Manatee Players are down to finishing touches

mclear@bradenton.comMarch 27, 2013 

BRADENTON -- In the middle of the afternoon Tuesday, Janene Witham let out a big sigh and said, "I'm going to go for a walk."

Witham is the executive director of the Manatee Players, and she's been working furiously for months to make sure the new Manatee Performing Arts Center is ready on time for Thursday's opening of "Miss Saigon."

The fact that she went for a walk in the middle of the day indicated to colleagues that the road ahead looks smooth.

"She couldn't have done that if there was some big hoo-hah to be taken care of," said Denny Miller, marketing manager for the Manatee Players. "We're on schedule."

Witham spent much of Tuesday going though the building with city inspectors, who have been working with the theater company throughout the process to make sure the new center meets all the necessary construction, electrical and plumbing codes. All that's looking good, Miller said.

A second floor that will be occupied by the Kiwanis Club isn't done yet, and won't be done before June, but that doesn't affect the Manatee Players' theater on the ground floor, a city building official said.

Outside, workers were tending to the landscaping. All of the paving that needs to be done before opening night is completed.

People are still working feverishly, Miller said -- he compares the scene inside the theater to "Extreme Make

over" on steroids -- but if there were ever doubts that the theater would open in time, they've been dispelled by the smooth rate of progress. Attention is being turned to the tiny details.

"The board members are coming tomorrow to dust," he said Tuesday. "They're coming with their little cans of Pledge or whatever and dusting off the arms of the seats and everything to make sure everything is clean and shiny."

Probably the biggest remaining job is to move a grand player piano into the lobby. The piano, which was donated by the late Rae French, a long-time supporter of Manatee Players, has been sitting "all wrapped up in the other theater," Miller said. It's scheduled to be moved into the new theater Wednesday.

The "other" theater is the Manatee Players' historic home on Old Main Street. It closed last week, after 60 years, with a production of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." It was cramped and technically inadequate.

On Thursday, "Miss Saigon," the mammoth musical about the last days of the Vietnam War, is set to open in the spacious and high-tech new Manatee Performing Arts Center at 502 Third Ave. W. It's a play that would have been far too technically complex for the old Riverfront Theatre, and probably at most local theaters around the country. Everyone involved with the production says that, too, will be ready for audiences by Thursday.

Opening night is a black-tie, invitation-only event. Guests will walk the red carpet beginning at 6:30 p.m. Dignitaries and a presentation will begin on the stage at 7:30 p.m.

If you haven't been invited to that yet, you probably won't be. But you can still see "Miss Saigon" during its three-week run, which continues until April 14. But you should probably make plans soon.

"There are tickets for most nights," Miller said. "Not a lot, but some."

For tickets, call 941-748-5875; for information about Manatee Players or "Miss Saigon," visit

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-748-0411. ext. 7919. Follow

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