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BWW Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN at The Phoenix Theatre Company

You can hate Shakespeare too through June 19 at Phoenix Theatre

BWW Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN at The Phoenix Theatre Company

The cast, this writer, and audiences have been waiting 2 years and 2 months for this production of Something Rotten!

Rehearsals were in full swing when the pandemic shut the production down, but the cast has been practicing and perfecting and it shows. I admit that Something Rotten! is one of my favorite shows.

The writing is brilliant, the music is clever and memorable, and there is no shortage of incredible characters that can be played by any actor. While being stomach ache funny, the show is also poignant and sincere. This show is for lovers of musical theater (pay attention for the easter eggs, you see what I did?) and even more fun for people who love Shakespeare...or hate him; it can go either way.

Something Rotten! tells the story of Nick and Nigel Bottom, brothers who are attempting to write a hit play. It seems that everything is overshadowed by the brilliance of Shakespeare and Nick has mounting pressure to provide for his family.

Nick seeks the help of a soothsayer to discover what the next big thing in theater will be. The premise is unique while also being completely self-aware at how ridiculous some theater and musicals can be. I am a fan of Karey Kirkpatrick (Bookwriter and Composer) and Wayne Kirkpatrick's (Composer) work and hope this production will reward them some new fans.

First and foremost, the ensemble is phenomenal. Something Rotten! would be an epic failure without a solid ensemble. The ensemble is full of fantastic dancers and actors and you can tell that they are having a great time.

I was especially impressed with the male ensemble choral numbers. I have never heard more solid harmonizing and I saw the original cast on Broadway. Something Rotten! also features a lot of tap dancing and this ensemble annihilates the floor with their energy and panache. If I could give an award to the best ensemble I have ever seen, this show would win it.

The costumes are equally impressive. The fabrics are colorful, but allow the cast to move as they need. Designed by Maci Hosler, the costumes put you in the 1580s but also have a modern flair. The set. THE SET.

The pieces move so effortlessly that there was not one lull during a scene change. Most of the scene changes happened in the background as the action continued which is a sign of excellent directing (shout out to Kathy Fitzgerald). The set MUST be seen to be enjoyed and believed. Aaron Jackson knocked it out of the park.

The compliments continue with the band, led by Musical Director, Jeff Kennedy, and they didn't miss a note. The music in Something Rotten! is deceiving because it sounds so simple, but the band has a difficult job, especially when layering in all the inspiration from years of theater. From the overture to the final bow, the band kept the energy alive and helped bring the show to life.

This show is extra special because the choreographer, Eric Sciotto, was in the original cast. He was a featured ensemble member and then took over the role of Shakespeare. The choreography in this show is spectacular. The cast is skilled technically, but there is heart behind it, too. It is clear that Sciotto loves the show and that love is displayed in his inventive and distinct choreography.

I was disappointed in the sound the night I saw the show. The microphones cut out several times and because the audience is laughing so loud, it was difficult to hear what was happening. I hope the sound improves as the run continues because you don't want to miss anything.

Now, to the leads. If you thought I was gushing before, get ready for more gushing. Something Rotten! may look like any other good time musical, but these characters have depth and relatable problems. As Portia, Sarah Julia Ambrose, allows Portia's complicated nature to shine. The daughter of a preacher who loves poetry, Portia has been stifled her whole life. Ambrose plays Portia with sincerity and poise, but also gives Portia the space to grow. Portia is the typical ingénue, love interest, but Ambrose gives her so much more than that trope.

Matravius Avent plays Nigel Bottom, a nervous, self-deprecating, genius who wants to help his brother and possibly find love. Avent has natural chemistry with his cohorts and he ensures the audience understands Nigel so they can see his growth. Nigel is not a coward, though he may appear so outwardly, but he will fight for what is right because his character is strong. Avent clearly understands this and Nigel is safe in his care.

Tony Blosser appears as several distinct characters: Lord Clapham, Shylock, and the Master of Justice. Every time he appears on stage, he's a delight. Lord Clapham is perfectly ridiculous, Shylock has an impeccable accent, and the Master of Justice is an innocent bystander to awesomeness. It is difficult to successfully play more than one character, but Blosser is a pro and it shows.

Hayley Cassity is Bea, the supportive and long-suffering wife of Nick. Cassity is energetic and fun to watch. Bea is not shy about anything and Cassity gives Bea the spunk the character requires. She has a lovely singing voice, as does the whole cast. Belting out "Right Hand Man" is no small feat and Cassity nails it.

One of my favorite characters is Robin. He is a member of Nick and Nigel's acting troupe and Alex Crossland plays him so well. Part of the reason Something Rotten! is such a successful show is that it allows the actors to make the part their own. The framework is set, but the actor gets to choose who the character is and how they interact with the other players. Robin is memorable and refreshingly hilarious.

As the Minstrel, Jonathan Duvelson sings the part with excellence. As the narrator who opens both acts, the Minstrel prepares the audience for the action they will witness. The Minstrel is funny, sassy, and entertaining. Duvelson appears in the ensemble as well and he is so fun to watch.

Kathy Fitzgerald plays Nostradamus, the soothsayer, and she also directed this production. Fitzgerald has great comedic timing and her performance of "It's a Musical" is not to be missed. As director, Fitzgerald allows the cast to use the space and explore who their characters are which makes the show relatable. Directing and performing in the same show is no small feat and I wish I had a cast recording to play over and over again. I have heard it said that being in a musical is so much easier than being in as straight play because when you run out of things to say, you have a musical number. Something Rotten! proves this is not true. In order for this show to be successful, the actors have to understand their character or the songs don't make sense. It is clear that Fitzgerald gave the actors space to explore and learn so that the show feels authentic despite its satirical facade.

As Nick Bottom, Jonathan Shew is superb. My only criticism is that he didn't do his own tap, but since I can't tap, I can't really fault him for that. Shew shares great chemistry with his costars and sings the crap out of all the songs. "Bottom's Gonna Be on Top" is one of my favorite songs from any show ever and Shew commands it. He is funny. He is sincere. He lets Nick fail. He is Bottom.

D. Scott Withers steals the show as Brother Jeremiah. I have so many positive things to say about the show as a whole, but Brother Jeremiah is a complicated man who brings immediate and necessary laughter to the show. Withers embraces the character and without a doubt earned the laughter he created. I truly hope everyone gets to see him in action. Withers created such a nuanced character that I yearn to see the show again to ensure I fully grasped the depth of Brother Jeremiah. He is meant to be comedic relief, absolutely, but there is more to Brother Jeremiah than meets the eye.

What to say about Shakespeare. Hilarious, spontaneous, energetic, talented, over-the-top amazing. Toby Yatso is all this and more. Shakespeare is meant to be ridiculous and narcissistic, but you can't take your eyes off Yatso any time he's on stage. "Hard to be the Bard" is a master class in comedy. It isn't hard to imagine Shakespeare as a literal rock star thanks to Yatso's characterization.

The moral of the story is, run to see Something Rotten! Then, tell your friends to see Something Rotten! I promise you will not be disappointed. When you have seen it, message me and we'll talk about how brilliant it is. Something Rotten! is playing at Phoenix Theatre on the Mainstage through June 19. You can get tickets HERE.

Photo Credit: Reg Madison

Creative Team:

Kathy Fitzgerald - Director/Musical Staging

Jeff Kennedy - Musical Director

Eric Sciotto - Choreographer

Dave Temby - Sound Designer

Aaron Jackson - Scenic Designer

Daniel Davisson - Lighting Designer

Maci Hosler - Costumer Designer

Sarah Harris - Properties Master

Kara Frederick - Director of Production

Tyler Welden - Company Manager/Associate Production Manager

Samantha Monson - Stage Manager

Katherine Roll Lang - Assistant Stage Manager



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