Sayeth Steve Souza: Predicting the future in Good Company’s ‘Something Rotten!’ isn’t perfect, but it’s hilarious
You don’t need to be a soothsayer to predict that Steve Souza will make you laugh.
Well, unless you have never heard of Good Company Players or Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater because you live in a place we’ve never heard of — like Stjørdalshalsen, Norway, for example, or Mawlamyinegyun, Myanmar — and thus would never have the chance to see Souza perform, making the point moot. Am I right?
Pictured above: Jacob Phelen, left, and Steve Souza have a prognostication section in ‘Something Rotten!’ Photo: Good Company Players
You can’t be too literal when making declarative statements about fortune telling.
So let me rephrase: If you live in the Fresno area and if you are an attendee of GCP shows and if you see a musical comedy in which Steve Souza has any sort of a role, I can predict with absolute certainty that he is going to make you laugh.
All kidding aside, Souza is a comic giant among the Fresno-area theater scene, having delighted audiences for decades. (His Roger DeBris in “The Producers” is one for the ages.) His latest role is as the wacky Nostradamus in “Something Rotten!,” now in its opening weekend at Roger Rocka’s. In this zany, period-piece take on a feud between Shakespeare and a lesser writer, Nostradamus predicts that the next big thing in theater will be musicals. Then he predicts that Shakespeare’s next big show will be “Omelette” instead of “Hamlet.”
OK, so maybe he doesn’t have a 100% rating from the Royal Association of Psychics.
I talked with Souza by phone and email about the new show.
Q: So, Mr. “I Can Read the Future,” can you tell me what my first question will be?
A: I had a feeling this would be your first question.
Q: Actually, since this is an email interview, that opener didn’t really work. How about this: Have you ever played a fortune teller before?
A: No, this is the first time playing a fortune teller, or a soothsayer, as we were called during the Renaissance.
Q: You don’t play the famous Nostradamus that we all think of when we hear the name. Explain.
A: Yes, he is a close relative, but he shares the same gifts as the big “N”……. well, mostly.
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Q: The show does feature the Shakespeare we know and love, however. Tell us about the character and his feud with Nick Bottom, the guy who hires you.
A: Well, Shakespeare was the rock star of his time, and that is how he is portrayed in “Rotten.” So there is some professional jealousy between the Bottom brothers and Will. I don’t want to give too much away, but if there were tabloids during the Renaissance, Will would have been in them, and not always for good behavior.
Q: Steve, I’ve seen you on stage so many times that I feel like I know every facet of your personality, which is silly, because you’re an actor, and all I’ve seen you do is act. Do total strangers ever come up to you and act like they know you?
A: Oh my gosh, yes! Especially the season ticket holders. But it makes sense. We are a family at Roger Rockas/Good Company Players. Some of our audience members have seen me grow from mostly a featured dancer in productions to landing principal roles.
VIDEO: Watch coverage of GCP’s ‘Something Rotten!’ on ‘The Munro Review on CMAC’ (starts at 20:40 mark)
Q: By the way, how many shows GCP shows have you been in? Put another way, how many years of your life do you estimate you’ve spent at Roger Rocka’s?
A: My first show was “Leader of the pack” a jukebox musical featuring the music and love story of songwriters Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry. It was the Christmas show of 1995. Since then I have performed in 46 shows at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater and one at Second Space. After a few years of performing, I started choreographing and directing both Junior Company and mainstage shows, so i have been involved with a total of 79 shows.
Q: For someone who has played as many roles at GCP as you have, do you ever dream about being in the wrong show? Does Edna from “Hairspray” end up in, say, “The Producers,” or Roger DeBris in “Spamalot”?
A: LOL, no, i don’t have that particular dream, but I do have two nightmares that I have had more than once. One is: I walk into the first day of rehearsal to find out it really is opening night and I am late and they are holding the show for me. I usually wake up as iIrun downstairs and am getting ready to go on and someone yells, you have on the wrong costume!
The other is, (and I have this one a lot), I am dancing and I am worried about doing a triple turn, and then not only do I do a triple but i keep going, spinning and spinning like an ice skater would. It feels so good, but then i see the director in the wings yelling for me to stop showing off. I am spilling over into the next scene, but I can’t stop. The director is Dan (Pessano, managing director of the company).
Q: Your portrayal of Man in Chair, the pivotal role in “The Drowsy Chaperone,” sticks with me to this day. It was beautiful. What was it about that character that moved people so much? How much of you could we find in him?
A: I think people were moved so much because the writing is amazing. The whole show is very funny, and Man in Chair is so sarcastic and witty. Then in the end you see that he really is kind of broken, and theater is his escape, and how he copes with the pain of his father leaving when he was younger, and the implied loss of his mother.
As far as how much he is like me, people who know me well know that he is a mixture of me and others. I think his sarcasm and wit are me (or at least I’d like to think so). But his knowledge of Broadway and the actors are more like the two people who I also pulled from to become him: Mark Tolladay, who talked me into and held my hand for my first audition, and was a regular in Good Company shows until his untimely passing; and Steve Pepper, who has also passed. As a matter of fact, Steve donated a lot of the memorabilia on the set the first time we did the show, He was too sick to be in the show, but having his stuff all around me meant a lot and felt like he was there with me. For me Man in chair is the combination of the three of us.
Related story: Review: A must-see ‘Drowsy Chaperone’
And: Beware those Hungry Poodles: ‘Chaperone’ is full of laughs
Q: OK, enough serious stuff. Did you see the story last week about the cats that snuck into the forensics research field and ate human corpses? Now think about your hilarious line as Man in Chair when you’re introducing one of the characters:
“Aldolpho was played by former silent film star and world-class alcoholic Roman Bartelli. He was the one who later drank himself to death at his chateau in Nice, remember? It was five days before they found the body, by that time it had been partially consumed by his poodles? Remember? Try not to think of the poodles when you’re listening to this.”
Now, the question: Which do you think would be more likely to eat your decomposing body: a cat or a dog?
A: A cat, for sure! they see us as their pets, and wouldn’t think twice about it. No different to them than Farmer John eating Bessy the Cow.
Q: Give me a juicy secret about someone in the “Rotten” cast.
A: Well, one of our cast members, when they were younger, was invited to Ginger Rogers’ birthday party in Palm Springs and she gave him something. I want to say it was a scarf but I’m not 100% sure.
Q: Um, OK, I’ll just let that mystery stand. So, it isn’t every day that I interview a soothsayer. Let’s play a speed round. Give me your predictions. Who will win for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars this year?
A: This is funny because I get together with friends for all the award shows and we compete for lottery scratchers, and I am not the best at it. (I’m not the worst, either.) Wow, this is hard, and I have been so busy I haven’t seen any of the movies … but I just have this feeling it’s going to be Tom Hanks for “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”
Q: Will Fresno ever get a Nordstrom?
A: No, we have the Rack, so why pay full price?
Q: What will be the next big fashion trend for women?
A: Peasant blouses and prairie skirts like Olivia Newton John in Xanadu (or maybe that’s wishful thinking).
Q: Will we solve global warming before the planet boils?
A: I feel yes, but way after you and I are gone.
Q: Will they ever make fake cheese that tastes good?
A: Tastes good? Yes. Tastes like cheese? No. What would a Philly Cheese-steak be without Cheez Whiz?
Q: I can’t bear to ask you who will win the presidential election, so instead: What will next week’s winning lottery numbers be?
A: Not sure, but the winner will be a quick pick.
Q: Anything else you’d like to say?
A: Just this: I said earlier that “Drowsy” was amazing because of how well written it was, and I can say the same about “Something Rotten!” It is very funny and so clever, and I predict … if you don’t go see it (eerie music, flashing lights) — you will be sorry!