If life is a cabaret, then Florida Studio Theatre has been living large for 20 years now with its cabaret shows. The latest installment, an original evening of songs and satire titled Laughing Matters (vol. 5) Lock the Gates!, opens Friday, Feb. 19, in the John C. Court Cabaret, part of a long FST tradition of presenting a “musical Saturday Night Live” with specific Sarasota connections.
FST managing director Rebecca Hopkins is the lead developer for this show, which features a cast of four (Richie McCall, Ali Reed, Nick Anastasia and William Selby). You can expect a lot of political humor and sendups of national figures from Hillary Clinton to Jeb Bush and everyone in between, of course, but the comedy will also be aimed at more local topics—the flurry of new hotel construction, ongoing issues with traffic roundabouts, for example—that audiences relate to and enjoy.
Laughing Matters is, as the parenthetical (vol. 5) suggests, the latest in a string of satirical sketch shows FST has presented over the years. But it’s hardly the only type of entertainment the company has put on in its ever expanding cabaret programs, which began in 1996 when the long-gone Paradise Café in downtown Sarasota (where Selby Library now stands) asked if artistic director Richard Hopkins and crew could create some musical entertainment for its diners. That turned out to be a popular idea, and Hopkins also realized that he was seeing customers in that venue—and for that sort of theater—he wasn’t seeing for FST’s mainstage productions.
Since then, dozens of shows with a cabaret approach have appeared, including more than 50—count ’em, 50—world premieres, as the FST creative team has created musical revues centered on everything from the British Invasion (this season’s Yesterday) to other nostalgic looks back at songs from 1950s girl groups (Dancing in the Street) or American singer-songwriters such as Bob Dylan and Carole King (American Pie).
In the process, FST’s audiences have grown exponentially, as has the company’s physical campus. Besides the long-established mainstage Keating Theatre and the Goldstein Cabaret next door to it on Palm Avenue, the theater produces shows along First Street in the Court, the Gompertz and the Bowne Studio Lab, where the FST Improv troupe holds sway. Last year’s summer cabaret subscriptions sold out before that season even started, according to public relations associate Nicole Clayton, and FST now has nearly as many cabaret subscriptions as mainstage subscriptions. At the height of the winter season, with all five theater spaces frequently filled to bursting, more than 1,400 people can pass through the doors on a typical Saturday or Sunday.
Laughing Matters is written by Rebecca Hopkins, Jim Prosser, Adam Ratner and Stephan Deghelder, and you can expect that during the show’s run they will be tinkering with the sketches to keep up with current events. For more information, go to floridastudiotheatre.org or call 366-9000.