Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN by The Charleston Light Opera Guild

There's Nothing Rotten About Charleston Light Opera Guild's Latest Production

By: May. 04, 2022
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Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN by The Charleston Light Opera Guild

Occasionally a show comes along that ignores all the established rules of what musical theatre is supposed to be and instead opts to poke fun at, well, the theatre itself. Something Rotten, the acclaimed Broadway hit which opened in 2015 and was nominated for ten Tony awards, including Best Musical, is one of those shows. Unapologetically silly and enthusiastically fun, the audience can't help but be charmed by its chaotic joyfulness. Something Rotten is 2.5 hours of hilarity, wrapped up in a tightly performed package led by veterans of the local stage, a magnificent 13 piece orchestra, and incredible sets and costumes. The entire production is so professionally made that one could mistake it for a Broadway touring production rather than the work of a local theatre.

But that's expected when that local theatre is the acclaimed Charleston Light Opera Guild, who has been providing Broadway caliber productions in West Virginia for over 70 years. In Director Nina Pasinetti's capable hands, Something Rotten soars. A love letter to the theatre, Something Rotten is filled to the brim with references to other works, creatively throwing subtle nods to other musicals into nearly every show stopping number. Put simply, Something Rotten is a joy to watch, especially as a theatre fan, although that is not a prerequisite to enjoyment. Nearly everybody will be pulled in by the show's unfettered charm, catchy songs, and increasingly ridiculous set pieces.

As well written and funny as the show may be, it only works on stage if the performers have the talent to bring the show to life. Thankfully this cast, made up of local actors who are nearly all veterans of the WV theatre scene, succeed with aplomb. The acting, singing, and comedic timing from all involved is impressive. Months of hard work went into bringing this production to the stage and it shows in every joke, hilarious song, heartfelt moment, and subtle nod to other works.

Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN by The Charleston Light Opera Guild
Scott Jarrell (Nick) & Austin Muncy (Nigel)

Set in 1595 in South London, Something Rotten tells the story of brothers Nick (Scott Jarrell) and Nigel (Austin Muncy) Bottom, two talented but ultimately unsuccessful bards living in the shadow of Shakespeare's (Jacob Fleck) meteoric rise to fame. Nick, desperate to find inspiration for a hit play before him and his wife Bea (Beth Winkler Bowden) end up desolate and on the streets, decides to take his life savings to a shady alley where he requisitions the aid of a possibly unstable soothsayer named Thomas Nostradamus (Eric B. Hudnall) to help him write the best (worst?) musical in history. Matters are complicated by Brother Jeremiah (Chris Terpening), a Puritan leader convinced that theatre only entices those involved into sin, and his daughter Portia (Christa Navy) who secretly yearns to freely experience art and grabs the attention of young Nigel.

I'd be remiss to explain any more of the plot as watching it unfold is a hilariously exhilarating experience. Surprisingly heartfelt and poignant in-between the hilarity and immaturity, Something Rotten is a rare treat for theatre goers, providing both a thought-provoking story about remaining true to yourself while simultaneously celebrating everything audiences love about the theatre.

Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN by The Charleston Light Opera Guild
Beth Winkler Bowden (Bea) & Scott Jarrell (Nick)

As the increasingly desperate Nick, Jarrell shows that he is capable of tackling lead role duties, both providing moments of heart break and hilarity in equal measure. With a deft sense of comedic timing, Jarrell can make you laugh, cry, and think all within a few minutes. Early in the show he sings, "God, I Hate Shakespeare," lamenting his former acquaintances rise to fame and unbearable conceit, stomping around the stage and mimicking vomiting while the equally impressive theatre troupe ensemble provides laughs as they try to rebuke his stance. It is one of my favorite songs in the show, out of a show full of great songs, and a great way to introduce the character and his motivation. Later, Jarrell is given ample opportunity to showcase his acting and comedic chops as the show becomes progressively sillier and, at the same time, more heartfelt. It's an impressive job by a seasoned local actor.

Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN by The Charleston Light Opera Guild
Jacob Fleck (center) with Ensemble

As the cocky and self-assured Shakespeare, Fleck struts across the stage as if he owns it. He easily pulls off the conceit necessary to make Shakespeare work, while also providing the character with more depth than you'd first believe. Fleck gets to perform the cocky "Will Power", where ladies scream and adoring fans gush over his every word, and the hilarious, yet insightful "Hard to Be the Bard" where Shakespeare laments how hard it is to be loved, in one of the few moments he allows the character's façade to lift, however short-lived. It's a great performance and watching Fleck and Jarrell bounce off each other is a delight.

Equally impressive is Muncy as the eternally optimistic and love struck Nigel, who only wants to allow the poet in him out and write about what he understands, rather than writing solely to compete with Shakespeare's latest outings. Muncy is given multiple opportunities to shine, and shows off both his comedy skills and singing chops, often musing about the shows' central theme, "to thine own self be true."

Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN by The Charleston Light Opera Guild
Christa Navy (Portia) & Chris Terpening (Brother Jeremiah)

Rounding out the main cast are Bowden, Terpening, Hudnall, and Navy. Bowden plays Nick's wife as someone who knows the power of optimism, even in the face of overwhelming odds. From her first appearance where she sings the show stopping "Right Hand Man" up through the end of the show, she remains a force to be reckoned with, helping her husband to understand that he doesn't need to solve his problems alone. Hudnall and Terpening provide many of the most outrageous moments of hilarity, with Hudnall's madcap Nostradamous attempting - and often failing - to provide Nick with accurate details of what the biggest show in theatre will be, instead confusing the themes from tons of plays into one hilarious mixture. Terpening, as the aggressively anti-theatre Puritan leader, commands the stage with his presence, while also simultaneously cracking the audience up with his over-the-top reactions to the situations he walks into. Finally Navy, as a Puritan forbidden to engage in the arts, excels in her moments of giddy glee as her and Nigel's love unfolds and they sneak off to read poetry together. An accomplished singer, Navy has both great comedic timing and the voice to handle some of the sweeter songs in the show.

Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN by The Charleston Light Opera Guild
Scott Jarrell (Nick) & Eric B. Hudnall (Thomas Nostradamus)

Praise must be given to the ensemble as well, who are in nearly every scene and handle songs of all ranges, an acapella moment, multiple dance styles including a few impressive tap numbers, all while acting as supporting characters. This ensemble remains a sheer joy to watch throughout and I found myself darting my eyes across the stage during numbers to keep up with the multiple different dance sequences and funny moments provided by them.

No less important to the show are the outfits and scenery which are gorgeous, looking as if they were pulled straight from the Broadway production. The fantastic dresses and costumes, of which there are so many that I almost felt bad for the performers knowing that the backstage quick changes must be incredibly stressful, are stunning, while the backdrops, which looked hand-painted, are incredible and help sell the setting without the need for an overabundance of set pieces. Similarly impressive is the orchestra, led by John Marshall and accompanist Mary Ellen Logsdon, who provide a perfect backdrop to the talent on stage.

Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN by The Charleston Light Opera Guild

Overall, Something Rotten is theatre at its purist: fun, thought-provoking, heartfelt, and full of bravado performances. Written as a love letter to musical theatre, the show provides 2.5 hours of nonstop laughs, great music, and unexpected surprises. Local theatres have had a rough patch during the pandemic, but thankfully have come back stronger than ever and determined to provide the community with a safe and entertaining excuse for a night out. Please support your local theatres and be sure to catch Something Rotten during one of its last five performances.

Show: Something Rotten

Presented By: Charleston Light Opera Guild
Venue Location: Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center Little Theatre, 200 Civic Center Dr, Charleston, WV 25301

Performance Dates: May 6, 7, 13 and 14 at 7:30 p.m. and May 8 at 2:00 p.m.

Tickets: $25.00 to $30.00 and can be purchased online here or at the venue box office beginning an hour before the show starts.


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