The snowbirds are here, and that means the fun isnt far behind.
Southwest Florida saves most of its top-shelf entertainment for the first four months of the year. Thats when the retirees and part-time residents arrive and theyre all looking for stuff to do.
As usual, that shouldnt be a problem.
This seasons offerings include a new performing-arts center opening in Bonita Springs, the search for a new maestro for the Southwest Florida Symphony, art exhibits featuring Marcel Duchamp and Yoko Ono, and the touring Broadway musicals Once, War Horse and Jersey Boys.
Here are some of the most promising events this season.
Some of the biggest names on Broadway visit Southwest Florida this season.
At Mann Hall, that includes Andrew Lloyd Webbers new production of the beloved movie musical The Wizard of Oz (Jan. 21-26); the 2012 Tony Award juggernaut Once (Feb. 18-23), which follows the romance and creativity between two musicians in Dublin; and the World War I drama War Horse (March 11-16), featuring elaborate puppets that bring its galloping, charging horses to life.
Farther south at ArtisNaples (formerly The Phil), youll find the celebrated Gershwin opera Porgy & Bess (Jan. 21-26); the return of the mega-hit Four Seasons jukebox musical Jersey Boys (March 11-16) and the Tony Award-winning Evita (April 1-6).
SYMPHONIES IN TRANSITION
Southwest Florida Symphony continues tryouts for its new music director with four candidates visiting Fort Myers for interviews, meet-and-greets and one concert each with the orchestra.
Next up on Jan. 11: Guillermo Figueroa, a renowned violinist who is also music director of the Music in the Mountains Festival in Colorado and artistic director of the Figueroa Music and Arts Project in Albuquerque.
After Figueroa, three more conductors are scheduled to take the podium: David Commanday (Feb. 8), Andreas Delfs (March 1) and Nir Kabaretti (March 29).
Meanwhile, the Charlotte Symphony Orchestras new music director, Raffaele Ponti, continues his inaugural season Jan. 12 with a Russian-themed concert that includes Prokofievs Romeo and Juliet: Suite No. 2 and Mussorgskys Pictures at an Exhibition. Two more concerts are scheduled for Feb. 23 and March 23.
The Naples Philharmonic Orchestras Andrey Boreyko also takes on Pictures at an Exhibition with two concerts at 8 p.m. today and Saturday at ArtisNaples. The Russian-born Boreyko is the orchestras music director designate. He officially takes over the job this fall.
BIG ART SHOWS
Two of the biggest, best-known names in the art world visit Southwest Florida this month.
First theres The Duchamp Family of Artists exhibit at The Baker Museum in Naples (Saturday through April 6). That show features work from the famous French conceptual artist, Marcel Duchamp, plus art from his talented brothers, sister and extended family. It was organized by The Baker Museum and Duchamp scholar Francis Naumann.
Then avant-garde celebrity Yoko Ono brings her peace-loving conceptual art to Rauschenberg Gallery from Jan. 24-March 29. The show features new or reimagined work from the 80-year-old artist who is most famous (or infamous) for her relationship with John Lennon of The Beatles.
Some top names in music are scheduled to visit Southwest Florida between now and April.
Country star Brad Paisley visits Germain Arena on Jan. 23, followed by outlaw-country icons Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson on Feb. 5. Folk duo The Indigo Girls performs its hits on March 1 with The Naples Philharmonic Orchestra. Metal bands Nonpoint, In This Moment and Butcher Babies play the new Roxstock festival on Jan. 25 at Dixie Roadhouse nightclub in Cape Coral. And pop belter Michael Bolton who has seen a rebirth in popularity thanks to self-deprecating appearances on Saturday Night Live and TV commercials plays Mann Hall on March 18.
NEW ARTS CENTER IN BONITA
Bonita Springs get its first full-fledged performing arts center next week, courtesy of the Center for the Arts.
The main hall in the 400-seat, 28,000-square-foot venue opens Thursday. The Center for the Arts wont officially purchase the $2.5 million building until March. In the meantime, its sharing the space with its current tenant, the Living Waters Community Church.
Scheduled events at the Center for Performing Arts include an opening-night concert by jazz guitarist Dan Heck in the newly christened Hinman Auditorium (Thursday), the weekly Films for Film Lovers series (Monday nights), the comedy play Plaza Suite (Jan. 23-26) and the improvisational-comedy festival Improviganzapalooza Com Con Jam 2014 (Jan. 28-30).
The Bonita Beach Road venue will host local and regional acts and small state and national touring acts. That includes bands, community-theater plays and dance performances. It will also be home to the Center for the Arts kids programs and performing arts programs.
The center is an expansion of the current, 10-acre Center for the Arts campus on Old U.S. 41.
EDISON FESTIVAL OF LIGHT AND OTHER FESTIVALS
The Edison Festival of Light that celebration of all things Thomas Edison marks its 76th anniversary with a months worth of activities starting Jan. 25. That includes the Edison Junior Parade on Feb. 9 and Southwest Floridas biggest parade, The Edison Festival of Light Grand Parade, on Feb. 15.
Other festivals this season include the Riverdale
Kiwanis Medieval Faire at Lakes Park (Jan. 11, 12, 18 and 19), the sprawling Lehigh Spring Festival (March 14-22), and lots of art festivals (such as the Cape Coral Festival of the Arts and the first of three Bonita Springs National Arts Festivals on Jan. 11-12, ArtFest Fort Myers on Feb. 1-2 and the Naples National Art Festival on Feb. 22-23).
Theres more theater to see than just what youll find at Artis-Naples and Mann Hall. Local professional and amateur troupes also have a lot to offer.
Highlights this year include the hyper-emotional French-revolution classic Les Miserables (Feb. 20-April 12 at Broadway Palm); the classic coming-of-age comedy/drama The Graduate (March 21-April 5 at Laboratory Theater of Florida); the zany Sherlock Holmes spoof The Hound of the Baskervilles (Feb. 11-March 5 at Florida Repertory Theatre); and the world premiere of the political drama The God Game (Jan. 17-Feb. 9 at Gulfshore Playhouse).
The Southwest Florida Reading Fest and the Celebration of Reading return this season with even more books, book lovers and best-selling authors.
First up is the Celebration of Reading on Feb. 14 at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa in Bonita Springs. The lineup includes actress Teri Hatcher (Burnt Toast: And Other Philosophies of Life), Mary Pope Osborne (the Magic Tree House childrens series) and Debbie Macomber (the Cedar Cove series). Tickets are $250.
Then theres the Southwest Florida Reading Festival, a free event in downtown Fort Myers that spotlights 29 nationally known writers. Highlights for the March 15 fest include Sue Monk Kidd, author of The Mermaid Chair and The Secret Life of Bees; suspense writer Phillip Margolin, whose 17 bestsellers include Sleight of Hand and Capitol Murder; childrens author and illustrator Ethan Long, who wrote the Tickle the Duck! series and created the Disney Junior animated TV series Tasty Time with ZeFronk; and Rick Yancey, the man behind the critically acclaimed alien-invasion teen novel The 5th Wave.
COMMUNITY CONCERT SERIES
Local arts legend Barbara B. Mann died last month, but her beloved classical music concert series lives on.
The series started in 1949 and continues Jan. 27 with the Haifa Symphony Orchestra of Israel.
Other concerts at Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall this season include the opera The Elixir of Love performed by the Teatro Lirico DEuropa (March 6) and the celebrated chamber orchestra The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, featuring renowned violinist/conductor Joshua Bell (March 24 and 27).