After six years, FST decided it was time to produce the next installment of the theatre’s popular musical sketch comedy show, Laughing Matters. So, of course, the show’s creators reached out to the actors who had gotten audiences laughing during the 2016 production. One of those performers was Nick Anastasia, who audiences may also remember from the hit Cabarets, Unchained Melodies (2019) and That’s Amoré! (2020). Now, Nick returns to FST to entertain Sarasota audiences with this year’s edition of the Laughing Matters—subtitled (Variant 6): Paranoia on Parade.
We sat down with Nick Anastasia to talk about his previous appearances at FST, his favorite songs to perform in Laughing Matters, and how he learned the lyrics to a song with over 500 words for the show.
Variant 6 marks the second rendition of Laughing Matters that you’ve been a part of at FST. How was the rehearsal process for this installment different from the last? Are there any memorable or hilarious moments from the rehearsal process that you’d like to share?
It’s honestly hard to recall much of Volume 5: Lock the Gates!, seeing how many years—and, my goodness, how much has happened in the world since then—but I do remember feeling the same openness in the rehearsal studio six years ago that I felt this time around. Working with Richard Hopkins (the show’s Director) and Rebecca Hopkins (Head Writer for Laughing Matters) on these shows is such a joy! They give us such flexibility and freedom to try different things with the material we are given. It’s an extremely collaborative process, and it’s all for the better.
What do you most enjoy about contributing to a show like Laughing Matters? What is most challenging about bringing this type of show to life?
The freedoms I mentioned before are a huge reason why I enjoy taking part in productions of Laughing Matters so much. It really strengthens your skills as an actor and a comedian to perform the show in FST’s intimate Cabaret spaces. When you consider some of the political and timely material that’s in the show, it really brings out rather visceral responses from the audience some nights. It’s those same songs and sketches that are as equally challenging as they are satisfying when they land just right.
This edition of Laughing Matters tackles everything from COVID to the eccentricities of Florida politicians, from Mother Earth raving about her hot flashes to Sarasota’s unbridled development. Are there any trends or events that are dealt with in the show that were also addressed in Volume 5: Lock the Gates? Why, do you think, that these things have withstood the test of time? What are some of the events, trends, and actions that you think FST will be exploring in the NEXT edition of Laughing Matters?
Politics will always be part of Laughing Matters, whether there is any sort of election coming up or that has just passed. Personally, I enjoy the more random sketches and songs, such as the “Great Moments in History” segments and “Space Race Oddity”—a parody of the David Bowie song about the trend of billionaires and celebrities going to space. I think a healthy balance of these two elements is a huge reason why Variant 6 has been such a success.
Many of the songs in Laughing Matters have A LOT of words that need to be squeezed into a very short period of time. One of the most difficult songs you perform is “A Medical Phenomenon,” a parody of the Gilbert & Sullivan patter song, “I Am the Very Model.” How do you prepare yourself to do this song at the necessary speed, nine times a week, without messing up?
Oh goodness, “Medical Phenomenon”—AKA my personal Mount Everest—is certainly a beast! When we first received the song list for the show, I saw the song and prayed it wouldn’t be one of my solos. Of course, when we arrived to rehearsals and I was notified that this, indeed, would be one of my solos, I definitely freaked out a bit. In addition to the plethora of words that are in this long, but extremely witty, patter song, it’s also generally performed by a baritone or bass, and I normally sing in a higher register. So, needless to say, I was more than a bit intimidated by “Medical Phenomenon.” But to tell you the truth, I’m very proud of the final product and am very glad it didn’t get cut. I wish there was a secret or “trick of the trade” to learning the lyrics, but it was mostly just a combination of insane repetition and getting insanely tongue-tied in front of my castmates.
What is your favorite song in the show to perform and why?
Honestly, my answer changes week to week, and sometimes even from performance to performance. Right now, I’d say that “It’s DeSantis” – a parody of Cole Porter’s “It’s De-Lovely” – is very high up on the list, just because of the reaction it garners.
But “Imagine” has consistently been one of my favorites as well. It’s just me, a guitar, and a microphone, with some beautiful background accompaniment by Jim Prosser, FST’s Resident Pianist who also helped write this installment of Laughing Matters. I feel very at home in that kind of setup, because when I’m not in a theatrical production somewhere, I’m usually performing with a guitar in hand at some sort of event. The bonus of it being a parody of The Beatles’ song is just the icing on the cake.
Is there anything that audiences would be surprised to know about you?
I think Sarasota audiences have become accustomed to seeing me make—or attempt to make them—laugh. Most of my work preceding and in between my stints at FST has been in more dramatic or “serious” productions, such as Claude in Hair, who has to decide whether to follow in his friends’ footsteps and dodge the Vietnam draft or serve in the war. I’ve always prided myself in doing work like that, and I’d love to share that side it with FST audiences one day.