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BWW Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN! at JCC Centerstage Theatre

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Now playing at the Dawn Lipson Canalside stage until July 18th.

BWW Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN! at JCC Centerstage Theatre

After nearly 16 months without setting foot in a physical performance venue, it was such a thrill to return to the "theatre" this past weekend to enjoy an afternoon of Shakespeare-inspired absurdity, laughing and applauding in the company of *gasp* other human beings. No, it wasn't technically the Centerstage Theatre that we're used to; the show took place under the "Dawn Lipson Canalside Stage", a large covered tent being utilized by the JCC and other community arts organizations until this fall, when most theatre and performing arts companies in Rochester will be returning to full in-person performances. Yes the Sunday matinee performance I attended was rainy and overcast, but it was the perfect weather for a musical taking place during 16th century England, adding a distinctly British flair that no tech crew could ever recreate indoors. Something Rotten!, one of the great musical comedies of the last 20 years, was the perfect antidote to a theatre-less year in which surely we were all growing tired of Zoom play readings and what icon Tracy Letts lovingly referred to as "computer theatre" in a recent New York Times interview.

Something Rotten! is the JCC's "Summerstage" production, an annual tradition in which the JCC mounts a musical comprised entirely of local students and college theatre majors. Something Rotten! is a musical comedy with book by John O'Farrell and Karey Kirkpatrick and music and lyrics by Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick. Set in the 1590s, brothers Nick (Henry Elliot) and Nigel (Jacob French) Bottom are desperate to write a hit play but are stuck in the shadow of that Renaissance rock star known as "The Bard" (Enoch Cray). When a local soothsayer (Harry Franklin) foretells that the future of theatre involves singing, dancing and acting at the same time, Nick and Nigel set out to write the world's very first musical.

I look forward to these summer youth productions each year (Blackfriars Theatre has a program similar to Summerstage) because I'm always astounded at the treasure trove of talented young performers right here in Rochester. This production of Something Rotten! was no exception, as it features an amazingly talented cast, a beautiful set, and absolute nonstop laughter (seriously, at one point I was concerned the women sitting next to me might keel over).

Acting standouts include Riley McGeary (Bea, wife of Nick Bottom), who has precision comedic timing and a knockout voice (her "Right Hand Man" was as good as the original Broadway recording); Henry Elliot, a triple-threat who likewise has great comedic timing and a natural stage presence; and Enoch Cray, whose interpretation of Shakespeare was a brilliant sort of rock star-meets-Ru Paul mashup.

Oddly, the aspect of this production that sticks with me the most, as I write this review two days after seeing the show, was how unbelievably nimble the cast was at adapting in real-time to technical difficulties. At separate times throughout the show both Nick Bottom (Henry Elliot)'s and Shakespeare (Enoch Cray)'s mics were completely non-functional, requiring a member of tech crew to zoom past the stage and toss handheld mics to these performers to use until their hands-free mics could be fixed backstage. They immediately and effortlessly incorporated handheld mics into their performances without missing a beat, laughing off a hiccup that lesser performers would have stumbled over. Almost no musical production, professional or otherwise, is ever without some technical glitch, but adapting to them that seamlessly is the mark of a truly gifted performer.

JCC's Something Rotten! is as funny as any production of the show that I've seen (if memory serves I believe this was my 3rd time seeing it), and if you're as starved as I was for live in-person theatre, you can do no better than this wonderfully hysterical production. It's playing at the Dawn Lipson Canalside stage until July 18th, for tickets and more info click here.


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