It’s always nice to be a bit lucky as well as good.
Mary Bensel, executive director of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota, almost, literally, knows everyone in show business. Her patiently constructed connections have brought stars to Sarasota over the past 10 years such as Josh Groban, Cheryl Crow, Dolly Parton, Audra McDonald and John Legend.
But it was pure luck that on Feb. 7, 2014, Jay Leno was making people laugh at the Van Wezel the night after he bowed out as host of “The Tonight Show.” The appearance in Sarasota made national news.
“I was lucky enough to land Jay through a friend who is an agent,” Bensel said Thursday. “She told me, ‘Leno is looking to tour Florida.’ She needed five or six shows. I called friends. We put a tour together for Jay in 30 minutes. It was all luck.”
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This year Bensel is up to her magic again, bringing in the gifted actor, comedian, film producer, musician and screenwriter Steve Martin to help highlight the Van Wezel’s 2016-17 season.
“As far as I know, Steve has never been to Sarasota, at least not on our books,” Bensel said. “I wanted to bring his show here and the only date he had available I had an opening.”
On Feb. 10, Sarasota will welcome Martin and “Saturday Night Live” alum Martin Short for their wacky show, “An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life.” The pair are accompanied by Martin’s Grammy-winning bluegrass band, Steep Canyon Rangers.
Martin and Short are also the featured performers for the black tie Van Wezel Foundation Gala on the same night.
Joining Martin and Short as headliner for this season is Broadway’s huge-hearted, high-heeled hit, “Kinky Boots,” Bensel said.
As for Leno, he’s back on the 2016-17 schedule.
“It’s been three years since Jay was here,” Bensel said. “I tried to get him back in 2015 but he wanted to come back with some fresh material. He is so nice. He’s amazing.”
This Van Wezel season, which Bensel likes to call “Season For Everyone,” brings Broadway shows, classical performances, dancing stars and returning family favorites to the performing arts hall at 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota.
The schedule includes Tony, Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated Broadway and “Glee” star Matthew Morrison joined by Sirius XM’s On Broadway host Seth Rudetsky, master of satire David Sedaris and the iconic and profoundly influential Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (celebrating their 50th anniversary).
Seven-time Grammy winner Gladys Knight, Emmy and Tony award-winning superstar Kristin Chenoweth, America’s iconic The Beach Boys and country legend Kenny Rogers are also coming to Sarasota.
Michael Bolton, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Alan Cumming in concert, contemporary jazz trumpeter Chris Botti, classical piano phenomenon Lang Lang and Grammy- and Tony-winning pop icon Cyndi Lauper are on the season’s bill.
With her luck, don’t be surprised if one day Bensel brings two of her bucket-list performers to Sarasota, Adele and Barbra Streisand.
“I would move heaven or earth to get Adele or Barbra,” Bensel said. “Of course, they usually play huge arenas. But we got Josh Groban and he plays arenas. So, my philosophy is, ‘Never say never!’ ”
Van Wezel 2016-17 season
Oct 15: Celtic Thunder — Legacy
Oct. 22: Doo Wop Spectacular
Oct. 28: Mary Chapin Carpenter
Oct. 31: ZZ Top
Nov. 1: Capitol Steps
Nov. 18: Mannheim Steamroller Christmas by Chip Davis
Nov. 19: Decades Rewind
Nov. 25: Dave Koz Christmas Tour 2016
Nov. 27: Melissa Etheridge’s Holiday Trio
Nov. 29: Jim Brickman — Comfort & Joy
Dec. 7: “Fame — The Musical”
Dec. 10: The Oak Ridge Boys’ Christmas Celebration Tour 2016
Dec. 12: The Beach Boys — 50 Years Of Good Vibrations, Christmas & Hits
Dec. 13: Garrison Keillor
Dec. 21: “A Christmas Carol”
Dec. 27-28: Rodgers + Hammerstein’s “Cinderella”
Dec. 29: Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker”
Dec. 30: “42nd Street”
Jan. 3: Salute To Vienna — Strauss Symphony Of America
Jan. 5: “My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish & I’m In Therapy”
Jan. 10-11: “Dirty Dancing — The Classic Story On Stage”
Jan. 12: Matthew Morrison with Seth Rudetsky
Jan. 13: Jay Leno
Jan. 14: Dick Fox’s Golden Boys starring Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Bobby Rydell
Jan. 15: Michael Bolton
Jan. 16: Engelbert Humperdinck
Jan. 17: Elvis Lives
Jan. 18: Zoltán Mága: From Budapest With Love
Jan. 19: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis
Jan. 22: Adam Trent: The Futurist
Jan. 24-26: Riverdance
Jan. 27: Kenny Rogers’ Final World Tour with special guest Linda Davis
Jan. 28: Gladys Knight
Jan. 29: Johnny Mathis
Feb. 1: Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons
Feb. 2: Keith Lockhart and The Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra — “A British Invasion: The Boston Pops Plays The Beatles”
Feb. 6: “Sex Tips For Straight Women From A Gay Guy”
Feb. 7: Itzhak Perlman
Feb. 8: An Evening of Classic Lily Tomlin
Feb. 9: The Philadelphia Orchestra
Feb. 10: “Steve Martin & Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget For The Rest Of Your Life”
Feb. 14: Neil Berg’s 108 Years of Broadway
Feb. 15: Twyla Tharp — Fiftieth Anniversary Tour
Feb. 17-18: “Pippin”
Feb. 19: The Summit: The Manhattan Transfer Meets Take 6
Feb. 21: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Feb. 23: Lang Lang
Feb. 27: Jackie Evancho
Feb. 28: Russian National Ballet — “Swan Lake”
March 1: Orchestre National De Lyon
March 2: Smokey Robinson
March 5: Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs
March 7: Taj Express
March 12: An Intimate Evening With Kristin Chenoweth
March 14-15: “Annie”
March 17: “Once”
March 21: Jump, Jive & Wail featuring The Jive Aces
March 23: “Shadowland” by Pilobolus
March 25-26: Chicago
March 27: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
March 28: Momix — “Opus Cactus”
April 4: “Menopause The Musical”
April 5: Rhapsody & Rhythm — The Gershwin Concert Experience
April 7: Neil Sedaka
April 8: Rain — A Tribute To The Beatles
April 12: Chris Botti
April 13: The Four Tops and The Temptations
April 18: “Under The Streetlamp”
April 19: David Sedaris
April 20: Alton Brown Live: “Eat Your Science”
April 23: One Night of Queen
April 25-30: “Kinky Boots”