Did you hear how a bachelor party stormed the stage July 4 at Florida Studio Theatre’s Goldstein Cabaret? They wanted to warm up for their party at the Art Ovation Hotel, so they stopped by the cabaret, sang some Beach Boys songs and knocked a few beach balls around.
Actually, the four guys dressed in tight white jeans and pastel polos were “The Surfer Boys,” one of three cabaret shows playing at FST this summer.
Their bachelor party routine was pretty convincing though, as was the woman in an American flag dress pulled from the audience to dance to “Come Go With Me.” She was a real trouper, especially since she was hindered by a broken leg.
When the temperature soars and the snowbirds fly home, it is traditional for Sarasota’s arts venues to close their doors and start planning for the next season.
But as more people discover the charms of Sarasota —not just rock stars and retirees but remote workers —summer entertainment is heating up. FST’s cabaret scene is sizzling.
Some may recall how Megan Thee Stallion coined the tag #HotGirlSummer back in 2019. Following her lead, The New York Times recently polled people on their proposed hashtag for summer 2023. In Sarasota, it’s shaping up to be an #FSTCabaretSummer.
'The Surfer Boys'
“The Surfer Boys” brings back the good vibrations of the Beach Boys, but you won’t hear any references to the Wilson brothers (Brian, Dennis and Carl) or their cousin, Mike Love. These Surfer Boys are generic.
Broadway veterans perform Beach Boys hits like “I Get Around,” “Barbara Ann” and “Little Deuce Coupe” and pepper their show with local references in the spoken part of the show, what music types call the “libretto.”
It’s a winning formula that has worked twice before for “The Surfer Boys” creator and director Brian Noonan. He created and performed in “The Jersey Tenors” in 2017 at FST and returned in 2022 with “The Jersey Tenors Part II.”
Some of the Jersey Tenors and Surfer Boys spent time in the trenches in touring productions of “Jersey Boys” and also appeared in the Broadway sensation “Les Miserables.”
The six-member cast of “The Surfer Boys” consists of J.D. Daw, Joseph DePietro, Kenneth Quinney Francoeur, Brandon Lambert, Bruno Vida and Michael Jayne Walker. (Only four of the six perform nightly in the show, which runs through Aug. 13.)
Sarasota audiences will remember Lambert as a Jersey Tenor from last summer, when he appeared along with Noonan, Vaden Thurgood and Michael Pilato.
'Creedence Clearwater Remixed!'
Thurgood is coming back to FST with his own musical revue, “Creedence Clearwater Remixed!” which runs Aug. 22 to Oct. 22. It follows CCR founder John Fogerty and his 50-year battle with Fantasy Records to obtain the rights to his songs (he finally won in January) as well as his struggle with alcoholism and depression.
Don’t worry, though. It’s not a dark tale, Thurgood says. Good vibes only on cabaret time.
In his autobiography, Fogerty credits his current wife Julie with stabilizing his life and helping him discover the joys of domesticity after so many years on the road. Indeed, “Creedence Clearwater Remixed” includes a female performer even though the group was all male.
Thurgood has been shopping around his CCR show for a few years at conferences that specialize in such things. Some producers and venues didn’t think Fogerty’s repertoire, which includes the Tina Turner anthem “Proud Mary” and CCR hits like “Bad Moon Rising” and “Fortunate Son,” was recognizable enough to form the basis of a successful show.
Industry people had the same reaction to Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons before the runaway success of “Jersey Boys,” Thurgood notes.
For Thurgood, CCR is personal. “In my household growing up, you were allowed to like the Beatles, but you had to like CCR,” he says. “There were no ifs, ands and buts about it.”
When he began working on “Creedence Clearwater Remixed!” Thurgood said “Fortunate Son” was his favorite Fogerty song, but now “Born on a Bayou” tops his chart. Asked about hits from Fogerty’s solo career, Thurgood said he only could find room for “Center Field” in his show. He regrets that “Rock and Roll Girls” and “The Old Man Down the Road” didn’t make the cut.
The shows at FST’s summer cabaret are 70 minutes long, slightly shorter than the 90 minutes common on the cruise ship circuit.
Despite some industry skepticism about CCR’s modern-day appeal, Catherine Randazzo is a believer. Randazzo, whose official title at FST is literary manager/associate artist, is the dynamo behind the venue’s summer cabaret season. In a telephone interview, Noonan said Randazzo practically finishes his sentences (in a good way). She also customizes FST shows so they’re filled with local landmarks and humorous references.
One reason why Randazzo has confidence in FST’s 2023 summer lineup is the track record of Noonan and Thurgood. Both delivered knockout performances night after night in “Jersey Tenors Part II.”
Like every good marketer, Randazzo understands that audiences like the familiar but they also want something new.
“The ‘60s and ‘70s are the sweet spot for our audiences,” she says. Many cruise lines, which are a popular venue for musical revues, have moved onto the ‘80s, but Randazzo and Noonan agreed that FST audiences might not be ready for that era.
Lest anyone think summer cabaret is a boys club, fear not. The third show in the FST summer lineup is “Divas Three,” featuring a trio of powerhouse pipes in sequins belting out the songs of Aretha Franklin, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston and other superstar songstresses.
Subscribers are responsible for filling nearly every seat at FST’s summer cabaret shows, but single tickets are available. The subscription for the three shows brings the ticket price down to less than $20 for each show before the cost of food and drink.
Regional theaters are hurting and closing down across the country, with attendance down 30% from pre-Covid levels. But at FST, cabarets are booming, expanding from one summer show of four weeks to three shows of eight and even 10 weeks since the debut of FST summer cabaret in 2014. Their growth has coincided with Randazzo’s nine-year tenure.
What might be on FST’s stages in the future? Nothing has been signed yet, but Noonan says he is working on a show called “To Be Perfectly Frank,” featuring a young crooner and an older singer paying tribute to Ole Blue Eyes. A pianist makes up the third member of the musical revue.
For his part, Thurgood says cabaret lovers should keep their eye on a group called MidAtlantic Men, which has been performing on cruise ships featuring a battle of U.S. and U.K. bands and could be heading to a cabaret near you.
Thurgood is working on a show featuring Emily Ann Yates, who has made musical waves on cruise ships with her revue, “The Show Must Go On.”
Yates “shows you what it is like to be a true diva,” he says.
We’ll see what the cast of “Divas Three” has to say about that. The show opened July 11 and runs through Sept. 10 at FST’s Court Cabaret.
Monica Roman Gagnier is the arts and entertainment editor of the Observer. Previously, she covered A&E in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the Albuquerque Journal and film for industry trade publications Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.