It is going to be busier than usual this summer at Florida Studio Theatre, which will add a new cabaret series to its traditional three-show mainstage season and the annual Sarasota Improv Festival.
With a nod to the Cabaret Fringe Festival it presented in the late 1990s, the theater will offer what it calls the Sidekick series — three acts featuring styles different from what audiences have come to expect out of FST’s original cabaret shows.
The series opens with the a capella doo-wop Alley Cats performing their show “At the Hop.”
“We had them here for a special event and they’re terrific,” said artistic director Richard Hopkins. “They have been performing for 18 years and they have performed in huge rooms in Las Vegas and smaller spaces. We’ve never produced an a capella piece before.”
Magician Carl Seiger returns with a new variation of his show “Clearly Invisible . . . Magic Up Close with Carl Seiger,” which he presented as part of the the 1997 Cabaret Fringe Festival.
And popular performer Kathy Halenda (best known for her one-woman show about Sophie Tucker) will explore the lives and music of two other musical stars in “Somewhere Over the Rose: The Songs and Stories of Judy Garland and Bette Midler.”
“It parallels the work of Judy Garland and Bette Midler,” Hopkins said. Halenda was originally creating separate pieces about the two stars and Hopkins said he encouraged her to put them together.
Each of the shows will run four weeks in the Court Cabaret. Hopkins said the theater could not produce original cabaret shows in the summer in addition to the three shows it stages the rest of the year.
“We spend the spring and summer creating those cabaret shows. And this is a chance to bring in people who are creating their own work. It’s a different kind of cabaret,” he said.
Those shows will run concurrently with the three mainstage shows the company will present in its Gompertz and Keating theaters, beginning June 4 with a revival of “Pump Boys and Dinettes,” one of the first shows to highlight actors and singers who are also musicians.
FST last presented the show 13 years ago.
“It’s a really nice and interesting way of doing theater,” said Hopkins, who noted such varied shows as “Oil City Symphony” and recent revivals of “Sweeney Todd” and “Company,” in which actors doubled as musicians.
The challenge becomes finding “multi-talented people who can play an instrument and act and sing. The second challenge is integrating it all,” Hopkins said. It’s one thing for an actor to be able to pick at an instrument, but in this kind of show “you have to have that music in your body so you can sing or talk and be part of the story.”
The musical looks at the lives of the two guys who sell gas at a service station on Highway 57 in North Carolina and the two women who run the Double Cupp diner next door.
Jason Edwards, who appeared in the company’s last production of “Pump Boys,” will be the director. The cast will include Sarah Hund, who has been seen in FST productions of “Cowgirls” and “Poems, Prayers and Promises.”
Susan Greenhill, who has starred in many shows at FST, also returns this summer in a vastly different role. She plays Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the noted sex therapist and radio and television personality, in “Becoming Dr. Ruth,” a new play by Mark St. Germain, author of two other recent FST productions, “Freud’s Last Session” and “Best of Enemies.”
Hopkins said the play shows a side of Dr. Ruth that audiences may not know.
Long before she was became famous, Westheimer escaped Nazi Germany on a kindertransport. “She was part of creating Israel,” Hopkins said. “She was in the Israeli army. Then she came to America, got a doctorate and became a sex therapist after she was 50 and became famous as Dr. Ruth.”
Greenhill has starred most recently at FST in “The Savannah Disputation,” “Shirley Valentine,” and “. . . and L.A. is Burning.”
Kate Alexander will direct “Dr. Ruth” and then she will star in the summer season’s final production, John Murrell’s “Taking Shakespeare.” Alexander will play a college professor nearing the end of her career, who starts working with a college student as a sort of tutor.
“Both of them are a little damaged,” Hopkins said. The student has been sent to her to study Shakespeare, with a focus on “Othello.”
“It’s just a smart, intelligent, witty play, but it’s tremendously insightful,” Hopkins said.
The play had its premiere last year at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada. The National Post called it “a modest but charming play with some stings and barbs to it.”
Weather plays a role in the kinds of shows Hopkins chooses for the summer.
“I think the heat of the summer has an impact on audience perception. The fare lightens up in the summer. I fought it for 10 years or so, but people would stay away in droves,” he said. “There’s just something about the heat. It’s not a time for navel gazing; there’s a different psychology in the air. There’s nothing like doing a good introspective, cutting edge drama in January. But once you get to April, May, people get out of the mood for that.”
Hopkins also said the theater’s summer audience is essentially the same as in the winter only smaller. About 40 percent of winter season subscribers sign up for the summer shows.
FLORIDA STUDIO THEATRE
SUMMER SEASON 2014
“Pump Boys and Dinettes,” June 4-July 1, Gompertz Theatre
“Becoming Dr. Ruth,” June 25-July 27, Keating Theatre
“Taking Shakespeare,” July 23-Aug. 18, Gompertz Theatre
(in the Court Cabaret)
“At The Hop” with The Alley Cats, June 10-July 6
“Clearly Invisible. . . Magic Up Close with Carl Seiger,” July 8-Aug. 3
“Somewhere Over the Rose: The Songs and Stories of Judy Garland and Bette Midler,” Aug. 5-31
Sarasota Improv Festival: July 11-12
For ticket information: 366-9000; floridastudiotheatre.org