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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Something Rotten!’ something sensational in De Pere

Critic At Large

Birder Players

Final bows of Birder Players’ production of “Something Rotten!” on opening night June 2, 2021. (Warren Gerds)

DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV) – Like a dam bursting, “Something Rotten!” opened Wednesday night in Broadway Theatre. Birder Players caused the GUSH.

Live theater!

Energized theater!

Elevated theater!

An excitement to experience?

Holy cow, yeah!

“Yes, it has been 15 months of something rotten,” producer/director Alicia Birder says in her director’s notes, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What happened was a performance and audience response of full-on release. Big applause and cheers greeted song after song by the skilled and inspired players all the way through the silly, smart and sassy show.

“Alliteration – I like that,” William Shakespeare says in the show that traces back to him.

The setup: It’s 1595, and the theatrical Bottom brothers are trying to upstage The Bard but a faulty soothsayer leads them to create the loopy “Omelette” instead of the profound “Hamlet.”

Double entendre meanings are sprinkled like pepper on a real omelette.

The show has leading characters, but important characters abound, and performances in this production fill the bill all around. Alicia Birder has the expertise to unleash the show as an event.

Flash and zest fill sights and songs, performed with a soundtrack. Wednesday, many songs were showstoppers thanks to the super-eager audience.

Early, everything moves in rhythm with zippy, dynamic dancing – a lot of tap dancing – setting the pace.

The song “A Musical” is extremely jolly and clever as is begins what is the gist of “Something Rotten!” – a massive tease of musicals. The zowie song is the show’s reason to be.

In ways, what happens has the feel of a cabaret caper taken to the extreme. It seems every major musical is name-dropped somewhere for an easy chuckle – costumed characters from “The Sound of Music,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “The Phantom Opera” rubbing elbows at one point.

The real Shakespeare takes it on the chin a bit. His persona is depicted as that of a rock star, complete with the mannerisms of a loving-himself object of idolatry. This Shakespeare is tortured by the demands of greatness, which leads him into the temptations to steal other people’s ideas.

The plot of “Something Rotten!” is as dense as a Shakespearean play. Characters are of 1595 London – streets befouled and crude – with prominent males dressed with a prominence. Stuff of history is in the story – Shylock being an important source – though plenty of “history” is fudged because in the end this is an entertainment.

Costuming is as vivid as the characterizations in this story: Between the Bottom brothers, Nick (D Eric Woolweber) craves fame. Nigel (Jacob John Bressers) is a natural creative talent. As the wannabe, Nick steals from the family savings to hire a soothsayer, Nostradamus (Chad Lemerande). Nick’s wife, Bea (Mary Delaney), sacrifices much for the sake of her man. Nigel bumps into and falls in love with Portia (Ana Lissa Bakken), a young Puritan woman who inspires poetry from him. Enter Shakespeare (Zeb Metzler), proud owner of an ego the size of a stadium filled with ecstatic fans.

D Eric Woolweber, a ringer from the field of pros, is surrounded by fired-up skill players from the local scene. The ensemble is loaded with nuances, too. It’s a wondrous cast.

A dance during the final bows. (Warren Gerds)

This and that:

+ Broadway Theatre in normal times holds 154. That’s reduced to a capacity of 124.

+ The cast is vaccinated. A few people in the audience work masks Wednesday night. Most didn’t.

+ The performers wear wireless headsets.

+ The performance is up close and personal, Broadway Theater being cozy.

+ Given the size of the performance space and what lies behind it, scene and costume changes and movements required are something of a marvel of logistics.

+ Dancing eggs. The show has tap-dancing eggs in shells in “Make an Omelette.” And then out to tap dance some more are the cooked omelettes. The scene is just part of the costuming creativity.

+ The show has the feel of the smart alecks in the back of the class making unfiltered fun of everything the teacher says and having everybody around them giggle. You can almost hear li’l ol’ Miss Portence saying, “What’s going on back there?”

***

Running time: Two hours, 45 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. June 3, 4, 5; 2 p.m. June 6; 7:30 p.m. June 8, 10, 11; 2 and 7:30 p.m. June 12; and 2 p.m. June 13

Info: birderonbroadway.org

Creative: Book – Karey Kirkpatrick, John O’Farrell; music and lyrics – Karey Kirkpatrick, Wayne Kirkpatrick; producer, director – Alicia Birder; music director – Chad Lemerande; choreographer – Anna Allen; fight director – Greg Pragel; lighting design – Jeffrey James Frelich Jr.; sound design – Chloe Ledvina; set design – Warren Elliott; stage manager – Frank Tower; assistant stage manager – Jenna Peterson; scenic artist – Susan Elliott; sound recorder – Chris Gabryszek; sound crew – Betsy Sorenson; stage hand – Randi Groff; set build – Warren Elliott, Jack Rhyner, Bill Sands, Mike Gregare, Jim Sanders, Warren Schultz; props – Alicia Birder, Susan Elliott, Warren Elliott, Sandy Melroy, D Eric Woolweber; wardrobe design – Ruth Novak, Judy Patefield; egg costume design – Lynn Thompson, Janet Ajango; costume crew – Janet Ajango, Sandy Melroy, Ruth Novak, Judy Patefield, Lynn Thompson; marketing director – Ana Lissa Bakken, costume dressers – Janet Ajango, Dawn Byrne, Bob Hileman, Jeanne Gussert, Ruth Novak, Judy Patefield, Lynn Thompson, Mikaela Torbenson

Cast:

Shakespeare – Zeb Metzler

Nick Bottom – D Eric Woolweber

Nigel Bottom – Jacob John Bressers

Bea, Ensemble – Mary Delaney

Portia, Ensemble – Ana Lissa Bakken

Nostradamus – Chad Lemerande

Brother Jeremiah, Ensemble – Kirt Graves

Lord Clapham, Ensemble – Keith Pratt

Shylock, Ensemble – Jeremy Pelegrin

Peter Quince – Brian Murray

Minstrel – Bucky Marklein

Robin – Bryce Van Vreede

Helena – Anna Allen

Tom Snout – Michael Jacobs

Woman 1 – Ann Preiss Gray

Snug – Brian Murray

Ensemble – Anna Allen, Elise Gerondale, Randi Groff, Ritter Jackson, Michael Jacobs, Lindsey Lyerly, Bucky Marklein, Brian Murray, Bree Patzke, Ann Preiss Gray

***

Musical numbers

Act I

“Welcome to the Renaissance” – Minstrel, Brother Jeremiah, Ensemble

“God, I Hate Shakespeare” – Nick, Nigel, Ensemble

“Right Hand Man” – Bea, Nick, Nigel

“God, I Hate Shakespeare” (Reprise) – Nick

“A Musical” – Nostradamus, Nick, Ensemble

“A Musical” (tag) – Nick, Nostradamus

“The Black Death” – Nick, Nigel, Ensemble

“I Love the Way” – Portia, Nigel

“Will Power” – Shakespeare, Nigel, Portia, Ensemble

“Shakespeare’s After Party” – Ensemble

“Bottom’s Gonna Be on Top” – Nick, Nigel, Bea, Shylock, Shakespeare, Ensemble

Act II

“Welcome to the Renaissance” (Reprise) – Minstrel

“Hard to Be the Bard” – Shakespeare, Ensemble

“It’s Eggs!” – Nick, Ensemble

“We See the Light” – Portia, Nigel, Brother Jeremiah, Ensemble

“To Thine Own Self Be True” – Nigel, Ensemble

“Right Hand Man” (Reprise) – Bea

“Something Rotten!” – Nick, Nostradamus, Shakespeare, Ensemble

“Make an Omelette” – Nick and Company

“To Thine Own Self (Reprise)” – Nick, Nigel

“Shakespeare in Court” – Ensemble

“Welcome to America” – Nick, Nigel, Bea, Portia, Ensemble

***

THE VENUE: For this production, Broadway Theatre is a 124-seat facility. The 3,000-square-foot theater is located at 123 S. Broadway on the east side of the Fox River in De Pere. The building started life as the Majestic Theatre sometime around 1930. The space is essentially a “black box” performance space that is adjusted to the needs of a specific production. The rectangular space includes a high, arcing ceiling consisting primarily of its original patterned tin, painted white, and a laminate dark brown floor. The stage is set on a long leg of the space. Seating is on movable seats on risers. The stage has an angled front with three steps to the top surface. The stage is painted blue, with speckles. Performances can spill from the stage onto the main level of the seating area, so action is close. The theater is the home for performances and rehearsals of the youth Birder Studio of Performing Arts and adult Birder Players, and it is another option for other endeavors of entertainment.

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