Van Wezel

Best bets for the 2015-16 theater season in the Bradenton area

The concept of a theater season seems to become well defined every year. That's especially true in this area, where the summer of 2015 brought us two new theater companies (Urbanite and Starlite Players) that produced plays during the time that theaters are traditionally dark.

Still, the traditional performing arts season that pretty much corresponds to the school year is still a thing, and the 2015-16 season got underway locally this week with the Manatee Players production of "Cats."

A lot of people have a favorite theater and buy season tickets, which is a cost-effective way to see shows. But other people like to pick from several area companies. This is for them, a suggestion for the one show to see in each local company's season.

Manatee Players: We're actually naming two for Manatee Players, one in Stone Hall and one in the Bradenton Kiwanis Theater, because they're every different spaces with very different kinds of theater.

It looks to be a great season for the big musicals in Stone Hall, but "A Chorus Line" (Jan. 7-24), should be the one safe bet. It won 12 Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize, and the director for this production is DeWayne Barrett, who also directed "Cats."

The Bradenton Kiwanis Theater will be packed with promising productions, but one lesser-known show that is worth checking out is "The Boys Next Door" (Sept. 10-27), a funny and poignant play about a group of adult men with various mental and emotional challenges who to make a home together.

The Players Theatre: The company that Bradenton residents call "Sarasota Players" is staging "The 39 Steps" (Sept. 30-Oct. 11), a very funny adaptation of the classic spy novel and Hitchcock film that uses only four actors to play all the characters.

Also worth seeing at the Players Theatre is "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" from Two Chairs Theatre (Sept. 3-13), a young company that has been staging one classic American drama a year. Its "Glass Menagerie" last year was memorable.

Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe: "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" (Jan. 13-Feb. 20) is a phenomenal show, part of August Wilson's Pittsburgh Cycle, and WBTT ought to be able to stage it superbly.

Asolo Repertory Theatre: No question about it, the one to see is "Ah, Wilderness!" (Jan. 22-April 10), the great comedy by the king of drama, Eugene O'Neill.

FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training: The conservatory is also staging "A Chorus Line" Oct. 16-25. But you can catch that show at the Manatee Performing Arts Center early next year. At Asolo Conservatory, catch one of Shakespeare's most crowd-pleasing works, "Twelfth Night" (Oct. 30- Nov, 8).

Sarasota Opera: A landmark year, as the Sarasota Opera winds up its decades-long Verdi Project. There are two Verdi operas on the calendar for 2015-16. If you have to pick one, go with the spectacular "Aida" (Jan. 30-March 19)

Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall: A great, great season ahead, but for theater, far and away the most exiting show is "The Book of Mormon," coming in for a full week (Feb. 9-14). The best musical ever.

Straz Center for the Performing Arts: Very tough call for the best of the Straz Center Broadway season. We'll flip a coin to choose between "Kinky Boots" (Dec. 1-6) with music by Cyndi Lauper and a book by Harvey Fierstein, and "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder" (Oct. 20-25), both of which are coming to Florida for the first time. With all due respect to the fabulous Ms. Lauper, we'll go with the latter, which is packed with great songs and deliciously wicked humor.

That's more than enough to keep most theater-goers happy until the summer seasons begin. (Banyan Theater in Sarasota is a summer-only company and always does solid work.) It's unlikely that there will be even one mediocre show in that bunch.

And there's a lot more where these are coming from. If you love the performing arts, the 2015-16 season looks to be worth getting excited about.

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