A 'Vaudeville' revival in world premiere at Sarasota Opera House
Vaudeville may have technically died more than 80 years ago. But producer Nicholas Mitsis believes that it never really faded away, and that its time has come again.
The term refers to the kind of variety shows that were popular at theaters across the country before talking pictures and radio brought famous entertainers closer to peoples’ lives.
On the vaudeville circuit, audiences could pay one price to see an assortment of clowns, comedians, singers, dancers and novelty acts, which is exactly what Mitsis is providing in his new incarnation, simply called “Vaudeville.”
The show has its world premiere with four performances Friday and Saturday at the Sarasota Opera House, the first step in what he hopes will grow into an international showcase for the varied talent.
“People want to be entertained, and I think ‘Vaudeville’ point-blank is an old genre with modern twists,” he said.
The roughly 90-minute show will feature 15 different acts in 19 scenes, from pop singer Jody Katz and opera singer Sean Anderson to hip-hop dancer Robert Muraine, clown Pepe Jardim and pianist John F. Spencer IV.
Mitsis spent several years as the touring company manager for Cirque Dreams before joining the Sarasota Opera as company manager two years ago. He has been negotiating with a number of venues across the country for possible dates for “Vaudeville,” he said.
Now he feels a bit like a modern-day Ed Sullivan putting together a new version of one “really big show.”
“Vaudeville is variety entertainment, American variety entertainment. It’s a presentation style to showcase talents that Americans find interesting,” he said. “I hope and intend for ‘Vaudeville’ to be the American premiere variety entertainment brand.”
There’s nothing else like it in the U.S., he said.
In some ways, he said, Cirque du Soleil and Cirque Dreams shows have become the vaudeville of the 21st century, with singers, dancers and circus performers sharing the stage in elaborate packages.
In the case of “Vaudeville,” however, performers will take the spotlight on their own without big production numbers built up around them.
“These are people who perform at the highest level,” he said. “There’s no way to watch these people do what they do best without buying a $100 Cirque ticket. There’s no avenue for it.”
He has intentionally kept tickets affordable, with seats priced at $35 and $50, with some dinner/theater combination packages available.
Mitsis also wants to “open doors for artists across the United States and give them the power and ability to showcase themselves.”
In a year, he plans to produce a vaudeville festival in Sarasota, which will be the home base for a touring operation. By June, he expects to announce tour dates for the show, which he envisions being presented in casinos, theaters and nightclubs, and eventually on cruise ships around the world.
Actress Sarah Razmann, a 2013 graduate of the FSU/Asolo Conservatory who served as a devilish host for many performances of Black Diamond Burlesque in Sarasota, will be the emcee for the production, introducing the different acts.
Famed wirewalker Nik Wallenda will make a special appearance as what Mitsis describes as a “celebrity host” introducing other circus artists, including his cousin, juggler Alessandro Wallenda.
Muraine may be one of the more prominent performers in the production. He’s a popper who gained attention as a contestant on “So You Think You Can Dance,” whose audition became a viral video sensation. He has toured with Cirque Dreams and has earned international medals for “Eccentric Dance.”
The acts will bounce from physical to musical to comedic.
Circus-style acts will be presented by hula hoop artist Anna Jack; Aleksandr Deev spinning on a German wheel; George Coronas and Miles Ashton doing a Risley (or foot juggling) act; hand balancer Andrey Moraru and the pole performers Carly Sheridan and Ivan Dotsenko.
There are classical sounds from Italian-born harpist Giuseppina Ciarla; baritone Sean Anderson, a frequent performer at Sarasota Opera; and pianist John F. Spencer IV. Pepe Jardim is a physical comedian from Brazil.
Mitsis also plans to highlight local performers wherever the show is presented in a segment he calls “Voix de Ville” or Voice of the City.
Auditions were held last August, when eclectic musician and singer Betty Comora was selected along with Alex Foster, a singer/songwriter who will be performing. One more audition was to be held late last week to add one additional performer, Mitsis said.
Razmann said Mitsis first contacted her about serving as host after one of her first performances as emcee at Black Diamond Burlesque. Now based in Chicago, the actress said she’s looking forward to discovering how “Vaudeville” all comes together.
“This is maybe the oddest job I’ve ever signed up for, but also probably one of the most fun I’ve had. And I’ve got seven unbelievable costumes, so that’s going to be crazy,” she said.
But there’s definitely an audience for this kind of show, she said. “This is vaudeville in the purest sense of the word to let each act be what it is, with a modern twist. This is the most eclectic group of performers I’ve seen together in one show. It sounds like a fun time.”
Whatever happens with “Vaudeville,” Mitsis said it’s already a success.
“The fact that I dreamed about this project five or six years ago and we have Nik Wallenda supporting this company and doing a cameo and all these entertainers signing on in good faith, that’s an achievement for the Sarasota community and the artistic community world wide.”
VAUDEVILLE. 6 and 9 p.m. Friday and 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday at the Sarasota Opera House, 61 N. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota. Tickets are $35 and $50. For more information: vaudevillesrq.com