Theater people know how to party. When they throw a party, they usually put on a show. And if you’re honoring the 20-year track record of Rebecca Hopkins at Florida Studio Theatre, it had better be a big show.
And it was. The multitudinous talents of FST spent about two weeks putting together the tribute to its beloved managing director. FST Associate Artist Catherine Randazzo conceived the production, and she didn’t think small. The show’s ambitious scale meant countless moving parts. To get it all right, FST’s musicians and actors relentlessly rehearsed, while friends and colleagues polished tributes. (Her husband, Richard Hopkins, had the longest speech of all.) Rebecca Hopkins, theoretically, wasn’t supposed to know what they were all up to. But what are the odds of that?
The show was big, all right. Not to mention good.
And it was the least surprising surprise party ever.
On the evening of March 12, about 150 people gathered at FST’s Keating Theater. Think captive audience. Or captivated.
“You guys are pretty terrible at keeping secrets,” Hopkins laughed.
She got a warm laugh in reply. Needless to say, it was not a tough crowd.
Richard Hopkins kicked off the ceremony with a joking nod to his shared background with his wife. “We both grew up in strict military families,” he said. “For some reason, a lot of theater people do.”
After that, he got serious — and occasionally choked up.
He talked about his wife’s first job interview in 1998, and the meteoric career that followed at FST. This included the long line of hit musical comedy revues that Hopkins wrote or co-wrote for FST’s cabaret stages; the insanely popular annual “Laughing Matters” revue, a comedy gumbo of edgy songs and sketches in the tradition of “Saturday Night Live” and The Second City troupe; the growing recognition of Hopkins’ talent as a writer, playwright and producer; the comedic talents she nurtured and empowered when she headed up FST’s improv program, which grew into the yearly Sarasota Improv Festival, and connected homegrown and international talents in the process. And, through it all, Hopkins’ selfless commitment to the big picture — a commitment she proved in 2014, when she handed the reins of FST’s improv program to Will Leura. Richard Hopkins also talked about the false alternative between hardening public school infrastructure or softening student hearts with the power of art.
Dennis McGillicuddy, the president of FST’s board of trustees, also quoted one of Richard Hopkins’ most moving observations about his wife. “When I’m around Rebecca, I feel more like myself than anywhere else.”
The rest of the show was mostly fun and games.
In a crowd-pleasing improv game, Leura grilled Rebecca Hopkins in a mock-serious interview, while comedian Christine Alexander supplied goofy (obviously inaccurate) sign-language translation in the background.
In a nod to Hopkins’ love affair with America’s favorite muscle car, the cast of “Blue Suede Shoes” fired up on all cylinders for “Mustang Sally.” The mini-rock festival also included Joe Casey’s soulful slice of “American Pie,” Dane Becker’s smooth promise that “The Best is Yet To Come” and Jannie Jones’ hip-shaking, full-throated rendition of “Respect.”
On the silly side, Bill Selby got the crowd laughing with “Yesterday,” one of Hopkins’ earliest song parodies, which transformed Sir Paul McCartney’s tune into an anthem of the aged. Pianist Jim Prosser banged away a comedic tribute to a long lost, irritating cat named Sullivan. This got a huge laugh for reasons I can’t explain. (I guess you had to know the cat.)
The big show finally came to a close. Hopkins was so moved by the experience, it took her awhile to find her voice. Once she did, she thanked every single person involved. (As theater people do.) Then she simply said, “You rock.”