Players theater exhibits new musical at Art Center Sarasota

Jay Handelman
Sarasota Herald-Tribune
From left Brian F. Finnerty, Debbi White, Jennifer Baker and Andrew Smiley star in the Players Centre production of “[title of show].”

The Players Centre for Performing Arts was already planning for some twists and turns this season as it prepares to open its temporary performance space in a former retail store in the Crossings at Siesta Key shopping center south of downtown Sarasota.

The company expected to inaugurate the new theater with a production of the unusually titled musical “[title of show].” (That’s the actual title.) The show will go on, but not where it was scheduled.

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Because of pandemic-related delays in acquiring needed construction materials, the new space in a former Banana Republic store won’t be ready in time for the Oct. 3 preview performance. Instead, Producing Artistic Director Jeffery Kin said the production will be presented in the large interior courtyard exhibition space at Art Center Sarasota.

The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe presented several musical revues at the Art Center before it found a permanent home a decade ago. The space has the feel of a sunken living room with space for dozens of audience members and a raised platform area for the actors.

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“Any renovation and any major building project is going to get sidetracked at times,” Kin said. “We didn’t really expect any issues but what it came down to is the availability of materials. It has been an interesting journey taking a retail space and turning it into an assembly space. There have been lots of logistical issues, but things are going very well.”

The mall site was selected as the company’s temporary home for the next several years while the Players Centre raises money for a new theater complex it plans in Lakewood Ranch. A groundbreaking is expected in 2023.

Art Center Sarasota, located at 707 N. Tamiami Trail. is the oldest arts organization in Sarasota.

Kin and director Cory Boyas said “[title of show]” is the kind of musical that is easily adaptable to different kinds of playing spaces.

It features a cast of four and doesn’t require a lot of choreography or set pieces. “You could probably do it anywhere,” Boyas said. It has been presented locally at the FSU/Asolo Conservatory in 2015 and at Venice Theatre in 2011.

The show is about two guys, Hunter and Jeff, who create an original musical to enter into a new musical theater festival about two guys writing a musical to enter into a festival. The title refers to a blank space on the application form for the festival where they had to submit the “title of show.”

It was created by Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen, who also starred in the show’s debut at the New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2004. It later moved to an off-Broadway and then to Broadway where it was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical.

In song and story, the characters sing about trying to create the kind of show they’d want to see.

Brian F. Finnerty, a performer and director/choreographer, plays Hunter opposite Andrew Smiley as Jeff. Debbi White, most recently seen at Venice Theatre in “An Act of God” at the Players Centre in “Head Over Heels,” plays their friend Susan, with Players Centre veteran Jennifer Baker as Heidi. Michelle Neal is the musical director.

Boyas said from the first production meeting, “we used the word adaptable as our keyword for the cast and the production team. We were informed at that first meeting that we weren’t 100% guaranteed to perform in the space we thought. Thankfully, it’s not like ‘42nd Street.’ it is a very adaptable piece. This could really be done with just four chairs, a keyboard and some black curtains.”

Brian F. Finnerty and Andrew Smiley play two theater lovers who are creating a new musical for a theater festival in “[title of show]” at the Players Centre for Performing Arts.

Scenic designer Michael-Newton Brown has created something a little more adventurous, even though most of his original ideas had to be scrapped, Boyas said. “Here’s where we are. We have a very talented cast rolling with the punches, graciously accepting all the challenges.”

Boyas likens the show to a musical theater variation of “Seinfeld.”

“If ‘Seinfeld’ were on HBO, and it wasn’t about a comedian but it was about four working theater people, that would be this show,” he said. “This is a show about nothing, but under the surface, it’s about the relationship of the four characters and how creating the show itself shapes them.”

While the show is filled with sometimes insider-ish references to current and past theater personalities and productions, Boyas said it’s not essential to get them all.

“It’s really the relationship among the four,” Boyas said. “It’s like a family you like to visit on television whether ‘Sex and the City’; or ‘Everybody Loves Raymond.’ You’re attracted to the characters and the way they interact together.”

‘[title of show]’

By Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen. Directed by Cory Boyas. Presented Oct. 6-17 by the Players Centre for Performing Arts at Art Center Sarasota, 707 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. 941-365-2494; theplayers.org

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