They say that behind every great man is a great woman. In Something Rotten!, FST’s Mainstage Series opener, Bea Bottom is the “great woman” behind her husband, Nick Bottom—a playwright in Elizabethan England who can’t seem to get out from under the shadow of the Renaissance rock star known as “The Bard.” Jillian Louis plays the dogged and determined Bea in FST’s production of the ten-time Tony Award nominated musical.
We sat down with Jillian to talk about her previous experiences playing bold female characters, how she connects with her character, and what she loves about being back in Sarasota.
You have a lot of experience playing strong female leads, such as Sally Bowles in Cabaret and Judy in 9 to 5. How have these experiences helped you dive into the role of Bea?
I definitely learn something from every character I play and take their pearls of wisdom with me like little souvenirs. With 9 to 5, Judy’s wonderful journey to self-actualization and the way the music supports her finally speaking—and belting—her truth was a deeply empowering journey every night. And Sally Bowles is a hurricane—ferocious, conniving, a brilliant manipulator, an empath, a narcissist, an entertainer, a villain, and a deeply damaged and problematic survivor.
I bring my own strength to every female-identifying character I play, because I think it’s important for audiences to see a well-rounded, human representation onstage that offsets stereotypes like the “Damsel in Distress.” Bea is no exception! She’s witty, fun, funny, curious, kind, warm, and smart. She truly adores her family and wants to earn a living to help them thrive. Her big song, “Right Hand Man,” supports her journey wonderfully. She gets to belt out her greatest desire right out of the gate, and then use those words and melody to help turn the central conflict of the show around later. Bea is awesome and I really enjoy playing her.
Something Rotten! is not your first production at FST. You also starred in the 2017 Summer Mainstage, Burt & Me. What have you most enjoyed about being back in Sarasota?
This might sound silly, but I was really looking forward to sitting at O’Leary’s with my dog and watching the sunset. It did not disappoint!
How would you describe your character in Something Rotten!, Bea? In what ways are you similar?
Bea and I are quite similar in that we are both roll-up-your-sleeves, bring-your-lunch-pail-to-work, no-job-is-too-dirty kinda gals. We are both very very devoted to our loved ones, willing to go to any length to help, and resourceful — for instance while working here at FST I’m also teaching and working a tech support job. Bea and I are both ready to do whatever we need to to make our own and our loved ones’ dreams come true.
What is something audiences might be surprised to know about you?
I’m obsessed with folk music of all eras. I play a bunch of fretted instruments and am slowly working on putting out an album.
You’ve not only performed onstage in musicals and plays, but you’ve done solo shows and Cabarets at well-known venues like 54Below and Bryant Park. What were those experiences like?
A solo show is a really trippy experience. It’s just you and your Musical Director/Pianist/Band up there, so there’s nowhere to hide when anything goes either beautifully or horridly. I love sharing very deeply with an audience and I’m always up for an adventure, so for me it was always a great experience. Singing in Bryant Park is incredible—the audience is enormous, enthusiastic, and vocal. Singing there was such a privilege, and free events like that one are the most important kinds of work we can do as artists.
What do you hope audiences will take away from seeing Something Rotten!?
Hopefully, the audience has some fun and enjoys all the references to both classical text and musical theatre. I hope that they connect with the heartfelt story of family and devotion to art and life, and goes home humming a tune or two. My takeaway the first time I saw the show was that I really, really, really wanted an omelet!
Due to audience demand, Something Rotten! has been extended and is now playing through January 8, 2023.