Review: 'Tom Jones' is a comic treat in Sarasota

Florida Studio Theatre stages the premiere of a version of the classic novel

mclear@bradenton.comMay 13, 2014 

From left, Graciany Miranda, Eileen Ward and Bruce Warren star in Florida Studio Theatre's production of "Tom Jones."Cliff Roles/publicity photo

CLIFF ROLES

For a moment, you might think you may be in for a long evening of theater.

The narrator takes the stage at the Florida Studio Theatre's Gompertz Theatre and welcomes to the audience to the evening's production of "Tom Jones." Through the sound system comes "It's Not Unusual."

It's the most obvious joke imaginable, told in an obvious way, and you brace yourself for two hours of witlessness.

You end up being pleasantly surprised. "Tom Jones," an adaptation of a ribald 18th-century British novel by Henry Fielding, turns out to be clever, lively and very funny.

That obvious beginning, it seems, is just a way to quickly dispense with the inevitable. Tom Jones the singer has become so much more well known than the novel from which he took his stage name, and the singer will be on a lot of audience members' minds. (There are a couple of other references to the singer sprinkled in throughout the production, but they're subtler than that opening gag.)

The FST staging is the world premiere of this play by Mark Brown, whose métier is taking sweeping classic stories (including "Around the World in 80 Days," "Don Quixote" and "The 39 Steps" ) and adapting them for the stage with a minimal number of actors, most playing multiple roles.

At least in this case, Brown uses the technique brilliantly. Nine actors play more than two dozen characters, and the result is a thoroughly delightful farce full of delicious word-play and mistaken identity.

It gets difficult to keep track of the story and the characters after a while, but it doesn't really matter. You're having so much fun you can just let the show wash over you, and you enjoy it without trying to figure out every line and plot turn.

The cast of the FST production is delightful, and all nine seem to be having a great time. Graciany Miranda as the narrator, Matthew Goodrich in the title role and Faith Sandberg as the object of Tom's love and lust leave perhaps the most lasting impression, but the entire cast, directed by Mark Shanahan, is outstanding.

So are the uncountable gorgeous costumes by Jeni Schaefer, which help keep the story grounded in the period and its aristocratic milieu, and measurably enhance the comedy in more than a few moments.

Just about any audience ought to enjoy the bubbly comedy of "Tom Jones," but this play and this production offer special treats for theater gourmets who can revel in Brown's accomplishment in taking a story known for its action and grandeur into something so quintessentially theatrical.

It runs through May 31 at Florida Studio Theatre, 1241 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota. Tickets are $18-$42. For information call 941-366-9000 or go to floridastudiotheatre.org.

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

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