Martin, Leno, ‘Kinky Boots’ top 2016-17 Van Wezel season

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.”

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”

Tickets go on sale to the public beginning at 10 a.m. Sept. 10. Tickets can be purchased at the box office, online at www.vanwezel.org, or by phone 941-953-3368.

Richard Dymond: 941-745-7072, @RichardDymond