Fifteen years ago, Nate Jacobs had an idea to start an theater company is Sarasota that would present works that celebrated African-American art and culture. But he didn't have much more than an idea. He didn't have a space or even a budget.
Then the people at Theatre Works, a now-defunct Sarasota theater, offered Jacobs their space on Sunday and Mondays, the night their own show wasn't playing. They asked him if he had a show he could do in that space.
Yes, he told them, he had a show all ready.
But that wasn't 100 percent accurate.
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"Why did you tell them you had a show?" his friend LaTerry Butler asked. "You don't even have a company."
But Jacobs didn't want to miss the opportunity. He quickly began working on a show
The result was "Cotton Club Cabaret," a revue that featured the music of the artists who starred at the legendary Harlem nightspot during its heyday in the 1920s and '30s. Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Lena Horne, Josephine Baker, and others entertained the all-white crowd. (African-Americans were allowed into the audience years later.) Jacobs hired Butler as his musical director, and some former students to be his cast.
The show turned out to be a huge hit. Its run kept getting extended, and there was talk of closing the regular Theatre Works show and substituting "Cotton Club Cabaret" because it was drawing bigger audiences.
Now, as Jacobs's company, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, celebrates its 15th year, Jacobs is resurrecting the show.
"It was a show that I could do without spending a lot of money," Jacobs said. "It didn't need a lot of costume changes. It didn't need much of a set."
"I did because I had to," he said. "Now I'm doing it because I can."
The new version of "Cotton Club Cabaret" retains the essence of that original hit. But now that Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe is operating on budget a bit larger than whatever Jacobs happened to have in his wallet at any given time, it's been expanded. It has a larger cast, including women performers, more (and more expensive) costumes and a more elaborate set.
Butler returns as the show's music director and the cast -- Terrell Alexander, Ariel Blue, Shelton Brown, Earley Dean, Charles Westley Lattimore Jr., Marta McKinnon, Chakara Rosa, Joshua Thompson and Tarra Conner jones -- features performers who have become favorites of WBTT audiences over the years.
Audiences don't have to be familiar with the lore of the Cotton Club to know the songs, which includes classics along with some great lesser-known numbers.
"Duke Ellington was the leader of the house band, and when he left Cab Caolloway took over," Jacobs said. "I can see why so many people took the A Train to Harlem to hear these artists."
Details: July 8-Aug. 9, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, 1646 10th Way, Sarasota. Show times: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $29.50 general, $16.50 students. Information: 941-366-1505, westcoastblacktheatre.org.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.