SARASOTA, FL – Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s 24th season will be a celebration of all things that are “Simply the Best!” In its 2023-2024 theatre season, WBTT will offer fan favorites as well as new pieces leaders hope will become favorites.
Running from October 11, 2023 through May 26, 2024, the regular season shows are “Once On This Island,” “A Soldier’s Play,” “Ruby” and “Marvin Gaye: Prince of Soul.” The holiday show – which is not part of the season subscription – is “Joyful! Joyful!”
“For our 2023-2024 season, we have adopted the theme ‘Simply the Best!’” said WBTT Founder and Artistic Director Nate Jacobs. “As the only African American theatre on Florida’s west coast, we are proud to offer a unique and special cultural experience to our community. We rejoice in the opportunity to present plays and musicals this season that fall into our distinctive niche as well as shows with universal appeal.”
Opening the season is “Once On This Island.” (Lyrics and book by Lynn Ahrens, music by Stephen Flaherty.) Set on a Caribbean island, this Tony Award-winning musical tells the coming of age story of a little girl who is magically rescued from a disastrous storm. Based on the novel “My Love, My Love” by Rosa Guy, this sweeping production showcases Caribbean rhythms and instruments, with music and lyrics by the Tony Award-winning musical team behind “Ragtime.” “Once On This Island” will move and exhilarate audiences, as the story of a peasant girl searching for love and her place in the world unfolds, dealing with complicated social issues of race, class and affairs of the heart. WBTT’s Education Director/Artistic Associate Jim Weaver will direct. Runs October 11-November 19, 2023.
During the holiday season, WBTT presents its Christmas card to the community, the high-spirited musical revue, “Joyful! Joyful!” A blend of new takes on traditional holiday tunes, gospel-infused classics and pop songs, the show will include a twist on the carol “Joy to the World,” a version of “Carol of the Bells” that is an homage to the O’Jays, and a lively gospel rendition of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,” to name a few. Some favorite WBTT performers, talented Stage of Discovery students, and some fresh new faces will put audiences in a festive holiday spirit. Jacobs will direct. Show runs November 29-December 30, 2023. (“Joyful! Joyful!” is not included in the subscription series.)
Next up is the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “A Soldier’s Play.” On a U.S. Army base in Louisiana in the segregation-era South of 1944, two shots ring out. A Black sergeant is murdered. A series of interrogations triggers a gripping barrage of questions about sacrifice, service, and identity in America. One persistent investigator must race against his white leadership to unravel the crime before they unravel him. Broadway World calls the show, “A fascinating ‘whodunit’ mystery. Scorching and soul-searching …” WBTT and Goodman Theatre (Chicago, Ill.) resident director Chuck Smith returns to Sarasota to direct. Runs January 18-February 18, 2024.
After two painful postponements due to COVID, WBTT is thrilled to finally bring the world-premiere musical “Ruby” to the stage. (Book by Nate Jacobs and Michael Jacobs, lyrics by Michael Jacobs, music by Nate Jacobs, Nehemiah Luckett, Brennan Stylez and Antonio Wimberly.) On August 3, 1952, the unthinkable happened: A Black woman murdered a white doctor in Live Oak, Fla., guaranteeing a conviction for the woman bold enough to commit such a shocking crime and bringing celebrated writer Zora Neale Hurston to town to cover the story for a northern newspaper. This powerful and haunting musical explores the secrets just beneath the surface of the idyllic, genteel exterior of a quaint Florida town. Jacobs will direct. Show runs February 28-April 7, 2024.
Closing the season is WBTT’s most-requested show, “Marvin Gaye: Prince of Soul.” Sheldon Rhoden, one of Sarasota’s favorite WBTT troupe members, will reprise the title role for the fourth time. This not-to-be-missed original show begins in the 1950s at the start of Gaye’s career with Motown and follows its twists and turns until his untimely death in the mid-1980s. A gifted, innovative and enduring talent, Gaye blazed the trail for the continued evolution of popular Black music, from powerful R&B and sophisticated soul to an intensely political and personal form of artistic self-expression. Come see why Rolling Stone declared Gaye one of America’s greatest entertainers. And why Sheldon receives great accolades whenever he sings one of Gaye’s songs. Jacobs will direct. Show runs April 17-May 26, 2024.
“This season has diverse offerings that should appeal to a wide variety of tastes: from musical revues to gripping drama, from R&B and soul to the sounds of the Caribbean – we feel there’s something for everyone to enjoy,” said WBTT Executive Director Julie Leach. “We are especially looking forward to ‘Ruby,’ a homegrown effort born right here at WBTT. We can’t wait to welcome regular and new patrons to our Donelly Theatre for our 24th anniversary season!”
Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. matinees Saturdays-Sundays; all performances take place in WBTT’s Donelly Theatre (1012 N. Orange Ave., Sarasota).
Subscriptions and individual tickets will become available over the summer; prices TBD. Visit westcoastblacktheatre.org for more about WBTT.
About Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe
The mission of Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe (WBTT) is to produce professional theatre that promotes and celebrates African American history and experience, engages a broad base of patrons and audiences, supports the development of a dynamic group of aspiring artists, and builds self-esteem in youth of color. Visit westcoastblacktheatre.org for more information.