Villages entertainment reclaims center stage

Upcoming entertainment will include the St. Patrick’s Day Festival from 4 to 9 p.m. March 12 at Lake Sumter Landing Market Square and March 17 at Spanish Springs Town Square.

February and March are months packed with entertainment in The Villages, including festivals on the squares, productions at The Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center and resident theater group productions at recreation centers and Savannah Center. The Wall Street Journal projected in a report this month that there may be a surge in demand for things like dining out, vacations and entertainment when the pandemic ends, citing not only extra money in consumers’ pockets, but also built-up demand. Movies, theater and live music are among the entertainment avenues that might experience a surge, said Bill O’Dowd, chairman and CEO of the production company Dolphin Entertainment and adjunct professor at the University of Miami School of Communications.

Shore Fire Media, a subsidiary of Dolphin Entertainment, has over 100 live music acts on the roster expected to resume touring next summer, according to O’Dowd.

“That’s an example to me of an experience people want to have outside of the home,” he said.

The Villages is ahead of this projection with the return of festivals, resident performances and professional shows held with COVID-19 safety guidelines as residents prove their continued appetite for entertainment. Additionally, Old Mill Playhouse reopened and began showing new titles this month.

Festival season kicked off with The Villages Balloon Festival earlier this month and Mardi Gras on Tuesday at Spanish Springs Town Square. Residents and visitors can stop by the Strawberry Festival from 4 to 9 p.m. Friday at Brownwood Paddock Square. Coming up, the St. Patrick’s Day Festival is set for 4 to 9 p.m. March 12 at Lake Sumter Landing Market Square and March 17 at Spanish Springs, with more to come, including the new Blueberry Festival in April. Capacity is limited for nightly entertainment and special events on the squares and social distancing 6 feet and masking are requested.

Elizabeth Constant,booking coordinator at The Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center, has recently experienced some of that demand already at the venue.

“The Villages cultivates an environment for fun and entertainment,” Constant said. “That’s the reason why many people move to this community specifically. The social engagements keep everyone thriving. I think our residents and patrons are looking for ways to safely stretch their legs again and be a part of the thriving entertainment community we have here.”

Around this time, The Sharon would normally be hosting large Broadway tours, big-name concerts and comedians, and international performances,  Constant said.

For several reasons including some borders closed to travel, financial constraints with a limited audience capacity, concern over artists’ risk of exposure to the virus and closed venues nationwide, large shows currently aren’t touring, she added.

In a change of pace, the venue is hosting The Studio Theatre Tierra del Sol’s Season 5 shows now through September, most recently “9 to 5 the Musical” with “Ada and the Engine,” “Spike Heels” and “Pipeline” coming up.The Sharon also is hosting two Villages Philharmonic Orchestra performances each month from now until May, including the VPO’s Classical Concert 2021 coming up on March 15.

Constant said that both Studio and VPO shows have been well-attended, and the Opera Club of the Villages’s annual Three Tenors Plus One concert fundraiser for the Harold S. Schwartz Scholarship Program on Feb. 13 sold out.

“Each night we only have a handful of tickets left over. Three Tenors Plus One sold out, and if we could have opened to a higher capacity more safely, I’m sure we would have sold out twice over,” Constant said. “Patrons seem hungry for live arts, and we are keeping them as safe as possible as we host a 20% audience each night. Many tickets are still available for our Studio shows coming up March to September.”

Among the long list of upcoming entertainment options are resident theater group shows like the Everglades Players Theatre of Southern Oaks’ Date Night Shows series including “The Pirate Map” in January at Everglades Regional Recreation Complex, “The Dating Game” on Saturday at Eisenhower Regional Recreation Complex and “In a Pickle South of 44” coming up in April.

The group sold out one performance and over 75 percent of tickets for the other three performances of “The Pirate Map,” said club leader Dave Saxe.

“People want the theater, but they’re being a little guarded. They want to be careful,” Saxe said.

That’s why the group has so far required masks and limited capacity.

Back by popular demand, they also will produce “The Savannah Sipping Society” in June since some patrons missed out last March due to COVID-19, with more shows to come. As the season progresses, the group will continue to follow recreation center safety guidelines, Saxe said.

Staff Writer Liz Coughlin can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5304, or liz.coughlin@thevillagesmedia.com.