’ Roll Special and When Radio Was King,” McGeady said. The Barn is celebrating its 50th anniversary, a year late due to the pandemic, at the Elliott Museum in Stuart in March.
THE LYRIC THEATRE
The historical Lyric Theatre in Stuart is back with a packed schedule of shows and more coming all the time. Be sure to keep an eye on its website for the additions.
“We’re featuring a diverse schedule of shows carefully selected to reinvigorate your mind,” says executive director Kia Fontaine. “These are shows that will restore your heart and soul, exactly what we need in times like these.”
National Geographic Live, canceled last year, is back and tickets will go fast. The show is called Secrets of the Whale and is narrated by Brian Skerry, the acclaimed award-winning diver who took the spectacular videos and photos. His show is March 10. Go to The Lyric’s website to read his amazing story.
Revolutionary jazz musician and Grammy-winning saxophonist Branford Marsalis returns to The Lyric with a treat of a show in February, while legendary folk icon Janis Ian performs in April.
Artrageous, at The Lyric in February, is probably unlike any show you’ve seen before. The audience participates throughout. The colorful act includes singers, dancers, musicians, artists and loads of color. Lighted finger rings are passed out to the audience members so they can produce a light show. It’s fascinating family fare.
MORE PLAYS AND DANCES
Pineapple Playhouse, in the southern end of Fort Pierce, is geared up for an exceptional season. In January expect to see a large invisible rabbit on its stage in Harvey, a Pulitzer Prize winning play in 1945 and a great play for our current times when hope and optimism are important. In March, enjoy Tick, Tick…BOOM!, an autobiographical musical with a great and relatable story. The April play, In the Heat of the Night, is set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement in America in the mid-1960s.
Treasure Coast Community Theatre in Port St. Lucie has a play for each month this winter and spring. January begins with Clue, a comedic mystery. February brings Nunsense, the theater’s first musical, and March comes in with the Tony Award-winning comedy Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike.
Ballet Vero Beach presents a thrilling series of ballets starting Jan. 14 with Franco-American celebrating eclectic French and American influences on the ballet company’s works. Matthew Lovegood’s romantic French Songs returns, artistic director Adam Schnell’s wistfully youthful Ballade makes its debut and French choreographer Yves de Bouteiller’s allegorical West Side Story Suite makes its company debut.
Symphonic Dances takes the stage in February with big, bold dancing and music. Concluding the season in April, Studio to Stage brings some laughter to the dance, along with a showcase of Danish style at its best.
Opera lovers will delight in the Vero Beach Opera production of La Bohème on Jan. 9 at the Performing Arts Center of Vero Beach High School. It has all the necessary ingredients: love, passion, heartache and tragedy. The organization is also featuring Three Tenors La Bella Italia, a concert. Rising Stars Opera Festival is back with competition and a finals concert from March 23-25.
The Atlantic Classical Orchestra is live with Treasure Coast performances in Stuart and Vero Beach. The Space Coast Symphony Orchestra performs in Vero Beach, Melbourne and Satellite Beach. The Fort Pierce Jazz and Blues Society plays in Fort Pierce and Port St. Lucie again. Check their calendar on their website for show information.
A very busy season is expected this year at all of the venues. If there’s a show you want to attend, you might want to buy your tickets early before they sell out.