One of my favorite things has always been to leaf through the schedules of performing arts organizations in the bay area, anticipating what I'm going to see and hear and write about over the course of a season. Sometimes the big hits are obvious — Jersey Boys had boffo written all over it last season — and sometimes they come as a surprise. Who could have predicted that a hip-hop version of The Comedy of Errors would have been so successful? • In the 2008-09 season, I'm looking forward to performances ranging from a recital by Midori to American Stage's production of an August Wilson play to Stefan Sanderling conducting the Florida Orchestra in Bruckner. My calendar has the farewell tour of Dame Edna; Gounod's operatic deal with the devil, Faust; and a Broadway musical that joins German expressionism with rock 'n' roll. There's a Tupperware party with a theatrical "saleswoman" that looks like fun. • And what can you say about a season that has three Pink Floyd tributes, two productions of The Barber of Seville within a month of each other and a couple of versions of The Wizard of Oz? Nothing succeeds like excess.
In Spring Awakening, 19th century German teenagers deal with abortion, suicide, homosexuality and masturbation — not the usual fare in a Broadway musical. And the amazing thing is, it works with a pulsating indie-rock score by Duncan Sheik. Unlike other hybrids of rock and musical theater (even greats like Hair and Rent), Spring Awakening rocks hard, especially in The B---- of Living and Totally F-----. The show won eight 2007 Tony Awards and is coming to Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center Dec. 30-Jan. 4. In a first, because of the show's raunchy themes and nudity, subscribers to the Broadway series were given the option not to include it in their season ticket package. One of the best things about Spring Awakening is the Tony-winning, high-energy choreography of Bill T. Jones. He brings his modern dance company to TBPAC Feb. 18.
The world on a string
I think Midori, right, is the greatest of all violinists performing today. I admire her seriousness of purpose and idealism, and there's a laser-beam intensity to her playing, whether it's a Bach sonata or something new like John Adams' Road Movies. Her April 14 recital at TBPAC is at the top of my list of concerts.
Plenty of other fine violinists are appearing this season. One of the pieces I'm most looking forward to is the Berg Violin Concerto, performed by concertmaster Jeff Multer with the Florida Orchestra Oct. 24-26. Canadian Karen Gomyo made a great impression with the orchestra two years ago when she was the soloist in Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1. This season she returns to play more Russian repertoire, the Shostakovich First Violin Concerto, May 1-3. Time for Three (two violins and a double bass) is an interesting pops headliner Nov. 28-30.
Ruth Eckerd Hall is doing its part on the violin front. Joshua Bell, with pianist Jeremy Denk, plays in Clearwater Jan. 20. Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg is the soloist in Piazzolla's Four Seasons of Buenos Aires with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra March 26.
Over the Skyway
Symphony orchestras are expensive animals to present on tour, and we are lucky that Van Wezel Hall in Sarasota continues to make the commitment to book the best of them. On Nov. 7, conductor Valery Gergiev and the Kirov Orchestra from St. Petersburg, Russia, play Prokofiev ballet scores. Ivan Fischer is an up-and-coming conductor on the international scene, and he leads his Budapest Festival Orchestra in Hungarian-inspired works of Brahms and Liszt on Jan. 30.
This is Lorin Maazel's last season as music director of the New York Philharmonic, and on Feb. 25 he and his charges will be in Sarasota to perform Beethoven and Schumann symphonies.
One night only: Bruckner
Florida Orchestra music director Stefan Sanderling, above, has the courage of his convictions, and one of them is the supreme musical value of 19th century Austrian composer Anton Bruckner. Nothing could be further removed from our sound-bite age than Bruckner's solemn Fifth Symphony, but Sanderling believes it needs to be heard. He'll lead the orchestra in the monumental work April 3 at TBPAC.
In more accessible programming, Sanderling will lead the orchestra and Master Chorale of Tampa Bay in the Verdi Requiem (March 7-8) and Mahler's Resurrection Symphony (May 15-17).
August Wilson's century
Last season, the great African-American playwright August Wilson, above, finally made it to American Stage, with his first play produced at the theater in its 29-year history. That it took so long was embarrassing, but at least the company got things right with a stirring production of Gem of the Ocean, the first in Wilson's cycle of 10 plays on 20th century black life in America, one play for each decade.
This season, the cycle continues with King Hedley II Jan. 21-Feb. 15, with Bob Devin Jones directing. Set in the 1980s, it is about an ex-con and his family struggling to make a go of it in Pittsburgh's downtrodden Hill District. Wilson, who died in 2005, created one of his most uncompromising, maddening characters in the long-winded King (to be played by Ranney), who peddles stolen refrigerators and fiercely defends his hardscrabble moral code.
Next, they'll open a piano bar
Ruth Eckerd Hall has cornered the market on drag queens this season. First up is one Dixie Longate, played by Kris Andersson, in Dixie's Tupperware Party, a campy send-up of that great American tradition. Yes, you can buy Tupperware products at the show, which is highly interactive. Dixie does her thing Nov. 25-29.
Then Dame Edna, above, returns to Clearwater on her farewell tour March 30-31. Of course, Barry Humphries, the distinguished Australian actor who created the Dame, vigorously denies that he is in drag but is instead fully inhabiting the character he plays by dressing up as a woman.
You've got to hand it to Sarah Brightman. She's one of the few singers who has gone from a stage career (the former Mrs. Andrew Lloyd Webber, she was the original Christine in The Phantom of the Opera) to achieve major pop music success (her unavoidable duet with Andrea Bocelli Time to Say Goodbye, PBS pledge-drive specials and spacey albums such as La Luna, Harem and Symphony). Her tour comes to the St. Pete Times Forum on Nov. 16.
Stacy Keach, right, is a superb classical actor. He has played Hamlet, Lear, Macbeth. In one of my favorite movies, Fat City, he gave a brilliant performance as a washed-up boxer. Now Keach is playing another tragic figure, Richard Nixon, in Frost/Nixon, a play by Peter Morgan about the televised interviews of the disgraced former president by David Frost in 1977. It's the rare nonmusical on the Broadway series at TBPAC, Feb. 17-22.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Legally Blonde, the frothy musical based on the hit movie of the same name. Becky Gulsvig stars as pink-clad Elle Woods, a sorority sister from California who follows her ex-boyfriend to Harvard Law School, April 7-12 at Ruth Eckerd Hall.
Beyond the ABCs
In seasons past, Opera Tampa returned again and again to the ABCs — Aida (well, once), La Boheme, Carmen and the rest of opera's greatest hits. So it's refreshing to see the company venture into somewhat less familiar repertoire (in these parts, anyway), such as the Puccini double bill of Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi (Feb. 27 and March 1) and Gounod's Faust (April 17 and 19). For star quality, there's a concert March 22 by mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade and bass Samuel Ramey.
Sarasota Opera, on the other hand, revels in staging works that are off the beaten track, and this season's rarity in the company's newly renovated theater is Pietro Mascagni's L'Amico Fritz (Feb. 21-March 21). The Verdi cycle continues with Don Carlos (March 7-28).
Play it again, Sam
This is going to be a season of repeats. The trio of Pink Floyd tributes feature an Australian group performing The Wall at Ruth Eckerd Hall on Oct. 23, the Florida Orchestra in "The Music of Pink Floyd'' Jan. 30 at Mahaffey Theater and "The Pink Floyd Experience'' at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center on Feb. 15.
Fans of The Barber of Seville should be happy this season. The Rossini opera is being produced by both Sarasota Opera (five performances Nov. 7-16) and Opera Tampa (Dec. 5 and 7).
And then there's The Wizard of Oz, being staged as a Broadway musical at TBPAC Oct. 14-19 and screened above the stage at Mahaffey Theater while the Florida Orchestra plays the movie score May 23-24.
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.