After Carmina Burana, the superstar Sting and an ongoing appetizer of three-minute fanfares by Florida composers, what will the Florida Orchestra do next to mark its 50th anniversary season? The answer is a mega round of Handelís Messiah in three large halls for a record possible 10,000 patrons. Handel composed his most famous masterpiece in less than a month, often writing from dawn to dusk. Messiah debuted April 13, 1742, in Dublin, with a chorus of 26 hand-picked boys and five men from two local cathedrals. Music director Michael Francis will lead the orchestra, the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay and the audience in the Hallelujah chorus. 8 p.m. Thursday, Idlewild Baptist Church, 18333 Exciting Idlewild Blvd., Lutz. $30. 8 p.m. Friday, Mahaffey Theater, 400 First St. S, St. Petersburg. $15-$45. 8 p.m. Saturday, First Baptist Indian Rocks, 12685 Ulmerton Road, Largo. $30. (727) 892-3337. floridaorchestra.org.
Next Generation Ballet performs Nutcracker this weekend, a demanding production by serious young dancers. This year itís extra special as New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns is dancing the role of the Sugarplum Fairy. At 31, Mearns has been called "very probably the most talked-of ballerina in America and quite possibly the most argued-about ballerina anywhere." The same story in the New York Times compared the Columbia, S.C., native to Maria Callas for her mold-breaking style and diversity, from her athletic body type and movie star looks to her romantic and bold interpretations of Swan Lake and almost every other piece sheís performed. A principal since 2008, she has worked with the best, starred in a national broadcast (A Dancerís Dream) with the New York Philharmonic and won plaudits for her debuts in two of NYCB founder George Balanchineís most difficult ballerina roles, Chaconne and Mozartiana. Mearns will perform Friday and Saturday alongside NYCB principal dancer Amar Ramasar as the Cavalier. Former Miami City Ballet principal Patricia Delgado will dance the Sugarplum Fairy role Thursday. Former Next Generation artistic director Peter Stark choreographed the piece, with additions by current artistic director Philip Neal. 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. $30. (813) 229-7827. strazcenter.org.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and his bullying, fair-weather friends are back. Characters adapted from the animated television classic now inhabit the stage, including Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and Rudolph himself. 3 and 7:30 p.m. Friday at Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 N McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater. $35 and up, dinner packages available. A pre-show Santa Party with games, treats and a Tel-an-Elf phone booth starts 90 minutes before each show and costs $15. (727) 791-7400. rutheckerdhall.com.