Treasure Coast theaters, performing arts companies reach major anniversaries
BY SUSAN BURGESS
If there is ever a time for a theater to shine, it’s during a major anniversary year. Eight anniversaries marking decades or half decades this year foretell a brilliant season for the Treasure Coast performing arts. Expect curtains to rise on some of the best shows now that the worst of the pandemic years seem behind us.
Years of hard work and sometimes digging, hammering and sawing by theater founders created today’s robust performing arts scene on the Treasure Coast. But their communities were there for them throughout their struggles, and although they couldn’t really have foreseen the results, they hoped. And it paid off.
The oldest theater in the area at 100 years, the historical 1923 Sunrise Theatre served not only as a theater, “it brought the Fort Pierce community together starting with vaudeville acts, and movies until it closed in the mid-’80s,” said marketing manager Anne Sattterlee. “Now restored, it is again the shining light in downtown, with a variety of annual programming.”
The theater marks the beginning of its 100th year with the graceful Swan Lake ballet presented by the State Ballet Theatre of Ukraine followed by Johnny Mathis, Oak Ridge Boys, Simon and Garfunkel Story, and the annual tribute to the iconic band Queen called One Night of Queen.
BALLET VERO BEACH
The youngest to celebrate a decade is Ballet Vero Beach with a 10th season that includes locally choreographed works and an adapted traditional ballet that moved its setting to the Indian River Lagoon — The Nutcracker on the Indian River. Creative director and CEO Adam Schnell mused about the early days. “Longevity … you know, it is funny, I used to say IF Ballet Vero Beach keeps going and then around year five I realized it was going, and going pretty well.
“Now, as I reflect on a decade of dance, we’re focused on longevity and the truth is we have always been led by the needs of our community and I have to imagine that is what will ultimately lead to us having staying power.”
VERO BEACH THEATRE GUILD
Vero Beach Theatre Guild has the habit of reinventing its building, making improvements that keep its theater fresh and young despite its 65 years. COVID provided an opportunity for a big reconstruction and expansion project. But the quality of the shows and the assistance of local businesses and volunteers account for the long life of the Vero Beach Theatre Guild.
“The quality of the community theater’s productions has escalated considerably in the past five years,” artistic director Jon Putzke said. “Under the guidance of a professional staff, our volunteers on the stage and behind the scenes are learning new and exciting things with every production. After Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, patrons were saying it was as good as any regional theater’s production at half the price. We’re building a roster of very talented and directable volunteer actors.”
Their audiences will enjoy Visiting Mr. Green, a funny, moving show that has been translated into 22 languages, followed by Musical Chairs, The Boy From Oz, and Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Nile.
The venerable Riverside Theatre, celebrating its 50th anniversary, is unique on the Treasure Coast. It chooses its plays, auditions and hires professional actors, and produces each play on its own. It began as a dream by Vero Beach residents who wanted a showcase for the performing arts. Community support led to raising the $1.5 million needed to open the Vero Beach Community Theatre, later renamed Riverside Theatre. That support spanning five decades led to national recognition and acclaim.
In January, the powerful musical Man of LaMancha kicks off 2023 with the story of a man who refused to give up his ideals. For a change of pace, try A Comedy of Tenors and Tony-award-winning extravaganza 42nd Street followed by Bakersfield Mist and Oleanna.
With the obstacles it overcame, you might call the Pineapple Playhouse’s organization the little theater that could after the beloved children’s book The Little Engine That Could.
The playhouse’s history actually dates back to 1949, 73 years ago, when it began as the Dolphin Players, performing wherever it could. But almost 50 years ago, in 1973, it transformed into the St. Lucie Community Theatre. Eventually it found its forever home on West Weatherbee Road and named it the Pineapple Playhouse.
The January show is a twist on Neil Simon’s comic tale, The Odd Couple, with women in the principal roles. Wait Until Dark is the March show — you may recall it as a movie starring Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin of Little Miss Sunshine fame. Steel Magnolias, with its Southern women and their steely bonds of friendship, finishes the season.
VERO BEACH OPERA
The Vero Beach Opera celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. The dedicated group of people who bring these magical operas to the local stage chose Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore [Elixir of Love], an Italian comic opera, this year with music by the Brevard Symphony Orchestra.
Artistic director Russell Franks provides the stage direction. Audience members will be able to read English supertitles on the proscenium just above the stage. With plenty of laughter, romance and love potions, it features three big duets and the famous tenor aria Una Furtiva Lagrima.
Vero Beach Opera began life as the Vero Beach Opera Guild but became the Vero Beach Opera Inc. in 2006. As support grew, it evolved into a professionally oriented performing company that has attracted major opera stars.
TREASURE COAST COMMUNITY SINGERS
The singers, based in Martin County, have made beautiful music together for 20 years. Their goal is “to keep people singing.” Beginning with just six founding members, they have more than 120 singers split into youth chorus, chamber singers for classical music, and the community chorus open to all who want to join.
This year the singers perform Handel’s Messiah at Trinity United Methodist Church in Jensen Beach on Nov. 19 and at St. Bernadette Catholic Church in St. Lucie West on Nov. 20. More concerts are planned for December, March, April and May. You’ll find a large gallery of its music online where anyone can watch free from a link on its website at www.tccsingers.org. The songs include I Heard it on the Grapevine, Dancing Queen, the Isley Brothers’ Twist and Shout alongside A Gaelic Blessing, White Christmas and many more.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary and 30th year of its popular holiday show Star of Wonder, the planetarium at Indian River State College’s Fort Pierce campus draws fascinated and enthusiastic audiences for its weekend shows featuring the planets and stars as well as for its concerts, speaker series and children’s programs. Director Jon U. Bell writes the scripts for the shows, one of which is narrated by Kate Mulgrew of Star Trek fame.
“The amazing shows and special events are chief among reasons that the Hallstrom Planetarium has been so successful through its 30 years of operation here at Indian River State College,” college spokesman Robert Lane said.
We have four more long-lived and well-loved theaters on the Treasure Coast in their 40s, 50s, and 90s, serving up sparkling shows this season.
The Lyric Theatre in Stuart is 96 this year, the Barn Theatre in Stuart is 56. The McAlpin Fine Arts Center at Indian River State College is 43 and the Maltz Jupiter Theatre is 20, although going back to its very beginning with a different name it was constructed 43 years ago.
THE BARN THEATRE
The Barn carries on the little engine that could tradition of community theaters on the Treasure Coast with its determination to become a high-quality theater performing quality shows. The determination that led it to move from its roots as an adult education class to purchasing a rose-packing barn in 1970 was accomplished when residents came forth with donations, loans, and grueling labor to convert a barn into a theater. The latest upgrade saw the installation of new Broadway lighting and sound equipment.
Among the shows in 2023 are musicals Grease, La Cage Aux Follies, Songs For a New World, and The Wedding Singer, all with live music.
THE LYRIC THEATRE
The historical Lyric in Stuart went through many changes following its birth in 1925 as a silent movie house. Strong support from the community allowed its eventual purchase by Friends of the the Lyric and turned it into The Lyric of today. In 2014, work on the interior upgraded the appearance to one that matched the high quality of the shows there.
This year the Lyric offers loads of sparkling shows. A play, Always Patsy Cline, offers a look into the singer’s life. The Chipper Experience with Chipper Lowell is a family-friendly show where magic and comedy collide. Swingtime with the Jive Aces from the UK has toured throughout Europe including the famous Montreux [Switzerland] Jazz Festival and Cannes Film Festival. Its music video on YouTube has nearly 2 million views.
MALTZ JUPITER THEATRE
Maltz Jupiter Theatre is either 43 or 20 this year, depending on how you look at it. It began life in 1978 as Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre. It was renamed the Maltz in 2003. And after a $36 million expansion and upgrade project while COVID ran rampant and the theater was closed, it reopened in March and is back to a full season of exceptional shows.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum by Stephen Sondheim is a comedic musical romp. Sweet Charity is a high-energy dance-filled musical. Good People is a dramatic comedy. The hit Oliver, winner of Tony and Olivier awards, brings to life the story of an orphan searching for a true family.
See you at the theater.
Nov. 11, 2022