The cast and crew of Cal Poly Humboldt’s spring musical have been meeting for two weeks now, ever since the start of the semester. Rather than fully polished scenes, their rehearsals consist of bare-bones run-throughs, scripts in hand and tape on the floor where the set will eventually be.
The show is “Something Rotten,” a farcical comedy set in an anachronistic 16th century. The two main characters, the Bottom brothers, invent the concept of a musical and feud with their rival, Shakespeare. The show re-characterizes The Bard as a rocker, not dissimilar to a Freddie Mercury type charismatic frontman.
“The show is about love, relationships, ego, and anachronism,” said director Michael Thomas. “You’ll see a cell phone or two, there might be a modern toilet plunger.”
Although “Something Rotten” is set in the Renaissance, the music and dancing are rooted in Broadway tradition. At this particular rehearsal, choreographer Carrie Walpole was working with the cast on the dancing for the track “A Musical.”
This number will feature the cast tap-dancing, and is best described as a classic musical theater style composition. Another track, “Will Power,” performed by the character of Shakespeare, is unmistakably rock. The Bard croons out his famous lines “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate,” over a driving bass line.
“It’s more like a rock musical, it’s a very upbeat score,” said Thomas.
Cast members and crew alike were required to be at Wednesday’s rehearsal for most of the evening. Stage manager Ian Aguilera and his two assistant stage managers Benji Salisbury and David Fisher spend just as much time as the actors, if not more, preparing for and producing the final musical.
Before the rehearsal had even started, before the director or most of the cast had arrived, Aguilera was at Van Duzer Theater, preparing.
“Tech and acting are kinda fifty fifty,” said Aguilera, when asked about how much the crew do behind the scenes. “The director’s not here, I am.”
With the support of the crew literally behind the scenes, the musical’s cast can do their best work. While the actors go over scenes, Aguilera sits at the front of the stage assisting with minute production details and even helping with direction.
“Something Rotten” takes advantage of its self-aware premise for comedic effect.
“It’s a musical about a musical,” said Aguilera. “It’s [the main characters] versus Shakespeare.”
In one scene, the soothsayer Thomas Nostradamus, played by Sammi Pietanza, looks into the future of theater. He says that the characters will break into song and dance, and a glass of wine at concessions will cost an exorbitant amount of money.
Pietanza’s character acting is silly, joyful, and extremely animated, even at this early stage of production. They said that it’s easier for the director to scale back an overdone performance than to draw more out of a timid one. They were the center of attention on stage, striking wizardly poses and speaking the script with mystical energy.
“The character [Thomas Nostradamus] is like a human goblin,” Pietanza said. “Like a Danny DeVito kinda trash rat.”
This energy that Pietanza brings seems emblematic of the production as a whole. It’s a whole lot of passionate people, coming together to make something silly, dramatic, and distinctly musical theater.
Director Michael Thomas is looking forward to what will hopefully be a live, in person performance of “Something Rotten” in April.
“People should come see it because it’s a fun, silly evening,” said Thomas. “It’s full of action, it’s colorful and upbeat.”