Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

New Show, New Venue, New Day

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

New Show, New Venue, New Day

Article excerpt


And so they came.

In sequined gowns, seldom-worn tuxedos and the occasional fur, they walked down the red carpet, through the shiny new double doors and into the lobby, passing beneath the glass chandelier from "Gone With the Wind" in the lobby, on loan from the Sarasota Opera.

They had waited seven long years for this and raised almost $20 million to make it happen. Now was the moment for all the supporters of the new Manatee Performing Arts Center to simply bask in the glow of a dream come true.

"This is the place to be tonight," said Leona Braun, the theater's project manager, sighing contentedly.

At a cocktail and hors d'oeuvres reception Thursday night prior to the first performance of "Miss Saigon" in the 380-seat Stone Hall, an air of satisfaction and pride permeated the congested lobby.

Janene Witham, Manatee Players executive director, wore a backless, royal blue beaded gown and a barely-disguised weariness. In the crunch to get construction finished sufficiently to allow for this soft opening, she hadn't yet had time to take a breath.

"Maybe around July," she said, "when I figure out where all the light switches are."

The push to prepare cut Witham's sleep time down to three hours a night for the past week, but she said she'd never doubted they'd make it. Now came the payoff.

"I am just overwhelmed with a tremendous sense of pride," she said, fielding congratulations from a constant stream of supporters.

"O-M-G! O-M-G!" said Johnette Isham, executive director of Realize Bradenton, spelling out her enthusiasm. "This is brilliant with a capital 'B'!

"And you know the best part? No mortgage!"

The late Cora May Stone kicked off the theater campaign with a gift of $2 million in 2005 and a deadline of one year to get construction started. It took more than 6,000 large and small donations -- from individuals, organizations and foundations -- to finish the deal. …

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