Florida Studio Theatre Decks the Halls

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…with two must-see musicals
By Steven J. Smith

Florida Studio Theatre plans to unwrap two musical treats just in time for the upcoming holiday season — the Tony Award-winning musical “Once” and a rock and roll revue called “Blue Suede Shoes.”
“Once” tells the tale of a Dublin street musician about to give up on his dream when a beautiful young woman takes an interest in his haunting love songs. FST Producing Artistic Director Richard Hopkins and his wife, Rebecca Hopkins, said the production’s uniqueness drew them to it.

“It’s not your typical Broadway musical at all,” Hopkins said. “It has a very real subtlety and emotionally shifting moods of a different kind of theatre.” Rebecca Hopkins, who is FST’s managing director, agreed. “It’s one of those newer musicals that defies description,” she said. “There’s a great thing happening in American theater right now, where the line between a musical and a play is starting to get shaded. You have outright musicals and then plays with lots of music in them.”

“I think the musical ‘Hamilton’ helped move that form forward,” Richard added. “Sometimes you’re not really sure if you’re watching a play, an operetta or a musical. ‘Once’ is a piece of music telling a story. And it does so with a specificity we’re accustomed to here at FST, where you have twelve people on stage who all sing, act and play musical instruments.”

Those instruments include cello, stand up bass, violin, ukulele, guitar, piano, harmonica and two different kinds of percussion pieces. In addition, FST plans to have an operating bar for this production, where audience members can buy a drink and hang out on stage with the cast as they perform a jam session before the show.

“We’ll be recreating a live Irish pub where the action takes place,” Rebecca said. “That’s to create intimacy, which is one of the great things about ‘Once.’ Although it’s a musical, it’s also a really intimate piece of theater. And by opening it up, it creates a real connection with the audience before the show even starts and continues right through intermission and to the end.” fst

“Blue Suede Shoes,” written by both Rebecca and Richard Hopkins, celebrates the birth of rock and roll with such hits as “Rock Around the Clock,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Mustang Sally” and “Johnny B. Goode,” among many others.

“Over the past few years we have been doing an exploration of a lot of 60s shows,” Rebecca said. “As we were writing this one, I kept hearing Elvis Presley. He was the influence, but I wanted to get to the core of why his sound was so influential. Once my research delved into the music of the 50s and where rock and roll came from — and how it evolved — it was a revelation. It’s incredible music. Some people dismiss it on the surface as bubble gum, but once you get into it you discover there is something really different and exciting going on.” fst

“There’s something socially exciting going on, too,” Hopkins added. “The birth of rock and roll was really the beginning of the African-American and white races coming together musically, especially in the south. And that’s our storyline: the social storyline, the musical storyline and stories of the people that created it and spread it around.”

Some of those people include Ray Charles, James Brown and Chuck Berry, according to this production’s director, Catherine Randazzo.
“We call it guitar theater,” Randazzo said. “When people think of a cabaret, they probably envision a chanteuse in front of a piano. In this situation, Rebecca and Richard have found all different kinds of music and the various ways it’s played. This show needs guitars, drums and saxophone. And those people playing them are singing at the same time. So not only are they presenting a story through the music, they are the ones embodying its rhythms and are bringing that to the stage. It’s exciting. It’s electric. And it makes for a dynamic evening of cabaret.”

Photo by Matthew Holler

“Once,” with book by Enda Walsh and music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, will play from through December 31 in the Gompertz Theatre, on the corner of Cocoanut and First Street in Sarasota. Single tickets range from $46-49 and four-show mainstage subscriptions that include this show cost $59.

“Blue Suede Shoes” will play from November 29 to April 1, 2018 in the Goldstein Cabaret, on Palm Avenue next to the Keating Theatre, which is located at 1241 N. Palm Ave. Single tickets range from $34-38, with a three-show cabaret subscription package starting at $39. For more information, call the box office at 941-366-9000 or visit floridastudiotheatre.org.

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