Florida Studio Theater turns up the heat with a cool selection of summertime shows.
FST Mainstage Productions
‘The Marvelous Wonderettes’
Roger Bean’s “The Marvelous Wonderettes” takes a loving look at the girl groups of the 1950s and ’60s. The quartet in question hasn’t caught the attention of Phil Spector; they’re still in high school and performing on prom night. (The girls are a last-minute replacement for the boy band, whose lead singer just got busted for smoking in the boys’ room.) The Marvelous Wonderettes regale the teens on the dance floor with dreamy ’50s fare like “It’s My Party” and “Mr. Sandman.” These kids have talent, but they never make it big.
But they do make it back to their old high school for a reprise performance at the 10-year reunion. And now they’re singing a different tune. The ’60s songs like “Respect” and “You Don’t Own Me” have a new edge of female empowerment. The women do, too. Jason Cannon will direct this buoyant jukebox musical. Bite into the candy-sweet nostalgia: You’ll find a smart, coming-of-age drama at the core. Florida Studio Theatre helped workshop this musical’s development in 1998 but never actually staged it. “We’re thrilled that it’s finally come full circle to FST,” says Cannon. “We’re definitely going to do it right.”
‘His Eye is on the Sparrow’
Larry Parr’s “His Eye is on the Sparrow” casts its eye on the life and music of Ethel Waters. It’s a heart-lifting musical with a heartbreaking story. You’ll discover that Waters grew up in the slums of Philadelphia, and escaped by the skin of her teeth. From there, she made a name for herself as an actor and singer. Despite the global applause, Waters’ life was never easy. But it was also never boring. Parr’s script deftly threads Waters’ signature songs like “Taking a Chance on Love,” “Am I Blue,” and “Stormy Weather” through the highs and lows of her biography. This musical completes Parr’s trilogy of one-woman plays celebrating the legacy of African-American female performers. He hadn’t originally planned on writing a trilogy — until Richard Hopkins put the bug in his ear. “He gently suggested that I read Waters’ autobiography,” he says. “That doesn’t sound like much, but it was one of many eerie coincidences. I knew the universe was speaking to me.”
Parr also knew he was in good hands. Hopkins had helped develop Parr’s “Hi-Hat Hattie” in 1989, and the playwright was confident that lightning would strike twice. It did. Parr’s “His Eye is On the Sparrow” premiered at FST in 2005, and has been staged to critical acclaim ever since. Kate Alexander will direct FST’s upcoming production; Jannie Jones will reprise her original performance. “I’m thrilled,” says Parr. “Jannie grabs and holds the audience with her wonderful talent. She makes you feel what Ethel felt. That voice of hers is five octaves of heaven.”
Sandy Rustin’s “The Cottage,” is a drawing room diversion in the spirit of Noël Coward’s “Blithe Spirit.” Events unfold in a quaint little British cottage by the sea in 1923, darling. The agile occupants are two oversexed, uppercrust couples. There’s plenty of sex in this comedy — and plenty of comedy in their sex. For these characters, sex is just another form of performance. And spouses and lovers play both lead and supporting roles. Noël Coward would approve, no doubt. But here’s the twist.
According to the playwright, “Coward’s comedies of manners are my favorite genre. But his women tended to be ineffectual airheads. My idea was to write a Noel Coward-esque kind of show that flipped the sexual identities from his era. In my comedy, I wanted the women to rule the roost. I thought it’d be a fun idea.” Judging by Rustin’s script, she was right. Jason Cannon will direct her riotous romp. It won’t be a premiere. Audiences around the country have seen Rustin’s cheeky comedy. But FST audiences will be the first to see her new twist ending.
FST Cabaret Productions
Carole J. Bufford’s “Come Together” pumps up the volume with the hard-rocking music of the 1960s and ’70s. Bufford will lend her powerful voice to hits by The Beatles, Cher, Dusty Springfield, The Rolling Stones, and Simon & Garfunkel. The high-octane vocalist created her own arrangements in collaboration with Ian Herman and Assaf Gleizner, the show’s music director. FST associate artist Catherine Randazzo says it won’t be a Golden Oldies rehash. “Bufford has her own unique voice and she finds her own take on these classics. This is living music in the now. You’ll hear these songs like you’ve never heard them before.”
If the Swing era ever returns, The Swingaroos will probably be responsible. The hard-working sextet is returning to FST this summer with “Hollywood Serenade,” a musical tribute to the glory days of Tinseltown. These 21st-century swingers will jump, jive and wail to the tunes of the original swingers. (Think Frank Sinatra and Cab Calloway, with a dash of Judy Garland). This revue is the brainchild of Kimberly Hawkey, The Swingaroos’ sizzling lead vocalist and bandleader. Assaf Gleizner created the kinetic arrangements. Zoot suits aren’t required but always welcome.
‘Who Loves You?’
Sharon Klein’s “Who Loves You? A Frankie Valli Tribute” will hit the stage with a four-man ensemble. James LaRosa, (an FST veteran from “Unchained Melodies,” “Next to Normal,” “Altar Boyz” and other crowd-pleasers) is one of the front men. Expect Valli classics like “Walk Like a Man,” “Sherry,” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” Randazzo says audiences can also expect the unexpected. “Two of the singers are from New York, and two are from New Jersey,” she says. “The guys have a lot of fun with their regional rivalry. They do a kind of doo-wop battle of the bands, even though they’re in the same band. It’s a fun take on the Frankie Valli songs we all know and love.” Michael Murray created the snappy arrangements and will direct.
*Correction: The print version of this story listed the incorrect start date for "His Eye is on the Sparrow."