The title may be “Something Rotten,” but the Naples Players‘ production of the Broadway hit musical plans to be Something Wonderful.
Certainly it will be Something New. It’s the first staging of the play in Southwest Florida, since licensing was released a scant 45 days before the pandemic shut down the state. It has an original set from guest designer Michael Hoover. The Naples Players is even new for Eduardo Marin of Bonita Springs, who plays one of its main characters.
“Something Rotten,” named for a Shakespearean line in “Hamlet,” is airdropped into the final years of Elizabethan England with a rubber nose and a banana peel. If the title is a bit perplexing, wait till you hear the premise: The woes of two playwrights, Nick and Nigel Bottom (Mark Vanagas and Marin) whose works are constantly being eclipsed by their rival, one William Shakespeare, and who are determined to get a hit under their quill.
“When you start telling people that, their eyes roll back in their heads,” Vanagas said.
But it’s a contemporary show, said Dawn Lebrecht Fornara, director and choreographer. It spoofs history by opening in period music — “For about five seconds, because the show is so anachronistic. It’s just wackiness in a very contemporary way.”
There’s a kicky chorus line of women in pannier skirts. A “Welcome to the Renaissance” opening ensemble accompanied by jerk and shimmy moves done in doublets and mobcaps. The play is chock-full of historically teased contemporary culture, such as the crowd swaying to a rock concert with lighted candles instead of cigarette lighters.
And the lyrics are sly fun:
“It’s nonstop wackiness,” declared Marin, who saw the touring production in New Orleans and determined he would play Nigel Bottom someday. Marin has been in musicals at the Center for the Arts Bonita Springs and starred in The Studio Players’ “The Waverly Gallery.” But the role of wallflower poet Nigel Bottom finally coaxed him to the Sugden Theatre.
He’s playing opposite Vanagas, a 30-show-plus veteran who fell in love with the show when he saw it on Broadway.
“I came out at intermission grinning already,” Vanagas recalled. What he loves about “Something Rotten” is its multilayered entertainment. “The show is just a love letter to theater.” Anyone who’s a fan of the musical genre will probably double over during “A Musical,” when Nick Bottom, engaging a cut-rate soothsayer, hears his prediction of theater’s next great innovation.
Joseph C. Byrne reprises the high-energy work that made him the Players’ choice for “The Wedding Singer” this time as Thomas Nostradamus — nephew of the real thing — predicting every work from “Les Miz” to “49th Street” to “Evita.” It’s the ensemble piece to upstage all ensemble pieces as the cast races through iconic dance moves from all of those and more.
On another level, there are enough references to Shakespeare to merit a score sheet for English majors. But the innuendo is optional: “It’s like Dawn said,” Vanagas added: “If you love Shakespeare, you’ll love this play. If you hate Shakespeare, you’ll love this play.”
The musical is not simply freneticism for its own sake, both Vanagas and Marin said.
“There’s this beautiful ballad, ‘To thine own self be true’ in which Nick realizes his greed and pressure have let him behave in ways he doesn’t really like,” Vanagas observed. “It’s this moment of honesty and vulnerability that I really feel means more amid all the silliness.”
“All that stupidity makes the tenderness more touching,” Marin agreed. And Lebrecht Fornara is a fan of Bea (Jamielynn Bucci), the beacon of sincerity in this milieu as Nick’s wife. She vocally knocks out the cast with “Right Hand Man” as she determines to help her husband, metamorphosing from homemaker to stevedore to jailhouse attorney.
“She’s like the perfect person. She’s warm and fun and funny and kind and always willing to help. That’s so wonderful, especially when we live in a world right now where not everyone willing to help each other,” she declared.
Lebrecht Fornara is pinching herself at her luck in getting the cast, who have taken on the burden of dancing in Elizabethan garb: “I told them tomorrow, you’re all in tapestry. They told me, ‘This just put 10 pounds on us!'”
Even the tap dances are done in boots.
To make it harder, she admits she pushed the choreography: “I didn’t make it easy on them. But the cast stepped up to it.”
Marin said he loves to watch the dancers from the wings: “This ensemble is killing it.”
“I’m not going to lie. It’s hot!” declared Vanagas, who at one point has to do a tap dance showdown with Shakespeare. “But the look of the show is unique and fantastic.”
Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/naplesnews.com. Reach her at 239-213-6091.
If you go
What: Naples Players production of Broadway hit musical premiere in Southwest Florida
When: Various times, including matinees, now through July 24
Where: Sugden Community Theatre, 701 Fifth Ave. S. Naples
Tickets: $47 at naplesplayers.org or at the box office, 239-263-7990