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The Show must go on

Charlotte has emerged from post-Charley mayhem to offer a season to remember.

It's show time in Charlotte County!

Concerts, highbrow and low; festivals from quilts to chocolate; plays, art shows and fund-raisers galore will keep residents and visitors event-hopping from now until mid-April. “Everything is just so vibrant and there's so much activity,”- said Teri Ashley, community relations director of Charlotte Community Mental Health Services. She is particularly looking forward to the Punta Gorda Block Party in April, especially after the drubbing Hurricane Charley gave the city. “It's going to be extra special this year because Punta Gorda had it so rough,”- said Ashley. “Punta Gorda is lucky to have a downtown at all, and so I think this year the party will have special significance.”- 

Locals were left wondering if Charlotte County would even have a high season after Hurricane Charley ripped the county apart, leaving many buildings in Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte in ruins. But the spotlight is now on what is instead of what not.

“There's a lot more things to do here in the winter,”- said paul Versnik, CEO of Charlotte County Family YMCA. There are “more events, fund-raisers and activities - my favorite event is the air show.”-

The Florida International Air Show in March at the Charlotte County Airport in Punta Gorda features elite military groups, such as the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, stunt pilots and skydivers. There's music and food as well. Last year the air-show drew nearly 50,000 visitors.

Fans of the performing arts are in for a treat this year. At the Charlotte Performance Art Center between now and Easter, there will be more than 40 live performances. The 2-year-old auditorium is home to the Charlotte Performing Arts Series, the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, the Charlotte Chorale, the Charlotte Players and the Charlotte County Jazz Society.

Artistic Director Ray Durkee has packed the Charlotte Performing Arts program with musicals, plays, dance, family entertainment, classical music, jazz, folk and more.

“Since last year was our first season, we erred on the side of caution and took it slow - to work out any kinks and get a feel for the way things work,”- said Durkee.   “All in all, I'd have to say things went pretty smoothly, and that gave me the confidence to plan more aggressively.”-

  A sample of Charlotte Performing Arts Center events include Corky Siegel's Chamber Blues, the Chinese Golden Dragon Acrobats, the American Big Band Show, “An Evening With Jack Benny,”- starring Eddie Carroll, and “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”-

  Also at the center, the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra is enjoying its 26th season, 12 under the baton of Maestra Janita Hauk. Hauk, who put together this season's schedule, hopes everyone will find something to love.

  “I wanted to touch the listeners; I wanted them to come away from the symphony concerts with an emotional connection,“ said Hauk. “For instance, the ‘From Opera to Broadway' concert in February features music from two different genres. I've never mixed musical styles before.”-

  Hauk has also invited pianist Richard Bosworth to play a Chopin concert this March after he wowed symphony audiences at an earlier performance. “ Bosworth is amazing,”- said Hauk. “ His interpretive freedom just soars.”-

  At the opposite end of the spectrum - physically and geographically - from the Broadway theater-sized Charlotte Performing Arts Center is the Lemon Bay Playhouse, which is in its 14th season.

  “Intimacy”- is the watchword here. The little theater on Englewood's West Dearborn Street seats fewer than 10 people. Last year, two shows sold out to subscription buyers before tickets even went on sale. This year's season includes “Foxfire,”- by Susan Cooper and Hume Cronym in January, “The God of Isaac,”- by James Sherman in March and “Drinking Alone,”- by Norm Foster in May.

  On Boca Grande, the Royal Palm Players have put together a season featuring everything from the tried-and-true to cutting-edge dramatic and musical productions, including “The Good Doctor”- by Neil Simon, “Spoon River Anthology”- by Charles Aidman and “Greater Tuna”- by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard.

  For those who prefer to take their art home with them, there are plenty of opportunities this season.

  For the first time, guests will be able to bid on the works of local and regional artists at the Arts & Humanities Council of Charlotte County Awesome Art Auction. This annual fund-raiser takes place in October, but because the council's building suffered water damage from Charley, it has been postponed until March and will be held at The Visual Arts Center of Punta Gorda.

  “Even if we could have used the building, the timing just wasn't right for fund raising,”- said Executive Director Judy Malbuisson. “ People were in the business of rebuilding their lives. Artists weren't ready.”-

  One event that you won't want to miss, the YMCA's annual Safari Party, is planned for later in the year, in August. “ There's so much going on in the winter here, we didn't want to water down what's already taken place in terms of parties and fund-raisers,”- Versnik said.

So, as you can see, there's a lot going on in Charlotte County and I telling you, I don't even try to tell you something about the surrounding counties of Sarasota, Lee and Collier.

Partly taken from Charlotte Life (Red.)

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