Buzz Worthy: A look at Bradenton's best arts events in 2013

December 29, 2013 

Only a few days of 2013, remain, and that means everyone who writes about arts and entertainment for a living is required by law to write about the best stuff from the past year.

It's a little difficult for me, since I didn't come to Bradenton until this past February, so I missed a bunch. And I'm just one guy, and this area is bursting with shows and events, so I couldn't make it to everything.

But now, with the caveats out of the way, here's look at some of the best and most memorable moments in local arts and live entertainment from the 10-and-a-half-months I've been here.

It's easy to name the best overall arts event in this area. The opening of the Manatee Performing Arts Center was historic. That's not an exaggeration.

But still, the full significance of the new facility didn't become apparent until its third show, "Les Miserables," which is inarguably the best community theater show of 2013. By staging such a technically complex and difficult show, Manatee Players showed their audience that a theater is more than a big room with seats. It's a machine, and the capabilities of this new theater are still unfolding with each new show. With the phenomenal production of "Les Mis," though, Manatee Players showed they intend to get the most out of the new space and its technology.

For professional theaters, the best show I saw in the Bradenton-Sarasota area was Asolo Rep's "Clybourne Park," a bitingly funny but intellectually satisfying work about race relations. But up In St. Petersburg, American Stage's production of "The Amish Project," a devastating drama about the real-life massacre of Amish school children, was better than anything I saw on this side of Skyway. Sarasota actor Katherine Michelle Tanner played all the characters -- women, men and children -- and delivered a performance that will be forgotten by no one who experienced it.

For the best touring show, there's no competition for "The Book of Mormon." Yes, it was an hour's drive away at Tampa's Straz Center for the Performing Arts. But it's perhaps the

best musical ever, almost unbearably funny, with great songs, perfect performances, beautiful stagecraft and a killer band.

We also have to go to the Straz for the year's best concert. Leonard Cohen returned to the Straz Center with one of the most beautiful live performances I've ever seen.

Former Sarasotan Neil Larsen, a longtime Cohen sideman, is one of the most tasteful keyboard players ever.

I unfortunately didn't get to see a whole lot of opera -- I missed the winter opera season -- but the Sarasota Opera's recent production of "Die Fledermaus" was an absolute delight, and the Sarasota Orchestra played Strauss' music with precision and personality.

But overall, the best music event of the year had to be the second annual Bradenton Blues Festival, a nearly-perfect day that spanned the subgenres of blues, from pure Chicago blues to R&B.

The blues festival is still in its infancy, with a burgeoning national reputation, so there's reason to expect it will be even stronger next year. The same is true of the Manatee Performing Arts Center. And the Sarasota Orchestra has a new music director, Anu Tali, who brings new excitement to the orchestra. So 2013 was pretty great around here, but I'm thinking 2014 will probably be even better.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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