Sunday, June 24, 2018
Stage

Three daring singer/comedians meet up at pearly gates in 'Sophie, Totie & Belle'

NEW PORT RICHEY — Jimmy Ferraro's Studio Theatre has made a name for itself since it opened 16 months ago with mostly new-to-us musical revues, musicals with stories, comedies, mysteries and farces, and now it adds another kind of show to its roster, a "revuesical," a show that combines musical revue with a light story.

It's Sophie, Totie & Belle, a mythical meet-up at the pearly gates of three of showbiz's most daring women — singer/comedians Sophie Tucker, Totie Fields and Belle Barth. It plays Oct. 30 through Nov. 22.

It seems a fitting follow-up to the current show, Last of the Red Hot Lovers, since Tucker was known as the Last of the Red Hot Mamas.

All three women were famous from the 1920s through the 1970s for their risque jokes (Tucker was even arrested and fined for her off-color shows), bigger-than-life personalities and big voices.

The setup is that all three have passed to the great beyond and are waiting to enter heaven. As they wait, they learn that God is giving a big show at his heavenly nightclub, but needs only one more act to complete his program. This means that Sophie, Totie and Belle will have to compete for the slot, which gives them a chance to strut their stuff, singing their most famous songs and delivering their most outrageous jokes.

For the coolly sophisticated Tucker (Dee Etta Rowe, Mavis in Church Basement Ladies), this means belting Some of These Days and Red Hot Mama, in between a barrage of naughty jokes. For Fields (Kathy McGuire, debut), it's the sweetly sentimental All of Me. And for the uninhibited Barth (Sara DelBeato, Bobbie in Red Hot Lovers), it's I Call 'em Like I See 'em and perhaps the bluest of the blue comedy presented.

In between those and other songs, the women reminisce about their sometimes difficult, often sad, often glorious lives.

Barth can boast about the nine adult party albums she released, many of them selling in the millions, including If I Embarrass You, Tell Your Friends and I Don't' Mean to be Vulgar, but It's Profitable. She may also want to talk about performing in Las Vegas and New York's Carnegie Hall, and that her beloved home base was in Palm Beach, where she was a superstar. She may or may not want to talk about her five failed marriages.

Fields will no doubt mention her many appearances on shows hosted by Ed Sullivan, Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin. She might mention her dramatic roles in television productions and many guest appearances on the day's top shows. No doubt, she'll talk about her loving husband who supported her career and supported her through numerous serious health problems, which ended in her death at the relatively young age of 48.

Perhaps the most famous — or is that infamous? — of the three, Tucker, will likely talk about the many adventures she had in her 79 years on Earth, starting in her teens singing and wisecracking at cafes and bars, and on to a starring role in the Ziegfield Follies, where other female performers refused to work with her, forcing her to leave, and her big moments in movies, on radio and on television. She may talk about her triumphs across Europe and even the Broadway show about her life, never mind it only played eight times before closing.

Tucker may tell the story of how she played burlesque in blackface, even though she didn't want to, and finally got around it by "forgetting" her blackface makeup at a previous venue, then going on stage as herself, joking about her girth and cracking bawdy jokes. And she may mention being married three times, twice to the same man.

Playing several of the men in the lives of these three women is Ryan Bintz, who is making his debut at Ferraro's, but has been seen in several area theaters, including American Stage, Jaeb Theatre (at the Straz Center), Carnival Cruise Lines, Busch Gardens and Stage West Community Playhouse (Corny in Hairspray, Billy in Chicago).

Sophie, Totie & Belle played Off-Broadway for several months in 2000 and has been popular in regional theaters since then, especially in South Florida, where much of the action took place.

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