Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
It is being staged in FST's largest space, the Gompertz, which was about 80% full for the performance I attended. This is my first time attending a non-socially distanced performance indoors, but I never thought much about it as we were escorted into the theater just before curtain time.
For a while, back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, FST was having a field day with plays, tributes to stars of a by gone era, many written by Larry Parr, including Hi Hat Hattie (Hattie McDaniel) and His Eye Is On the Sparrow (Ethel Waters), which was revived as recently as summer 2019. The all time favorite is this one, with three revivals according to a press release from the theater, five according to Ms. Halenda from the stage. Either way, audiences flock to see it again and new audiences also love it.
Ukraine-born Sophie Tucker (1886-1966) was a star in vaudeville and, later, nightclubs. She was more comedy performer than singer, and although she made records, success in radio and/or movies mostly eluded her. If interested, there are several clips of appearances on "What's My Line?" that illustrate how big a star she was.
The production is an amalgam of details, giving it the sparkle of a diamond polished to its most radiant. Based on pictures from past performances, I was concerned that the svelte Ms. Halenda could not be convincing as the buxom Sophie Tucker, but padding in the costumes, big wigs, and excellent physical presence give the audience a glimpse of a unique personality of long ago.
Scenic design, which I expect travels with the show, is by Bruce Price and he has an excellent eye for the late 1920s and 1930s. Ditto the two costumes, coordinated by April Andrew Carswell.
Music director Jim Prosser is extremely versatile and a huge asset. He has a big hand in creating many of the cabaret shows that are a big part of the lifeblood of this theater. Many of those shows center around early to mid period rock, so 1930s era simple piano accompaniment takes him a bit out of his musical center of gravity, but one would not know it.
Tickets are on sale through July 11, but it would not surprise me this popular show extends.
Sophie Tucker: The Last of the Red Hot Mamas runs through July 11, 2021, at Florida Studio Theatre, Gompertz Theatre, 1241 N. Palm Avenue, Sarasota FL. For tickets and information, please call the box office at 941-366-9000 or visit floridastudiotheatre.org.