Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN! at Playhouse On The Square

To See or Not To See

By: Aug. 30, 2022
Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN! at Playhouse On The Square

Do you love Shakespeare? Do you love musicals? Do you love both? Well, if you've answered "yes" to any of these questions, SOMETHING ROTTEN! at Playhouse on the Square now through September 18, 2022, might be just for you. Opening on Broadway back in 2015, this musical romp was nominated for 10 Tony Awards and ran for close to two years. Cleverly, not only does it embrace the lovers of Shakespeare and musicals, but it also validates those who hate either genre (or both) as it bemoans the difficulty of the Shakespearean language and/or the ridiculousness of performers randomly breaking out into song or dance at a moment's notice. SOMETHING ROTTEN! is a love poem/song/dance to theatre lovers (haters) everywhere. The story, set in 1595, involves the Bottom Brothers (Nick and Nigel) trying to compete with the "Rock Star" playwright of the time (William Shakespeare) by creating something fresh and new. They summon a soothsayer (Nostradamus) to tell them what the next big thing in theatre will be-he foresees something called a "musical" and away they go. The premise that musicals were invented to compete with Shakespeare is a fun idea, but it's a concept that wears thin the longer it plays out. Under the lofty direction and choreography of Whitney Branan, Playhouse on the Square's production is appropriately silly and entertaining, but due to some miscasting and technical choices, still falls short of being all that it could be.

Written by John O'Farrell and Karey Kirkpatrick, with music and lyrics by Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick, this production has a lot going for it, but just doesn't go far enough. The costume design by Lindsay Schmeling is beautifully appropriate for the Renaissance period and Josh Crawford's sound design offers crisp and clear voices throughout. Mark Guirguis's scenic design is functional while offering a vast array of locales, but disappointingly shows restraint when there are practically no rules in a show like this to be followed. Likewise, Justin Gibson's lighting design does the job, but never really takes advantage of the absurdity of the plot by offering enough fun and surprising lighting effects. In the show's signature, laugh-out-loud number, "A Musical," (which pokes fun of literally twenty different musicals from A CHORUS LINE to THE MUSIC MAN) showstopping scenic or lighting elements that could have swooped in to bowl over the crowd were nowhere to be found. Such numbers (followed closely by "Something Rotten/Make an Omelett" in Act II) beg for spectacle and their absence undermines the strong ensemble dancing for their lives to Brannan's impressive choreography. It's all too safe when ridiculousness is on the platter. The orchestra, under conductor/keyboardist Susan Brindley, is also, unfortunately, under the stage and not able to exude its natural sounds to help energize the room. Playhouse on the Square is a beautiful space and deserves to be filled with unencumbered orchestrations.

Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN! at Playhouse On The Square
John Maness as William Shakespeare

John Maness is a "rock star" playing William Shakespeare as well, a rock star. Reimagining The Bard as the "Elvis of his time" allows Maness to strut, gyrate, and take himself way too seriously. Although he doesn't show up until midway through Act I, Maness takes full advantage of every bombastic chance he gets until the story starts to peter out in Act II and forces him into disguise for a plot point that doesn't really pan out.

Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN! at Playhouse On The Square
Christian Nieves as Nigel Bottom

Christian Nieves is appropriately earnest and charming as Nigel Bottom who recognizes the brilliance of Shakespeare and strives to be taken half as seriously. He nicely balances his relationships with his brother, Nick and his love interest, Portia. Nieves is a highlight.

Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN! at Playhouse On The Square
Mikayla House as Portia

Mikayla House, as the distracted daughter of religious zealot Brother Jeremiah, is a breath of fresh air as she brings a heavenly voice and sweet innocence to the role of Portia.

Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN! at Playhouse On The Square
Lynden Lewis as Bea

Lynden Lewis as Bea (Nick Bottom's wife) offers levity and fun to a woman desperately suggesting the revolutionary opinion that women are just as capable as men. She's a joy to watch.

Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN! at Playhouse On The Square

The ensemble is strong with fine singers and tap dancers scattered throughout. They're obviously having fun, which, in turn, makes them fun to watch. It's one of the strongest ensembles seen on a Playhouse stage in a long time.

Unfortunately, despite their strong abilities as performers, too many leads were miscast and floundered in trying to keep up with their castmates or to maximize the opportunities written on the page.

Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN! at Playhouse On The Square
Dave Landis as Brother Jeremiah

Dave Landis as Brother Jeremiah, the fire and brimstone clergyman trying to keep all evidence of happiness and debauchery (especially his own) squashed, misses the mark in portraying the dissonance between being an overtly effeminate man struggling with his own sexuality and chastising all who might appreciate the joys of the flesh. He plays it repressed, but it's too realistic. In a show like this, more is more. And to borrow from another popular musical, "Keep it gay, keep it gay!"

Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN! at Playhouse On The Square
Jonathan Christian as Nostradamus

Jonathan Christian is a marvelous singer just coming off his successful reprisal of Albin/Zaza in LA CAGE AUX FOLLES at Theatre Memphis this past year, but he's totally miscast as the over-the-top fortune teller, Nostradamus. Christian does his best to keep the character kooky and outlandish, but, like Landis, just doesn't go far enough. Getting to sing the show-stopping number, "A Musical" requires an exorbitant amount of physical brashness and comedic timing that a sad wig (and an even sadder beard) can't match. Here again, more is more.

Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN! at Playhouse On The Square
John Smiley as Nick Bottom

Finally, John Smiley as Nick Bottom, the playwright who is desperate to outdo the greatest playwright of all time simply lacks the charisma or panache to carry a show as big as this. Smiley's naturalistic style and mannerisms are ill-suited to pull off a leading man persona. Yes, Smiley can act, sing, and even tap dance, but, in a spectacle like this, he must be able to match, if not exceed, the talent and pizazz around him.

SOMETHING ROTTEN! is a fun idea that struggles to maintain originality to the end. Poking fun at The Bard and the American Musical at the same time starts to fizzle (instead of sizzle) by Act II as you find yourself watching dancers painfully dressed up as hardboiled eggs (Omelett versus Hamlet) poorly imitating Monty Python while stealing unashamedly from Mel Brooks. There are still enough laughs and theatrical "Easter eggs" to keep you mildly entertained, but don't expect greatness. After all, it ain't Shakespeare.

Photography by Bill Simmers


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From This Author - Kevin Shaw

Kevin grew up performing in the Birmingham, AL community theatre circuit since 1974. After moving to Los Angeles and appearing in a number of theatrical, TV and Film projects, he transitioned to direc... Kevin Shaw">(read more about this author)


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