There’s “Something Rotten” brewing onstage through May 15 at the Historic Cocoa Village Playhouse — but the costumes for the musical comedy are sublime.
Thanks to the artistic vision of longtime costume designer Dan Hill, actors will be clad in eye-popping, hand-crafted ensembles ranging from a regal gown to Puritan garb to showgirl attire and wonderfully cheesy outfits for tap-dancing omelets.
For Hill, who’s been with the Playhouse since 1994, designing for and dressing casts is a dream gig — and one he couldn’t imagine doing without a team of volunteers, actors who inspire and shows that challenge him.
“Something Rotten,” in a nutshell, is set in the 1590s and centers on two brothers trying to succeed in theater in England at the same time as “that Renaissance rock star” known as The Bard: “It’s the anti-Shakespeare,” Hill said, laughing.
And as soon as the show (which opened on Broadway in 2015) was announced for the Cocoa Village Playhouse, he jumped right in.
“I knew this was a big costume-heavy show,” he said. “So I did the things that will fit most people in the middle-of- the-road sizes. And the Puritans were easy … it’s just basic black.”
But there was so much more than just that basic black, in more than 30 costumes that he, his assistant, Michael O’Quinn, and a slew of volunteers have created.
Hill had seen “Something Rotten” in New York, but envisioned something more colorful, “because it’s very seriously costumed; very dark Tudor, Elizabethan,” he said.
Hence, the team whipped up everything from white ruffs to the aforementioned, bright-yellow omelets complete with sewn-on cloth veggies.
“I just bumped up the comedy … the colors are brighter and just a little bit freer from the restrictions of that time period,” the Titusville native said.
Segue from hospital to stage
A former Navy hospital corpsman who earned his nursing degree from the University of Florida, Hill worked in a hospital intensive care unit in Manhattan during the deadly years for the AIDS virus in the 1980s,
After returning to Brevard in the 1990s, he volunteered at Titusville Playhouse before moving to the Cocoa Village theater, where he’s a much loved part of the crew and has headed design since 1998.
Hill is a mentor, colleague and friend — and “one of the most brilliant costumers I have ever worked with,” said Nathaniel Knepper-Quijano, production manager.
The designer’s commitment and dedication to his craft is incomparable, and comes out show after show, Knepper-Quijan said.
“This attention to detail not only assists the actors in further finding the character they’re portraying, but also acts as a visual storytelling aid for the audience.”
Judging from the look on Hill’s face as he explains patterns and stitching and how the creations take shape, the role seems to fit him perfectly.
The first show he did as the as the head costumer was “My Fair Lady.”
After that, everything else was “pretty much a breeze,’ he said.
“It was in my family background, a lot of needlework and handiwork,” he said.
“It’s something I grew up around. And while I was in the Navy, I wanted things I couldn’t afford, so I made them myself. Draperies, bedspreads, things like that. And so when I left New York and came back here, it was a good fit to be the assistant to the costume designer at the time — Jesse Klinefelter, followed by Debbie Fague.”
Whatever it takes to outfit the actors, Hill and his team makes it happen, much of it coming to life in the sewing room on the third floor of the Playhouse.
Hill envisions the costumes, later cutting them out and, among many other aspects, deciding what kind of trim or feather or embroidery might go on a jacket, cap or dress. He then leaves detailed notes for volunteers with instructions on what they’re to do to the piece.
“Things I dream up, they make come to life,” he said.
Make. Use. Reuse, revamp, augment, dazzle with beads and studs. Creations and recreations are made from everything from a piece of a stage curtain that caught fire in 1999 to rolls of fabric Hill finds at places like Walt Disney World’s surplus material sales.
“A lot of donations come in from the community, like this fringe. Then I can take that donated fringe and turn it into a little leather jacket for a showgirl,” he said, holding up said jacket.
This veteran designer’s skills are legend to those who surround him and appreciate what can emerge from a roll of material or a box of beads.
Cathy Moubray, who plays Bea in “Something Rotten,” has been a CVP performer since 2006.
“It’s always a special treat to wear one of Dan’s newest costumes created for the current production, which in this case are numerous and gorgeous,” she said.
No matter how many costumes are needed, the same energy and thought goes into the product.
The COVID-forced shutdown time was hard for theater, said Hill, who this time two years ago was crafting masks when they weren’t easily available for locals.
But the devotion of all who make the Playhouse sing and the sewing machines hum — they’ve inspired him.
“The community really plays a role, too, and all of the sewing group who dedicate their time to making the look of Broadway on Brevard — thank you,” he said.
Contact Kennerly at 321-242-3692 or [email protected] Twitter: @bybrittkennerly Facebook: /bybrittkennerly. Local journalism like this needs your support. Consider subscribing to your local newspaper. See our current offers.