Since a glorious grand opening gala last August, the Manatee Performing Arts Center capped a stellar first year with another black-tie celebration. The big crowd at the second annual Crystal Gala early this month enjoyed quite a lengthy list of achievements, all enlivening downtown Bradenton with a fresh energy that promises to continue.
The new home of the award-winning Manatee Players theater troupe and the Kiwanis Club of Bradenton has earned the community a wealth of goodwill around the region.
Audiences have been treated with the eye-popping special-effects production of "Miss Saigon" as the initial performance, followed months later by an "astounding" version of "Les Miserables," as Herald theater critic Marty Clear wrote. The Manatee Performing Arts Center can host such huge productions with a state-of-the-art main stage that puts the Manatee Players' old home by City Hall to shame.
Cinema is proving to be center player, too, with the Movieville International Film Festival moving to Bradenton from Sarasota in May -- and even rebranding the 4-year-old event as the Bradenton Arts Movieville Film Festival.
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The Sarasota Film Festival also came calling in March with the premiere of a documentary titled "The Enduring Beauty of Memory," which was written, produced and filmed entirely in the Bradenton area.
Tourings shows have gained a venue, including "The Rat Pack -- Together Again," which will return this January.
At this month's gala, the Manatee Performing Arts Center unveiled a new logo that meshed icons representing dance, music, film and theater with the tagline "Artistic Inspiration for Everyone." A new video also debuted that evening and can be found on the center's new website, manateeperformingartscenter.com.
Beyond cultural offerings, the center has become a popular place for civic meetings and weddings, though Executive Director Janene Witham did not foresee that happening for several years. Clearly, the public has found "inspiration" here on many levels.
Rick Kerby, Manatee Players producing artistic director, spoke enthusiastically about the past year in a gala report by the Herald's Clear:
"It has exceeded our expectations. When you start something new, you expect that there will be a lot of bugs to work out. We've had some, but not many at all. It has been a fun toy to play with."
Should anyone be unfamiliar and curious about the performing arts center, the Players open production of "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" this very evening in Stone Hall. Or catch the debut of "Godspell" in the Bradenton Kiwanis Studio Theater next week.
As we opined a year ago upon the grand opening, the story about the development of this valuable landmark is a monument to the generosity of civic-minded residents and organizations; commitment and perseverance over the course of a decade; and the united spirit of a community.
Take a bow, Bradenton and Manatee County. The past year is only the start of a beautiful relationship.