Sarasota's FST celebrates music of girl groups

'The Prima Donnettes' looks at societal changes through popular songs

mclear@bradenton.comOctober 24, 2013 

MARIA LYLE OF MARIA LYLE PHOTOGR

In the 1950s, the female voices that came from the radio sang about guys named Johnny Angel and about dreaming of a boy with lots of wavy hair like Liberace.

By the 1960s, they were singing about demanding respect and about having boots that were gonna walk all over you.

The cabaret season at Florida Studio Theatre opens Oct. 25 with "The Prima Donnettes," the story of a girl group that performs decades of songs reflecting changing views of women.

"It's an actual cabaret show, set in the present day, about a fictional girl group," said Susan Haefner, who plays one of the Donnettes. "Act one is set in the '50s and even has references to the '40s. Act two has all sorts of songs from the '60s and a bit of the '70s."

There's a thread to the show about how songs empowered women and then chronicled that empowerment, Haefner said, but that's not the point. It's really a show about the buoyant music created by such acts as the Crystals, the Chiffons, the Shirelles, the Chordettes, the Supremes, the Dixie Cups, Martha and the Vandellas, Aretha Franklin and Dusty Springfield.

"I think it's a celebration of the music," Haefner said. "It's very conversational, even though we're singing most of the time. There's a lot of give-and-take with the audience."

The four members of the Prime Donnettes -- played by FST newcomer Erin McGrath along with veterans Haefner, Liz Power and Jannie Jones -- are the only four characters in the show.

The script, developed by FST artistic director Richard Hopkins and Jim Prosser, doesn't give much background information about the Prima Donnettes, but Haefner said that in offstage discussions, the cast members and director Dennis Courtney have decided that it's a once-famous girl group that has gotten together for a reunion show and is tracing its career through decades of hits.

FST followers may recognize a connection between "The Prima Donnettes" and an earlier show.

"'The Prima Donnettes' was inspired by FST's highly successful production featuring the fictional guy group we called the Wanderers," Hopkins said. "I thought, wow, can we do the same thing with the girl groups of the 1950s and forward. Two things became quickly apparent. First was the interesting and colorful character of the women who formed the girl groups. Second was how the music became the sound track to the women's movement of the last half of the century."

Details: Oct. 23-Feb. 1, John C. Court Cabaret at Florida Studio Theatre, 241 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota. Show times: various. Tickets: $18-$36. Information: 941-366-9000, www.floridastudiotheatre.org.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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