Getting Hotter All the Time!

She’s bawdy. She’s naughty. And she’s BACK!

Florida Studio Theatre is thrilled to reopen its Mainstage with one of the “hottest” shows in FST history, celebrating the one, the only, the incomparable Miss Sophie Tucker.

Inspired by the real life and artistic impact of one of the most popular entertainers of the first half of the 20th century, Sophie Tucker: The Last of the Red Hot Mamas sizzles with sass and song.

But even more than just an entertaining show, this production bears a strong connection to FST, where it was created by Kathy Halenda along with the late Venice-based playwright Jack Fournier in 2000. Now, the show returns to its theatre of origin, and we couldn’t think of a more fitting time for it to hit the Mainstage once more.

“I am delighted to bring Sophie back ‘home’ after all these years!” said show co-creator Kathy Halenda. “This show was such a labor of love and we’re all so proud of its ‘birth’ at FST.”

Featuring more than twenty of Tucker’s greatest hits like “The Lady is a Tramp,” “You’ve Got to See Mama Every Night,” and her signature song, “Some of These Days,” this ninety-minute production is jam-packed with live music. In between songs, Sophie weaves snappy banter inspired by her own life that is often saucy, slightly scandalous, and surprisingly candid.

Kathy Halenda. Photo by Matthew Holler.

“Sophie Tucker was a force to be reckoned with,” said Richard Hopkins, FST’s Producing Artistic Director. “She was way ahead of her time – she brought what was considered ‘naughty’ or ‘dirty’ out into the open. Sophie was always a little on the edge, yet funny and big-hearted. That’s why we’re still intrigued by her to this day.”

In addition to being part of the development team, Halenda has become intimately entwined with this story, playing the lead role of Tucker in several productions.

“I didn’t know a lot about Sophie Tucker when we started creating the show,” admitted Halenda. “But I learned so much about her in the process. Women of that time never openly discussed things like sex, heartbreak, marital frustration, or even personal opinions. Sophie broke the mold by talking about things that all women thought about, but couldn’t speak of…and she did it all with a sly wink and a smile, without ever being overtly offensive.”

Backing Halenda on stage is FST’s own Resident Pianist Jim Prosser, taking on the role of Teddy, Tucker’s musical accompanist and comedic foil.

Jim Prosser and Kathy Halenda. Photo by Matthew Holler.

We travel with Tucker on a musical behind-the-scenes tour of her artistic career, with snippets of stories from her start in vaudeville in the early 1900s to Hollywood and eventually to stardom. At the same time, we get a behind-the-scenes look into her personal life – including multiple marriages, her search for love, her family heritage, and more.

Songs like “I Don’t Want to Get Thin,” strike a comical chord in retaliation to producers’ suggestions that she “reduce by a few pounds.” And songs like “Living Alone and I Like It” and “Follow Your Own Star” speak to Tucker’s brazen courage to forge her own path at a time when a woman’s place was generally expected to be by her husband’s side.

“I absolutely still relate to Sophie Tucker,” continued Halenda. “I have always been accused of being too emotionally open and opinionated, and I guess I’m too old to change now! Every time I perform this show, I find a new ‘color’ in the character. And age makes it easier to fully embrace the highs and lows of this show.”

“Kathy is first and foremost a blast to work with,” said Richard Hopkins of the show development process. “She’s funny, big-voiced, and a strong woman, like Sophie, who was a strong woman before strong women were popular. So, it was a match made in heaven: Sophie Tucker meets Kathy Halenda.”

Kathy Halenda. Photo by Matthew Holler.

“It is one of the biggest hit shows in FST history – without a doubt,” said Rebecca Hopkins, FST’s Managing Director. “Kathy Halenda is an instrumental part of that. She is a powerhouse and beloved by our Sarasota community.”

But the show hasn’t been a hit with audiences alone. Critics have called the show “thoroughly winning,” “dazzling,” and “outstanding,” and “witty, bawdy, and just plain fun.”

“My guess is that if she [Tucker] walked in […] tonight and saw Halenda and Prosser on stage, she’d be as delighted as the rest of the audience,” reported Howie Shapiro for NPR.

And you know something? We like to believe that’s true.

Sophie Tucker: The Last of the Red Hot Mamas will play in FST’s Gompertz Theatre beginning June 2. For tickets or more information, click here.