Review: Palm Canyon Theatre's SOMETHING ROTTEN Proves a Rose by Any Other Name Never Smelled as Sweet

Production runs through February 25th

By: Feb. 14, 2024
Review: Palm Canyon Theatre's SOMETHING ROTTEN Proves a Rose by Any Other Name Never Smelled as Sweet
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History credits the first modern musical production to the year 1866 and a little-known work called “The Black Crook” that premiered in New York on September 12 of that year.  It was credited as the first play that added dance and original music to help tell the story.  But after seeing Palm Canyon Theatre’s newest production of “Something Rotten”, maybe the historians have it wrong.

Set in the 1590s in oh so jolly ole plague ridden London, brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom are desperate to write a hit play but are stuck in the shadow of that Renaissance rock star known as "The Bard" (all together now, “SHAKESPEARE!”, when you see the show, you’ll get the joke!). When a local soothsayer who shares the name, if not necessarily the skill set, of another famous prognosticator of the future (Nostradamus) 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. But amidst the scandalous excitement of opening night, the Bottom Brothers realize that reaching the top means being true to thine own self, and all that jazz. Filled with more musical theatre and Shakespearean easter eggs than a Costco gift basket, “Something Rotten” stays heavy in the laughter department and challenges you to keep up.

Review: Palm Canyon Theatre's SOMETHING ROTTEN Proves a Rose by Any Other Name Never Smelled as Sweet

Photo by Sonny Von Cleveland

Director / Choreographer Se Layne had quite the task in staying on top of the multiple dance numbers, the ruthless comedic schtick that permeates the script and still keeping the heart of the piece alive.  As a seasoned veteran of countless major musicals, Ms. Layne used a deft hand and innate purpose to her stage choices.  Her dance corps kept the movement lively and tight, something PCT is known for.   Musical Director Chuck Peery had the ensemble sounding strong and the leads elevated.  JW Layne’s set was deceptively complex and another example of why he is one of the pre-eminent technical designers in our desert.  Using unfolding wall and cart units that don’t leave stage to allow for the seamless ability to be outside and inside within moments, coupled with Nick Edwards projections was genius. The perspective painting on the main center stage cart system was a labor of love from a lot of people and it was extremely effective. Costume Designer Derik Shopinski and his team created an Elizabethan universe in costume that was instantly recognizable yet functional under the everyday needs of the denizens of that era and class.

Our heroes, the Bottom Brothers, Nick and Nigel, played here by Ben Reece and Keith Alexander are obscure actors in a minor troupe in London who cannot seem to catch a break.  Nick Bottom is a driven, nothing-is-too-ridiculous everyman who is looking for his big break while being oblivious to the real talent in the room.  Mr. Reece’s portrayal featured strong vocals and a never say die plunge into the unknown, even though that plunge is off a cliff.  He is the straight man to his “brother”, Nigel.  Nigel is a true poet at heart and has the writing chops to prove it, if given a chance.  Mr. Alexander, frankly, was one of my favorite characters in the show.  Affable and loyal, this Nigel is the true hero of the piece.  Mr. Alexander’s quick wit and sharp comedic timing set the pace for the show.  Nick Bottom’s loyal wife is Bea, played with panache by Laurie Holmes.  Willing to do whatever is necessary for her husband (and herself) succeed, this lady of the house is twice the actor her husband it, if women were allowed to be on stage (which in Elizabethan England, they definitely were not).  So, she does the next best thing, becoming a man with fake beard and a no-job-too-small ethic, quickly rising her way up the ranks of a man’s world (and a thorn in her husband’s side). Love-lorn little brother Nigel finds his Juliet in the poetry mad puritanical daughter of the town magistrate, Portia, played here with sweet fire by Phylicia Mason.  Their chemistry together was natively awkward and touching but believable.  Just the touch you want in two sheltered souls finding each other when the world says that cannot be.

Review: Palm Canyon Theatre's SOMETHING ROTTEN Proves a Rose by Any Other Name Never Smelled as Sweet

Photo by Sonny Von Cleveland

Amongst the heroes of “Something Rotten” are some dynamic performances in the supporting roles.  Most notably, Nostradamus (not that one, his brother) played with frenetic frolicsome intensity by Raul Valenzuela pushed the scene energy up to an 11 when he is introduced.  His showstopper “A Musical”, easily the top number in the show, is a roller-coaster ride of Broadway musical references that would put Neil Patrick Harris Tony Award openings to shame.  Cheeky and buoyant, this Nostradamus is a charmer (if a lousy seerer!). David Brooks’ Shylock, the Jewish moneylender with limelight dreams, was a fun addition, though it has a little cringe factor when viewed through a modern lens (not at all the fault of the performer, but rather how it was written. You have to remind yourself this is accurate to the time period portrayed). Mr. Brooks brings a strong character choice that is not a caricature, but someone you cheer for.  The holier-than-thou Brother Jeremiah, played with zeal by Adam Heiter, father to our star-crossed Portia, is hell-fire and damnation on a bun.  The humor here is all his exhortations tend to come out….homoerotic.  Half the fun was that sometimes the character almost realizes it.  Lord Clapham, portrayed by Herb Schultz, is fussy aristocracy incarnate. Marcello Tulipano’s Minstrel brings fine vocals and a wink-and-a-nod to the audience in his “Welcome to the Renaissance” numbers. With a large ensemble who portray a wide world of characters at all points in the show, it is easy for movement to become staid, or over trafficked if one isn’t careful.  This is something that is pretty much avoided here.  The ensemble, about seventeen in count, are far too many to individual name here.  However, they flesh out this existence comfortably and each have their moments of glory. Kudos to the dance ensemble as they tap, shuffle and slide their way through many intensive dance numbers.

Lastly, but definitely not least, is the role of that rock God himself, Stratford-upon-Avon’s favorite son, “The Bard”: Shakespeare.  Channeling an exotic blend of Mick Jagger, Prince and Billy Idol in this role is Eric Stein-Steele.  The bad boy vibe was in neon and the swagger was sex-on-a-stick.  Mr. Stein-Steele’s rock voice and his full immersion in this character stole every scene he was in.  It’s not often anyone gets an opportunity to play such a role, and you can tell her relishes every moment.  I also appreciated his “posse”, matching his black gothic leather esthetic and too cool for the room impressions.

If you are in the mood for “Something” interesting, “Something” funny and “Something” new, get your tickets for this show! “Something Rotten” will run Thursdays at 7:00p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. through Sunday, February 25, 2024. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling (760) 323-5123.

Next up on Palm Canyon Theatre’s 2023-24 season slate:

Sweeney Todd (March 8-24, 2024) An unjustly exiled barber, returns to nineteenth century London, seeking revenge against the judge who framed him. Renaming himself Sweeney Todd, the now-mad man vows revenge, applying his razor to unlucky customers and shuttling the bodies down to Mrs. Lovett’s meat-pie shop. Though many fall to his blade, Todd will not be satisfied until he slits the judge’s throat.

The Boys in the Band (April 12-21, 2024) In his New York City apartment, Michael throws a birthday party for Harold, a self-avowed “thirty-two-year-old, pockmarked, Jew fairy,” complete with a surprise gift: “Cowboy,” a street hustler. As the evening wears on – fueled by drugs and alcohol – bitter, unresolved resentments among the guests come to light when a game of “Truth” goes terribly wrong.

The Light in the Piazza (May 10-19, 2024) Based on the 1960 novella by Elizabeth Spencer, the show is set in the 1950s in Florence, Italy. Margaret Johnson, a wealthy Southern woman, and her daughter Clara, who is developmentally disabled. When Clara falls in love with a young Italian man, Margaret is forced to reconsider not only Clara's future, but her own deep-seated hopes and regrets as well.