Review: The Stratford Festival's SOMETHING ROTTEN Has Something for Everyone

This Hilarious Musical Comedy is Sure to be a Hit

By: May. 29, 2024
Review: The Stratford Festival's SOMETHING ROTTEN Has Something for Everyone
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When it was announced last fall that the Stratford Festival would be mounting a production of SOMETHING ROTTEN with Director/Choreographer Donna Feore at the helm, it immediately made perfect sense. A show set in Elizabethan times that sends up Shakespeare and Musicals alike, with the Bard himself as a character – is instantly made funnier and more meta when it takes place on the Festival Theatre stage. This stellar cast fires on all cylinders in a show that simultaneously celebrates and pokes fun at the performances audiences have come to know and love on this very stage.

Written by Karey Kirkpatrick, Wayne Kirkpatrick, and John O’Farrell, SOMETHING ROTTEN premiered on Broadway in 2015. It tells the story of brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom - Elizabethan playwrights writing in the shadow of superstar Bard Will Shakespeare (have you heard of him?). Shy and awkward Nigel has a way with words, while Nick is the more outgoing, ambitious, and opinionated of the two. Nick also has an axe to grind with Shakespeare, who made it big after Nick ousted him from his acting troupe and encouraged him focus on his writing. To gain notoriety and make money for rent, Nick risks his and his wife Bea’s savings to hire a sketchy soothsayer to tell him what he needs to do to write the next big hit. The answer: Musical Theatre of course. What follows are giant production numbers, a dizzying number of clever musical theatre and Shakespeare references, and a show with a really big heart.

As Nick Bottom, Mark Uhre shines. Nick's over the top detestation for Shakespeare is endearing, and his insistence in following through with questionable ideas for musicals gives us instant earworms like The Black Death. With a powerhouse singing voice and superb comedic chops, Uhre simply devours this role. As Nick’s incredibly patient and understanding wife, Bea, Starr Domingue is utterly charming. Her song Right Hand Man is in my opinion an underrated number in the American Musical Theatre repertoire and she sings it beautifully. Also charming is Henry Firmston as young, earnest, Nigel. He and Uhre play off each other well as brothers and his innocent romance with the also delightful Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane as Portia, is silly and sweet.

Jeff Lillico is a scene stealer as The Bard, and I’m beginning to wonder if Dan Chameroy has it in his contract somewhere that he will only appear in a Stratford Festival production if he gets to make a memorable and hilarious mid-show entrance. As the soothsayer Thomas Nostradamus (the nephew of the one you’re thinking of), Chameroy immediately has the audience in stitches.

Every performance is stellar, but I do want to take the opportunity to celebrate the unbelievably talented ensemble of this show. The magic that transpires when this talented collection of humans meets Donna Feore’s choreography is not foreign to this stage, but it takes my breath away every time. There are so many excellent dance moments that allow these fantastic performers to show what all they can do, and they deserved every second of the two extended standing ovations they received on the show’s opening night.

The nostalgia and delight of rapid fire musical theatre references (not just in lines and lyrics but also in the score itself) is already incredibly satisfying, but when costumes from previous Stratford Festival musical productions suddently appeared (on the people who originally wore them no less), this writer actually became emotional. What a wonderful way for Feore to celebrate the musical theatre excellence she has brought to this stage over the years.

Speaking of costumes, Michael Gianfrancesco has outdone himself bringing us both stunning, colourful Renaissance attire, and well as wacky unexpected costumes in Act II. There must be hundreds of costumes and costume pieces in this production and there are multiple quick changes throughout. This show would simply not be possible without the oft unsung heroes of musical theatre - Wardrobe Head John Bynum and Wardrobe Attendants Kim Cunik, Sheila Filshie, Cvetka Fujs, Tracy Fulton, Brigitte Nazar, Sherri Neeb, Heather Ward, and Swing, Janeena Morris.

This hilarious, high energy musical comedy truly offers something for every theatregoer – even those who have perhaps been reluctant to see something at the Stratford Festival in the past. It playfully jabs at some folks’ perceptions of the inaccessibility of Shakespeare as well as the most common critiques about musical theatre (ie why are they singing?).

Something unique about the Stratford Festival is that it simultaneously mounts classic Shakespearean productions and big, flashy musicals. Over the years, there has been much discourse about balancing the two, the idea of doing something for art vs profit, etc. As silly as this show is, it actually very artfully tackles that discourse and provides a clear answer about the kind of theatre that is important. The answer is all of it.

SOMETHING ROTTEN continues in Repertory at the Festival Theatre until October 27th.

PHOTO CREDIT: Ann Baggley




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