The arts scene in Naples has grown exponentially over the last several decades, and while Sandi Moran is quick to give credit to others, her contributions are undeniable. The Tony Award–winning producer and philanthropist, in tandem with husband Tom, has contributed endless hours and significant financial resources to elevate the arts to a level unlike any other community in Southwest Florida.
Moran is a fifth-generation Floridian who has roots in Naples that date to the 1960s. After graduating college in 1985, she returned to the area for what she thought would be a brief stop. Famous last words. “If you are single, you come to Naples not expecting to stay. You don’t really come back until you’re married,” she says with a chuckle.
Love is what hooked her. Not just love of the area but of a young man she met while he was volunteering for the Mental Health Association at the Taste of Collier fundraiser. He was manning a margarita booth on Third Street South. When she ordered a drink from Tom Moran, she remembers, “We had an instant connection. We kept bumping into each other after that, and the rest is history.”
Over the years, the power couple has been a big part of Naples’ philanthropic scene. Their résumé is long, but some of the highlights include co-chairing The Naples Winter Wine Festival (2015 and 2016), serving as founding patrons of Opera Naples, and serving on the Gulfshore Playhouse’s board, to name a few.
In fact, the mainstage in the new Gulfshore Playhouse Baker Theatre and Education Center, slated for completion in 2023, is named for the Morans, thanks to their generous $5 million pledge to the new theater complex.
Moran always loved the arts, but her passion for them blossomed as she got older. Growing up, she participated in school plays, but says at the time, there weren’t a lot of opportunities in the arts locally. It wasn’t until she had kids of her own that things in Southwest Florida began to change.
As fate would have it, or perhaps a serendipitous seating chart, one night she found herself next to Broadway producer Hunter Arnold at a dinner party. She remembers, “He regaled me with stories of Broadway, some of which were similar to the involvement we had here with nonprofits.”
Intrigued, she dipped her toe into the world’s most famous theater community, investing a small amount in a Broadway play. It opened and closed within four weeks. Despite losing her investment, she was so fascinated by the intricacies of creating a show, she went back for more.
Before she knew it, Moran had embarked on a second career as a Broadway producer. Her shelves now display three coveted Tony Awards, for Moulin Rouge!, Hadestown, and Once on This Island.
“I love the creative process. I love the excitement of live theater,” she says. “We have an incredibly wonderful art form with American musicals.”
While Moran was spreading her wings in New York, the Naples arts culture continued to evolve. “Myra Daniels and the Naples Philharmonic really put us on the map as a cultural destination,” Moran says. “I’m not sure people realize how much she has added to the community.” Daniels, who founded what is now known as Artis—Naples, died in June at age 96.
Moran also sings the praises of Kristen Coury, CEO and producing artistic director of Gulfshore Playhouse. “She is a powerhouse leader who had a vision to bring professional theater to our community,” says Moran.
She also gushes over Opera Naples, Naples Performing Arts Center (hosting theater and dance for children), and The Naples Players. “I sit in the audience of The Naples Players and am amazed at how professional they are for a community theater,” Moran says. “I’m really just blown away by the talent we have in Naples.”
As much as Moran is in love with Broadway, she loves Naples even more. Her goal is to bring the two together by premiering one of her Big Apple–bound shows in Collier County. She explains, “That’s where a reputation is built for the quality of theater in a town, and it makes an incredible financial impact.” When a nonprofit theater participates in bringing a Broadway show for its first production run, the group continues to receive revenue from the show when it moves on.
In her spare time, Moran is a competitive ballroom dancer, although her competitions have been put on hold because of a knee injury, compounded by back-to-back Broadway projects. As a Broadway producer, Moran works behind the scenes. However, dancing brings her center stage, literally. “It is not something that I think comes naturally,” says Moran. “But I think that is one of the things I love, because it pushes me outside my comfort zone.”
In the Works
Moran currently has four shows in the Broadway queue. The process begins by taking the productions on the road for openings, called out-of-town tryouts—that’s where the kinks are ironed out and the reviews begin.
Joy, a new musical, is her newest endeavor. It’s the inspirational story about Joy Mangano, inventor of the Miracle Mop. Actress Jennifer Lawrence played Mangano in a 2015 feature film. In the works for five years, the show’s out-of-town debut is at the George Street Playhouse in New Jersey in December.
Along with Ken Davenport, Moran is lead producer for The Griswolds’ Broadway Vacation. “It’s quite funny,” she says. “In this show, the famous Griswold family goes on a whole new adventure.” Out-of-town tryouts took place in September at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre. The show is now ready for a Broadway stage.
Harmony, another show she is lead producing, is also awaiting a New York City stage. Barry Manilow is the show’s composer. Moran has hopes it will secure a spot in 2023.
One of the biggest challenges to getting a show on Broadway is waiting for and getting a theater. It can take years.
Moran does have a venue for A Beautiful Noise: The Neil Diamond Musical. Opening night is scheduled for December 4 at Broadway’s Broadhurst Theater. Moran is a coproducer.
“Without Broadway, New York is a far less exciting place. It is the heartbeat of the city,” Moran says. “You can say the same about Naples. Just look at how much the arts add to our lives here.”
The Morans have three biological adult children and have helped raise three more. One is a Chinese student who came to the States through an international program. The other two were the children of a dear friend who passed away from lung cancer. A year later, Moran was also diagnosed with lung cancer. She remembers, “It was the hardest thing I ever had to do, sit them down and tell them.”
That was seven years ago. Cancer, as it does to many people, changed her perspective. While philanthropy has always been a part of her life, cancer made it clear. She says, “You have to live each day, not only to make a better life for yourself, your family, and your friends, but honestly, the world.” That’s what she does through the arts and through every donation she and her husband make to local charities.
In the Wings
Gulfshore Playhouse is a not-for-profit organization producing theater to the highest standards since opening in 2004. It has also developed a strong arts education program.
Its steady growth in popularity led to two different pledges Totaling $20 million by philanthropists Patty and Jay Baker for the construction of a new theater and building. The Bakers have been joined by nearly 300 other generous donors. Construction on the Gulfshore Playhouse Baker Theatre and Education Center is steadily progressing on the corner of First Avenue South and Goodlette-Frank Road.
The Moran Mainstage bears the name of Sandi and Tom Moran, who donated $5 million toward its completion. “My husband and I are thrilled to be part of the further growth of the Playhouse,” says Moran, who has been on the theater’s board of directors for four years.
The 40,000-square-foot theater complex will include two theaters, rehearsal spaces, classrooms, six bars, and a rooftop terrace. Opening is planned for fall 2023.