Lakewood Ranch Herald

Myakka girl, 11, sings for Ovation

LAKEWOOD RANCH — Main Street in Lakewood Ranch is a thousand miles or so from The Great White Way.

But 11-year-old Maria Wirries of Myakka City said she believes every time she takes the stage to perform, whether it be on Main Street or in a local assisted-living facility, she gets a little nearer to Broadway.

Maria — her last name is pronounced “wear-EES” — will take another stride toward her dreams when she sings Saturday at Ovation, the second annual event showcasing the arts at Lakewood Ranch.

Ovation is scheduled 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Main Street, and Maria is scheduled to perform at 12:30 p.m. on a stage in front of the fountain, adjacent to Mac-Allister’s Restaurant.

“Maria has a huge voice, like four times her size,” said Leona Braun of The Manatee Players, the group she will represent at Ovation. “We send her out to a lot of assisted-living facilities. She goes to a lot of places to entertain. Our artistic director, Rick Kerby, discovered her at a talent show. She is taking tap lessons from Rick. She does it all. We’ll hear from her in the future.”

At Ovation, Maria, who is home-schooled, will perform “Born to Entertain,” from “Ruthless”; “Here I Am,” from “Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels”; “I Enjoy Being a Girl,” from “Flower Drum Song”; “Impossible Dream,” from “Man of La Mancha”; “Spoonful of Sugar,” from “Mary Poppins”; “The Sound of Music,” from “Sound of Music”; and, of course, her favorite song, “New York, New York.”

“‘New York, New York’ has a lot of action, is big, loud and jazzy and is kind of my personality,” said Maria, who conducts a phone interview as if she were 30.

Other groups represented include Sarasota Ballet, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota Opera, South Florida Museum, Diversity: The Voices of Sarasota and Fuzion Dance Artists.

Admission is free to Ovation and the event will feature live performances, special demonstrations and interactive displays, said Leah Blair, an LWR Communities LLC spokeswoman.

“The residents of Lakewood Ranch are great supporters of the arts, and the proximity to the performing arts and the area’s cultural establishments are some of the main reasons many residents choose to live in Lakewood Ranch,” said Milt Flinn, president of LWR Communities LLC.

There will also be informational booths about the art groups, Blair said.

Some of the attractions at the main stage include a contemporary dance piece with a live percussionist and a kid-friendly magic show presented by Camp Cigma.

A full list of the participating organizations and a schedule of performances can be found at www.LakewoodRanch.com by clicking on Ovation.

Maria’s own story could make a Broadway play.

In 1997, when she was four months old, her father, Ronald Wirries, a missionary in Haiti, died of an apparent heart attack or stroke.

Maria’s natural mother had long been out of the picture, said Jeaneen Wirres, Maria’s aunt.

Jeaneen, then 62, flew to Haiti and eventually was able to take the baby back to the United States to raise her. They lived in Sarasota, Christian Retreat and Myakka City.

“I’m retired, I’m 73, and my life is running her around,” Jeaneen said with a gravely voiced laugh.

What no one knew was that Maria would turn out to be a prodigy.

At nine months, she could play songs by ear on a keyboard.

At age 5, she sang solo in a kindergarten performance at Manatee School for Arts and Sciences.

“When she was 5 I told her if she wanted to be a performer, she had to get up in front of people and be able to handle it,” Wirres said.

“She got up and sang ‘I’ve Been Working On The Railroad.’ Ever since then, there’s been no stopping her.”

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 708-7917.

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