BWW Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN! at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall
Something Rotten! is a 2015 musical comedy with a book by John O'Farrell and Karey Kirkpatrick and music and lyrics by brothers Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick. It is staged in the year 1595 and follows the story of brothers Nick and Nigel Bottoms who are struggling to earn a living in the theater. Unfortunately their competition is none other than The Bard himself, William Shakespeare, who on the other hand, is doing quite nicely, thank you very much. Something Rotten! captured 10 Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical, and won Best Featured Actor in a Musical for Christian Borle.
Where do I begin? Let's walk down this road together, shall we? On our journey we will encounter a huge collision at the intersection of Renaissance and Shakespeare, and Broadway and Insanity. Imagine the drama such an impact would make! So many people could be affected - and so many lives changed forever. Like any pileup, you want to look away, but you just can't. Let's take a closer look.
Nick and Nigel Bottoms (Matthew Michael Janisse, Richard Spitaletta) are playwrights in desperate need of a theatrical hit. They find themselves in a competition against William Shakespeare (Matthew Baker) and must come up with a drama that will beat his. Fueled by financial woes and envious of Shakespeare's success, Nigel works diligently to hone in on his best writing skills while brother Nick seeks the advice of a soothsayer, Thomas Nostradamus (Greg Kalafatas) to see what the future of theatre beholds. This is where the madness begins. It becomes an almost Vaudevillian farce - a frolic of debauchery that is cleverly written, borderlines slapstick, and injects references to musicals such as Rent, Les Misérables, Annie, Phantom of the Opera, Hair, Westside Story, etc. etc. etc. (Yes, that was from The King and I).
Unfortunately Thomas Nostradamus, the nephew of THE Nostradamus, didn't always see a clear vision of the future with accuracy. He did see that theatre was headed in a musical direction but thought he also saw ham and Danish somewhere in the plan. And eggs. Maybe a ham omelet. So the birth of Omelette the Musical begins. And more mayhem and hysterics are played out. The Broadway show references used during some of the big song and dance numbers are well placed and well played out. The audience roared with laughter and caught every naughty innuendo and spoof.
Thrown in amongst the pandemonium is a sweet love story between lovelorn brother Nigel and sweet Portia (Jennifer Elizabeth Smith) the daughter of a rather gay Puritan, Brother Jeremiah (Mark Saunders) who flamboyantly declares theatre is of the devil and crusades to close it down, and keep Nigel away from his daughter. We also get to know Nick's confident wife Bea (Emily Kristen Morris) who is a woman ahead of her time in the 1500's. She is strong, independent and has a spunky way of getting things done.
Soon an incognito Shakespeare worms his way into the Bottom brothers' rehearsals for Omelette. Nigel, pens "to thine own self be true," about a Danish man named Hamlet, which is inspired by his love for Portia. Shakespeare recognizes this play as a hit and steals the script. Well, the rest is history, so to speak. We now see where Nostradamus made a tiny mistake in his glimpse of the future. It's Hamlet, not Omelette, silly! And he's a Danish prince. There's not a cheese Danish in sight!
I must state that the cast was collectively energetic and strong in their performances. Standout numbers include "Welcome to the Renaissance", Minstrel (Devin Holloway), "God I Hate Shakespeare", "I Love the Way", It's Eggs", "Make an Omelette", and "To Thin Own Self". Matthew Michael Janisse was awesome as Nick Bottoms. Richard Spitaletta believably portrayed lovesick Nigel Bottoms. Loved the way the play wrote Shakespeare to embody a rock star image and Matthew Baker ran away with the part and milked it for all it was worth. Miss Smith was as cute as a button as Nigel's heartthrob Portia and had the chops to sing her heart out with an always-enthusiastic smile. (Miss) Morris was perfectly cast as Bea, the strong and loving wife of Nick. Mark Saunders as Brother Jeremiah was a hoot as he paraded in and out of his hilarious scenes. Scene stealing Greg Kalafatas as the crazy soothsayer Nostradamus was brilliant.
Tudor-style scenery and inspired period costuming added to the Renaissance look and feel to this Monty Python-ish production. Writers Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrik had a clever field day with everything rowdy, mischievous, disorderly, and a touch of raunchy. Adding to the charm and humor of this show are the constant jokes and innuendos for just about every musical ever made. The show must be exhausting to do. It's fast-paced and comes at you like a rocket. Yet the cast seemed inexhaustible and retained huge grins throughout the entire show. They well deserved the 2 standing ovations generously given by the audience.
And by the way, is it omelet or omelette? I pondered this over my frittata while writing this review. No, really, I did. In fact, if Wayne and Kasey Kirkpatrick are reading, perhaps its time to cook up up a sequel? Frittata the Opera! It could be about an Italian chef named Rigoletto whose brother is the Barber of Seville, and together they compete in a cook-off against Carmen, The Italian Girl in Algiers, and Madame Butterfly to see who will win the title of "Wedding Cake Master" for the Marriage of Figaro. The possibilities are endless! Call me.
For more information on the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and their lineup of upcoming shows and productions visit www.vanwezel.org.