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Gulf Coast Symphony plans a robust 2022-23 season

Since its founding in 1995, Gulf Coast Symphony has produced many spectacular performances, but its 2022-23 season is poised to be its most productive and memorable to date.

One reason is its new Music & Arts Community Center on the campus of Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Fort Myers. Gulf Coast Symphony founder, CEO and Maestro Andrew Kurtz couldn’t be prouder of the what they’ve done with the facility since opening it in January 2021, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have basically taken over their space for a large part of the year, converted the sanctuary into a full-on performance space with a great deal of renovation in terms of sound, lighting, video, and it’s the home to a lot of our ensembles, home to 80 performances and also meant to be an education hub for the community,” said Kurtz.

“We have an after school program that runs here Monday through Thursday, MusicWorks, which teaches strings to elementary school aged children. We have our Saturday morning programs for our youth jazz ensemble and youth orchestra that have started this year. And then we have one-off classes in arts and music, which will be starting up again in January.”

Gulf Coast Symphony is best known for its Pops series at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall. The series will kick off this season in January with “The Doo Wop Project” featuring stars of Broadway’s smash hits “Jersey Boys” and “Motown.”

“It’s a group that tours around the United States and it’s been orchestrated for full symphonic back-up,” Kurtz said. “It’s just a lot of fun. If you like the music of the ‘50s and ‘60s, you don’t want to miss this show.”

The show that Kurtz and his creative team are most excited for this season is “Gypsy,” which will be performed on March 17-18.

“It will be a main stage production at Barbara Mann with a large orchestra starring Jodi Benson (the voice of Ariel in the 1989 Disney animated film “The Little Mermaid”) and her daughter as Louise,” said Artistic Operations Manager Julie Bearden Carver. “We’re going to have a lot of community in the ensemble, which is exciting to me because we bring in so many professionals from all over.”

Gulf Coast Symphony will end its Pops Series this season with “Cirque Goes to the Movies,” that promises a feast for the eyes as well as the ears.

“We actually have ten Cirque artists who will be performing on the stage in front of the full symphony, including aerial artists who fly out over the audience and fly over the symphony and clowns and contortionists and we’ve been bringing them in every few years,” said Kurtz. “It’s just a fun show and they’ll be performing to great movie soundtracks.”

Beyond the new education and performance space at the Music & Arts Community Center, another reason that Gulf Coast Symphony is poised for greatness this season is the addition of Julie Carver and Chryssie Whitehead.

Carver is orchestrating Gulf Coast Symphony’s musical theater productions, of which there will be five. The first is “Snowbird Follies,” which is being co-written by Kurtz and director/choreographer DJ Salisbury. It’s a revue of songs whose lyrics parody what it’s like to be a snowbird in Florida. The show also incorporates some local history. The opening scene takes place in the old Pavese Barber Shop on First Street in downtown Fort Myers next to what’s now Izzy’s.

“That’s where we open the show, at the moment where Edison is endeavoring to convince Henry Ford to become a snowbird,” said Salisbury.

“That’s blended with two contemporary women, same idea, one woman who’s lived here as a Florida resident trying to convince her friend from the north to become a snowbird. So, we blend two songs. One’s a play on “Winter Wonderland,” which we’re calling “Winter Summerland,” and the other is based on a Katy Perry-like song called “Snowbird Dream” sort of reminiscent of “Teenage Dream.”

Gulf Coast Symphony’s closing musical theater production will be “Nunsense,” which will mark Chryssie Whitehead’s directorial debut in a professional theater production. Previous to what she calls her Second Act of Life, Whitehead appeared on Broadway in “Chicago,” “Company,” and “A Chorus Line” and on television in “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice,” “Castle” and “The Mentalist,” among others. She’s pumped to direct the extremely popular, over-the-top Dan Coggins musical comedy April 13 - 29.

“What’s really neat is we’re actually in a church space,” said Whitehead. “To do “Nunsense” in a church space is really cool, and I think if I can help these actors to actually want the audience to come in and feel like they’re watching nuns put on a show. If we can pull that off, I think it that would be really interesting because it gets zany. It gets fun. They’re tap dancing. There might be a little ballet in there.”

For “Nunsense” Whitehead will be teaming up with Carver, whose repertoire includes Music Director.

“What’s cool is Julie is actually a player in the show as well,” Whitehead said. “So Julie, our Music Director, the nuns are talking to her as if she’s another nun. She actually is a nun in the show, which is awesome! I mean, come on, it’s amazing! So, I’m excited for that. Anything that brings all the elements of theater together in one space where we can see it all to me is really fun theater.”

Gulf Coast Symphony is so much more than its Pops and Musical Theater series. The Gulf Coast Chamber Orchestra performs classical music from Mozart, Beethoven and Hayden all the way up to turn of the 2oth century, with an emphasis on Black, Indigenous and People of Color, as well as female and living composers.

Then there’s the Gulf Coast Jazz Collective, the organization’s best-selling series.

“The program is sort of modeled after Jazz at Lincoln Center,” Kurtz points out. “We have three core musicians – Paul Gavin who grew up here in Fort Myers and is its Artistic Director, Brandon L. Robertson, who is the Director of Jazz Studies at FGCU is our bass player and Zach Bartholomew, who is a jazz artist who graduated from the University of Miami and teaches on the east coast is the resident pianist,” said Kurtz.

“And then for the show that we do, of which there are seven, there’s invited guest artists from around the country and in Florida who come and play with them.”

This season, the Collective will pay “Tribute to Miles Davis” Nov. 17 and “The Great Ladies of Jazz” Nov. 13, featuring award winning jazz vocalists Natalie Douglas and Aisha de Haas along with the full symphony orchestra.

Two perennial shows highlight Gulf Coast Symphony’s 2022-23 season including the very popular “Haunted Halloween” family concert Oct. 30. The second is its collaboration with Gulfshore Ballet for “The Nutcracker,” which will be performed at the Barbara B. Mann Dec. 10.

While Maestro Kurtz and his team acknowledge that music is first and foremost entertainment, it can be both educational and unifying. And that’s Gulf Coast Symphony’s overarching mission.

“Music can be transformational,” said Kurtz. “Our goal is to be able to use music as a way of bringing our community together, touching our community’s hearts, challenging us, and being able to understand the world around us and make a difference in people’s lives. That’s what’s at the heart of the Music & Arts Community Center and what the Gulf Coast Symphony is all about. It’s really making a true difference in our community and people’s lives and it’s using music to synthesize the change.”

Fast Facts:

  • The Music & Arts Community Center (MACC) is located at 13411 Shire Lane in Fort Myers, just off Daniels Parkway and across from South Trail Fire Station.
  • Gulf Coast Symphony (GCS) is the second-largest nonprofit performing arts organization in Lee County.
  • This year, Gulf Coast Symphony will offer over 100 programs that present the best in classical music, jazz, world music, dance, opera, film, and musical theater. The Symphony will perform 15 shows at the 1,850-seat the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall, with the bulk of its other performances at GCS’s more intimate 300-seat theater at the MACC. Additional outreach and run-out concerts take place throughout Southwest Florida.
  • A whimsical musical Yuletide celebration, “Snowbird Follies” will be performed at the MACC Dec. 3-18.
  • Gulf Coast Symphony founder Dr. Andrew M. Kurtz enters his 27th season as the Symphony’s Music Director and President & CEO. His deep rooted commitment to new work, community and education, combined with a vibrant artistic vision has led to creating and nurturing one of the most dynamic arts organizations in the region.
  • Kurtz is a past-president of the board of the Alliance for the Arts. An avid arts educator, Maestro Kurtz was Resident Music Director at the Luzerne Music Center. In 2001, he won First Prize in the Dell’Arte di Firenze International Conducting Competition, and made his European conducting debut in Florence. In 1995, Kurtz made his international operatic debut in Tel Aviv while working as a staff conductor at the Israel Vocal Arts Institute. In 1997, he conducted the Metropolitan Opera Guild’s educational tour production of The Best of Puccini.
  • Kurtz completed his doctoral studies in conducting at the Peabody Conservatory and is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Virginia where he earned a master’s degree in Music History and a bachelor of arts in Music and Drama. A native of Philadelphia, Kurtz has called Southwest Florida home for 30 years

To read more stories about the arts in Southwest Florida visit Tom Hall's website: SWFL Art in the News.

Spotlight on the Arts for WGCU is funded in part by Naomi Bloom, Jay & Toshiko Tompkins, and Julie & Phil Wade.

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