Before there was Bette Midler, Mae West, or Miss Piggy, there was Sophie Tucker.
Armed with a quick wit and a powerful voice, Sophie Tucker defied all stereotypes and expectations to become one of the most popular entertainers of the first half of the 20th century.
She emerged from an era flush with flappers, a large woman with even larger personality – a woman who would leave an even larger artistic impact on an international scale.
Now, Florida Studio Theatre is celebrating that very woman with the return of one of the most popular shows in FST history, Sophie Tucker: The Last of the Red Hot Mamas.
Overflowing with music, including such songs as “The Lady is a Tramp,” “You’ve Got to See Mama Every Night,” and Tucker’s signature song, “Some of These Days,” this audience favorite returns to FST, the same theatre where the play first came to be.
“It was time for the show to make a return visit to its birth place,” said Kathy Halenda, one of the show’s developers. “This show was such a labor of love. I’m thrilled to bring this show back ‘home’ to Sarasota audiences this summer.”
In addition to song, the show bubbles with unbridled personality. Stippled with racy comedy, self-parody, and shockingly frank banter, Sophie doesn’t tip-toe across the stage – she commands it.
“Sophie Tucker always had an emotional “freedom” – born of struggle and loss – that colored her shows and allowed her to say whatever she wanted in both a humorous and sincere way,” said Halenda. “To this day, Sophie remains the fearless frontrunner who shoved open the door for women to freely express themselves in public.”
It takes a pretty big personality to take on such a substantial persona as Tucker’s. And stepping into those mighty big shoes is no other than show co-creator Kathy Halenda, herself. Halenda is no stranger to the role – she’s played the brassy icon in FST’s 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2012 productions, and has toured the show as well.
“I absolutely still relate to Sophie Tucker,” said Halenda. “I have always been accused of being too emotionally open and opinionated, and I guess I’m too old to change now!”
Backing Halenda on the keys is FST’s very own Resident Pianist Jim Prosser, who plays the role of Teddy, Tucker’s musical accompaniment and comic foil.
This show isn’t just a favorite with audiences. Critics have called it “radiant,” “thoroughly winning,” and “witty, bawdy, and just plain fun.”
While years have passed since Halenda first took on this bodacious role, some things have changed, while others have stayed the same. “My voice has gotten a little lower and huskier and my body isn’t as flexible,” said Halenda. “But my heart is still young and sassy!”
Sophie Tucker: The Last of the Red Hot Mamas will play in FST’s Gompertz Theatre from June 2 – July 11. For tickets or more information, click here.