SHARKS VERSUS JETS: PRO-STYLE
West Side Story, with which the Asolo Repertory Theatre opens its season Nov. 13 (previews Tuesday, Wednesday and Nov. 12), appears to be in good hands. Joey McKneely, who is directing and choreographing the show, spent six months in 1989 working on the musical with Jerome Robbins, who conceived and choreographed it.
"With West Side, the dancers have to be characters," McKneely told Time Out Chicago in 2011. "They actually have to act, and they have to carry the plot from dance to scene, back to dance, back to scene, interwoven. I think that challenges the dancers in a way they don't usually get challenged."
This is the fourth year of the Asolo's five-year series, "Our American Character."
"American culture and American history is probably my artistic obsession," said Asolo producing artistic director Michael Donald Edwards, a native of Australia. "Everybody takes their home for granted and thinks it's not worth examining. You need us foreigners to tell those stories."
Look for more on the Asolo's season in this space. West Side Story runs Nov. 13-Dec. 28 at Asolo Repertory Theatre, 5555 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. $26-$83. (941) 351-8000. asolorep.org.
TINTINNABULATIONS: ORCHESTRA RINGS IN "THE BELLS"
Two musical interpretations of works by Edgar Allan Poe drive three Florida Orchestra concerts this weekend. Prospero's Rooms, composed in 2013 by Christopher Rouse, was inspired by the short story, The Masque of the Red Death. Rouse will attend the concert Sunday at Ruth Eckerd Hall and participate in a free preconcert lecture (6:30 p.m.) with music director Michael Francis and artistic operations director Edward Parsons.
Sergey Rachmaninoff's The Bells (1913) is an ode to Poe's poem of the same name.
The concert concludes with Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, written in 1874 for an artist friend who died a year earlier.
Francis will conduct the concert. James Bass will direct the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay. Concerts are at 8 p.m. Friday at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, 8 p.m. Saturday at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. $15-$45. (727) 892-3337. floridaorchestra.org.
UNBROKEN: MUSIC BANNED BY THE NAZIS
Their names won't be forgotten: Johann Strauss II, Felix Mendelssohn, Gustav Mahler and George Gershwin, right. Yet these Jewish composers were all blacklisted in Germany in the 1930s, their works deemed "un-German," "inharmonious" or "morally and spiritually dangerous." The Sarasota Opera is honoring these composers this weekend in a pair of concerts. Forbidden Music — Works Banned by the Nazis starts at 8 p.m. Saturday at the William E. Schmidt Opera Theatre, Sarasota Opera House, 61 N Pineapple Ave., Sarasota, (941) 328-1300, sarasotaopera.org. The concert repeats at 3 p.m. Sunday at Ferguson Hall at the David A. Jr. Straz Center for the Performing Arts. $10 to $180. The Florida Holocaust Museum is a partner in the project, which is coupled with a lecture ("Anti-Semitism Past and Present," 5:30 p.m. today) and a panel discussion ("Anti-Semitism Today," 5:30 p.m. Nov. 19), both at the Jonas Kamlet Library at the Sarasota Opera House.
DANCE ALL ABOUT IT: NEWSIES
The last musical at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, struggled before it found acclaim. The transformation is even more dramatic for Newsies, a Broadway hit headed for a six-day run at the Straz starting Tuesday. Originally a 1992 Disney movie, the story covers the 1899 newsboy strike, which has since been called a precursor to the labor movement.
Though the movie never caught on, a stage version authored by Harvey Fierstein and the original music stayed on Broadway for two years, winning Tonys in 2012 for best choreography and best score.
Jeff Calhoun, the director, recently told me Newsies is a "David and Goliath story" and the most demanding dancing since Dancin', Bob Fosse's 1978 musical revue. Newsies runs Tuesday through Sunday at the Straz Center. $35-$105.