‘Wanderers’ bring their doo wop sound back to FST

Jay Handelman
Sarasota Herald-Tribune
From left, Travis Keith Battle, Kenneth Quinney Francoeur, Jason Pintar and Ryan Morales are “The Wanderers,” a doo wop group presented in Florida Studio Theatre’s cabaret series.

The tight harmonies of the doo-wop sound have been part of popular culture since young, would-be stars started singing on street corners in their neighborhoods and creating a sound that captivated the world.

Musical tastes and styles have changed since the explosion of doo-wop in the 1950s, but the sound has never really gone away. You can still hear its origins in the pop music of such groups as Boyz II Men and BTS as well as the musical hits “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Hairspray.”

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And audiences who grew up hearing hits by the Marcels, the Platters, The Edsels, The Four Seasons, Dion and more don’t have to look far to be reminded of the songs that send them back to their younger days. It’s there on stage in “Jersey Boys” (the Broadway biographical musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons), in such nostalgic touring groups as Under the Streetlamp and the Midtown Men, frequent PBS fundraising specials and the return of “The Wanderers,” a cabaret show created by Florida Studio Theatre, which opens this week.

The revue featuring a quartet of singers captured the sound of the era, reaching into the mid 1960s with songs by The Beatles and The Turtles and to 2002 with the DaVinci’s Notebook song “Another Irish Drinking Song.”

The original run of “The Wanderers,” which first opened in 2010, was so popular it spawned a sequel “Let’s Twist Again with the Wanderers” two years later. Rebecca Hopkins, the theater’s managing director who co-created the show with her husband, Producing Artistic Director Richard Hopkins, said they considered a second sequel, but thought it would be better to first remind audiences about the group.

Minhui Lee makes her Florida Studio Theatre debut as musical director of the cabaret show “The Wanderers.”

“We realized it had been about 12 years since the original one and thought before we do another sequel, we should reintroduce the audience to the Wanders, the character of the group itself and the doo wop sound,” she said.

Those who saw it the first time around will find it’s about 80 percent the same, with some tweaks to the storytelling and altering references to things that might not make as much sense today as they did in 2010.

Singing the hits

The production takes audiences from “Under the Boardwalk” to “Up on the Roof,” along with such standards as “At the Hop,” “Rama Lama Ding Dong,” “Sherry,” “In the Still of the Night,” “Book of Love,” and Harry Belafonte’s hit “The Banana Boat Song (Day-O).”

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The biggest change is the makeup of the group itself. With just a few weeks of rehearsal, the director Catherine Randazzo, musical director Minhui Lee and accompanist Jim Prosser are working to help a cast of four FST newcomers sound like a veteran group.

“These guys sound different in the way they approach their songs. The sound is different and they have different personalities that we’re working with,” Rebecca Hopkins said.

The musical “Jersey Boys,” celebrating the music and doo wop origins of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, returns to the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall this season.

The new cast features Jason Pitar, Kenneth Quinney Francoeur (who toured in “Jersey Boys” and “Memphis the musical,” Travis Keith Battle and Ryan Morales.

Lee, who like the performers auditioned for her first music directing gig at FST, said the show is all about collaboration. “That is the key. It’s been a very collaborative process, which I love. We are here in this beautiful city. Let’s do a show together. We’re lucky to be here.”

She said each song takes on a different dynamic partly because of the melody and lyrics but also depending on which of the four is singing lead.

And Hopkins said casting is the key to creating a group that sounds like it has been singing together for years.

Like the quartet of “Forever Plaid,” The Wanders is not a real group, “but when you put this type of quartet together, they quickly meld and they do become a real doo wop group,” she said. “They learn the songs, bring their real personalities to the interpretations of the songs. This group is doing an amazing job and they sound fantastic.”

‘The Wanderers’

Created by Rebecca Hopkins and Richard Hopkins. Directed by Catherine Randazzo. Runs Sept. 29-Feb. 6 in Florida Studio Theatre’s Court Cabaret, 1265 First St., Sarasota. 941-366-9000; floridastudiotheatre.org

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