It's been an awfully good year for arts and entertainment in the Bradenton area. The Manatee Players completed its first season in the wondrous Manatee Performing Arts Center, and the center itself came into its own, attracting film festivals, concerts and multi-media shows that would have never come to Bradenton before. Sam Woolf's run on "American Idol" made the whole town cheer, and the Bradenton Blues Festival continued to enhance its national reputation.
We can't see too far ahead into 2015 yet. For the most part, theaters and performing arts halls have only announced stuff that's coming up through the spring. But the outlook for the year is already exciting. Here's a look ahead and some of the most promising shows:
"The Book of Mormon"
Jan. 20-Feb. 1, Straz Center for the Performing Arts, Tampa
It's been called "the best musical of this century." That's not hyperbole. It may even be understatement. Although it's not for the easily offended -- and probably not even for the potentially offended -- "The Book of Mormon" is supernaturally funny, with catchy songs, gorgeous sets and even an ultimately uplifting message about religion. Information: 813-229-7827, strazcenter.org.
Dance Theatre of Harlem
Jan. 30-Feb. 1, FSU Center for Performing Arts, Sarasota
One of the most important ballet companies in the country returned to life last year after a nine-year hiatus, forced by crushing debt. The company is smaller now and it isn't yet able to do some of its large-scale works, but its return to touring was the most exciting news in dance in 2013. The program hasn't been announced yet, but that scarcely matters. This company should deliver a beautiful evening no matter what pieces it performs.
"The Marriage of Figaro"
Feb. 14-March 27, Sarasota Opera
Mozart's wonderfully comic opera is perfect for opera connoisseurs and for opera novices. Men can score big points with wives and girlfriends by taking them to opening night on Valentine's Day. It's full of familiar music and characters, and the plot is fast-paced and loads of fun. Information: 941-328-1300, sarasotaopera.org.
"Agnes of God"
Feb. 19-March 8, Bradenton Kiwanis Studio Theatre, Manatee Performing Arts Center
This stark psychological drama could be the show that finally shows off the potential of the smaller space at the Manatee Performing Arts Center. John Pielmeier's 1982 play revolves around a naïve nun who has a baby, who has died. But the young nun insists that she has never had sex. An older nun and a psychologist clash during the investigation. It'll be great to see how the Manatee Players handle such chilling material, and the intimate theater can only enhance the play's power. Information: 941-748-5875, manateeplayers.com.
"Into the Woods"
Feb. 12-March 1, Stone Hall, Manatee Performing Arts Center
It's hard to say whether the timing here is good or bad. The movie version of "Into the Woods" is shaping up to be one of the biggest hits of the Christmas season, and there will probably still be a lot of buzz about
it by the time this production opens. Maybe everyone will have seen the movie and won't want to see the stage musical, or maybe all the talk will generate some excitement. Either way, this dark musical based on fairy tales is one of Stephen Sondheim's best, and won the Tony Awards for best score and best book even though it was up against "Phantom of the Opera." Information: 941-748-5875, manateeplayers.com.
"The Cherry Orchard"
April 7-26, Mertz Theatre at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, Sarasota.
There's lots of great stuff coming up from Asolo Repertory Theatre and the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training, but this offering from the conservatory looks especially promising. The current class of student actors from the conservatory is exceptional, and Chekhov's play is one of the best, and one of the most important, ever written. Information: 941-351-8000, asolorep.org.
"Disney on Ice presents Frozen"
Amalie Arena, Tampa, May 14-17
It was pretty much inevitable: "Frozen" on ice. This adaptation of the mega-hit movie is the latest offering from Palmetto-based Disney on Ice (part of the Feld Entertainment empire) and it's coming to Tampa just as we'll be starting to dread the oppressive heat of summer. It's been on tour for a while and the reviews have been positive. It's reportedly an edited, but faithful re-creation of the film, and it includes the key points of the story and all the songs you and your kids want to hear. People who love the movie are likely to love the ice show.
The Bradenton Blues Festival
Dec. 5, Bradenton Riverwalk
The lineup for the 2015 Bradenton Blues Festival won't be announced for a couple of months, but there's no reason to believe it won't be another great lineup and another great festival. All three editions of the festival thus far have run smoothly and featured full days of great music. And Paul Benjamin, who arranges all that talent for the BBF, is starting a new festival called the Suncoast Blues Festival at the Sarasota Fairgrounds on April 25. The 2015 edition features Bobby Rush, Smokin' Joe Kubek and Bnois King, Eden Bren, Mr. Sipp, Zac Harmon and Vasti Jackson. Information: For the Bradenton Blues Festival, realizebradenton.com; for the Suncoast Blues Festival, suncoastbluesfestival.com.
Those are just a handful of sure-fire shows on tap for 2014, and many others --including Manatee Players' "Jesus Christ Superstar" and Asolo Rep's "Our Betters" could have easily made the cut.
And new seasons that start in the fall will be announced in a few months, so there will be even more great stuff to choose from. But already, for fans of live entertainment and performing arts, 2015 is looking to be a happy new year.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.