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Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN! Reeks Of Hilarity At Toby's In Columbia

Delightful contemporary musical hearkens back to a Vegas-style "past" full of familiar tidbits.

Are you mesmerized by musicals? Do you happily hail harpooning? Suspect Shakespeare stole significantly? Delight in dance breaks? Recognize riffs? Can you cope with a crowd? Assuming you've answered affirmatively, get thee to a telephone for tickets to Toby's Dinner Theatre for SOMETHING ROTTEN! before they're unconditionally unavailable!

Welcome to the Renaissance! Toby's Dinner Theater of Columbia consistently delivers comedy for family consumption, and, despite its title, SOMETHING ROTTEN! definitively complies. The formula of a musical isn't my favorite format, but it's perennially popular with the populace. If you like libretto, you'll love it. Nothing serious or sharp- this pseudo-Elizabethan show is safe- sassy, but safe.

Brothers Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick conceptualized this in the '90s, and, 20 years later, with writer John O'Farrell, presented a "treatment" to producer Kevin McCollum and director Casey Nicholaw. Workshopping the show garnered enough positive buzz that the production went straight to a 2015 Broadway opening. It gathered ten Tony nominations and ran nearly two years.

How's the script? It's fine. Look, I'm repulsed by Phantom, whine about Wicked, snark about Seussical, am left cold by Cats, so I'm clearly not a great judge of "popular" shows. SOMETHING ROTTEN! is no SPAMALOT! but it's pretty fun. It's a little bit Shakespeare In Love mixed with The Producers. It technically passes the Bechdel test by way of a short walk-through by Bea and two friends in Act II. Bea, you may correctly guess, is one of the show's two lead female roles. The other is Portia, love interest for Nigel Bottom. SOMETHING ROTTEN! is formulaic, derivative, but funny, packed with references to amuse Broadway lovers and Shakespeare scholars, with four-second musical riffs scattered through the show. I won't outline the plot, but briefly, Shakespeare is a veritable rockstar; a competing theater company struggles to compete.

Director/Choreographer Mark Minnick cleverly compacts a large-scale proscenium production into a small in-the-round setting, and succeeds, delivering larger-than-life scenes practically in the laps of the assembled viewers. Cast members are confident in their roles and onstage relationships, swift transitions keep the pacing snappy. Minnick presents a dazzling display of dancing, boisterous merriment and well-timed laugh-out-loud moments.

Musical Director Ross Scott Rawlings is wonderful as the conductor of the miniature orchestra, and produces clarity from the cast's group vocals as well as beautiful harmonies, particularly in "To Thine Own Self." Trumpeter Mike Barber imptrddrd on brass. Also noteworthy tonight are percussionist Bob LaForce and Katie Ravenwood on woodwinds and reeds.

The acting and vocal chops of Janine Sunday as Bea and her fundamental aptitude for roles full of spit and vinegar suit her donning the many guises required by this role. Bea takes on responsibilities not permitted to Elizabethan women, so perforce pretends to be a man. I mean only praise saying that Ms. Sunday looks swell wearing a beard.

In the role of Nick Bottom is Toby's regular Jeffrey Shankle, a solid performer with excellent diction and vocal range, whose talents you certainly have enjoyed if you've been to Toby's more than once. As Nick's poetic younger brother Nigel, newcomer Ben Ribler debuts at Toby's with a strong area theater pedigree. His "boy ingenue" vibe is convincing, his singing melodious, and he has terrific chemistry with Marina Yiannouris. Yiannouris, performing the other female lead, Portia, infuses her character with Disney-esque enthusiasm and bounciness, with a hint of cocaine-fueled mania.

As Shakespeare, Justin Calhoun is greasily vainglorious, swanning around the stage in snug leatherette trousers and jacket, asiding in direct address, (structurally referencing HAMLET), flinging his floppy hair around like a boyband superstar. He's quite cheeky, as are the similarly garbed Bard Boys, played by Brandon Bedore, Ariel Messeca, Vince Musgrave and Patrick Gover. Adam Grabau is exceptionally funny in the more buttoned-up role of Brother Jeremiah.

In the role of Soothsayer, Jordan B. Stocksdale is delightful, surprising and has possibly the most expressive hands I've ever seen. He's captivating to watch, with an array of vocal intonations to make the most of every one of his lines, spoken and sung, and has terrific 'out of body' movements.

Costume purists, abandon your puritanism. Though the costumes for SOMETHING ROTTEN! look splendid, accuracy is out. They're a sumptuous pastiche of Elizabethan -meets- Vegas aesthetic, designed by Gregg Barnes and supplied courtesy of MTI Shows, along with other show-specific items referred to as "authorized performance materials;" self-evident when you see them.

The Toby's buffet is well prepared, flavorful and attractive to the eye. I adore the carrots. SOMETHING ROTTEN's special drink of the evening is called Bottom's Up, and has an egg gummy in it, for thematic reasons. The gummy is too large to eat comfortably, JSYK.

Designed for fans of musicals, SOMETHING ROTTEN! is a farthingdale full of fun. There's plenty here for musical theater nerds, and references and quotations abound around the Bard. It's lighthearted, full of color and movement. If your family likes Shakespeare, Broadway or movie musicals, the kids will like it, the grands will like it and you will like it. SOMETHING ROTTEN! is heroic Bard-busting popcorny entertainment at Toby's, and a super tasty treat.

Photo: Shakespeare and the Bard Boys: Justin Calhoun, Center; L to R, Vince Musgrave, Patrick Gover, Ariel Messeca, Brandon Bedore

Photo Credit: Jeri Tidwell Photography

SOMETHING ROTTEN! runs about two hours, including a 20ish minute intermission. It plays at Toby's through March 19, 2023 . Next, GREASE opens March 24th, 2023 and plays through June 11th.

Toby's Dinner Theatre is in Columbia, Maryland. Free parking in the lot around the building.

Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, MD 21044

Additional information available at www.tobysdinnertheatre.com.

For tickets, phone the box office at 410-730-8311 from 10 AM - 8 PM. Ticket prices: $60-79

Tuesday - Saturday evenings: dinner 6:00 PM; 8 PM showtime. Wednesday and Sunday Matinees: brunch buffet 10:00 AM; 12:30 PM show. Sunday supper: 5:00 PM; 7 PM showtime.



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