Despite changes behind curtain, show goes on at Freefall Theatre

Published Sept. 19, 2012

Freefall Theatre is on a roll, with the return of its hit production of Cabaret having 10 more performances to play.

"The first run of Cabaret in the spring ended up selling out at 103 percent of capacity because we added chairs and crammed people in," said Jim Sorensen, managing director of the theater, who also is playing Clifford, the Christopher Isherwood role, in the musical inspired by Isherwood's Berlin Stories. "The second run is so far at 80 percent capacity with two weeks to go."

With part of the audience set in the Kit Kat Klub, director Eric Davis' intimate staging accommodates attendance of about 150.

I recently saw Cabaret the second time around. Much of the cast remains the same, anchored by the superb Emcee of David Mann, and two newcomers are terrific, Jennifer Byrne as Sally Bowles and Lauren L. Wood as Fraulein Kost. Byrne brings down the house with a ravishing rendition of Maybe This Time, and Wood reinforces the great impression she made in American Stage's Vanishing Point.

Behind the scenes, there were plenty of changes at Freefall over the summer. For one thing, the founders of the theater, Davis and Kevin Lane, have parted ways as a couple. Normally, the end of a private relationship would not really be news, but you have to wonder what the impact of this breakup will be.

Davis has been responsible for some brilliant productions, and Lane has provided managerial savvy and financial backing. Lane is part of the family that owns Kane Funiture. He and his mother, Carol Lane, purchased the block occupied by the theater on Central Avenue in west St. Petersburg, and other family members have been generous supporters.

"It's truly business as usual," Sorensen said. "Their relationship hasn't affected at all the business or the work that we do here. Kevin is still on the board and is still actively involved with Freefall. They're just no longer a partnership."

The summer also saw the departure of Emilie Kuperman as executive director. Kuperman — who now goes by Emilie Socash, following her recent marriage to jeweler Shane Socash — left to become executive director of the Tampa Orlando Pinellas Jewish Foundation. She still volunteers in the Freefall box office.

Matthew McGee has joined the staff as community outreach director. Well-known as an actor — most recently in a bravura turn as Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Show for American Stage in the Park — McGee also brings administrative talent, having been artistic director of the Show Palace Dinner Theatre in Hudson since 2004.

Cabaret continues tonight through Sunday and Sept. 27-30. $39-$46. (727) 498-5205;

'Wit' gets its cast

Kim Crow is going to play Dr. Vivien Bearing in the production of Wit that American Stage is putting on at the Palladium Theater Oct. 26-Nov. 4 (with previews Oct. 21-25). The Florida-based actor has played the role in four productions of Margaret Edson's Pulitzer Prize winner about an English professor dying of ovarian cancer. Crow was a 2010 Emmy award nominee as co-producer and female voiceover talent for Echoes From the Holocaust. Directed by artistic director Todd Olson, the cast also includes Joe Parra, Barbara Redmond, Lulu Picart and Bill Grennan.

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Changes at opera

Sarasota Opera moved fast to fill its executive director's vacancy. Richard Russell, who was marketing director for the company in 2005-10, was named to the job Wednesday. For the past three seasons, Russell, 49, has been general director of Opera New Jersey in Princeton, N.J.

He replaces Susan Danis, executive director of Sarasota Opera for the past 13 years, who is moving across the state to become general director and CEO of Miami-based Florida Grand Opera. Danis, 52, is replacing longtime CEO Robert Heuer, who retired at the end of May. Florida Grand Opera, which performs in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, has a $10 million budget; the Sarasota Opera budget is $8 million.

In Sarasota, Danis presided over a $20 million renovation of the company's opera house. "If I die tomorrow, I kind of feel like at least I had something to do with saving this gorgeous 1926 vaudeville house that we've turned into an opera house and that it'll be around for many generations to come of Sarasotans," she told the Miami Herald.

The Sarasota fall season opens with Verdi's Rigoletto Oct. 26-Nov. 12, followed by the Sarasota Youth Opera premiere of Little Nemo in Slumberland (music by Daron Hagen; libretto by J.D. McClatchy) Nov. 10-11.

John Fleming can be reached at or (727) 893-8716.