Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Something Rotten!’ Spoofs Shakespeare and Musicals Galore

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The story of “Something Rotten!” in one number and 25 words: In 1595, two theatrical brothers try to upstage William Shakespeare, but a faulty soothsayer leads them to create the ditzy “Omelette” rather than the profound “Hamlet.”

A full menu of musical-theater comedy color gushes from the touring production playing to Sunday, Oct. 28, at Fox Cities Performing Arts Center.

The energized cast taps into the fun.

The piece has a lot of flash and zest.

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

Early on, everything moves in rhythm.

Sprinkled throughout is zippy, dynamic dancing. In one sequence, as two characters speak rhythmically, their feet do the same.

In ways, the venture has the feel of a cabaret caper taken to the extreme. It seems every major musical is name-dropped somewhere for an easy chuckle.

William Shakespeare is a character. The real Shakespeare kind of takes it on the chin. His persona in this show is that of a rock star, complete with mannerisms of a full-of-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.

“Something Rotten!” is not a primer on Shakespeare, but the show is loaded with references to his plays and characters. The show title is from a line in “Hamlet.” A main character offers an impassioned, vivid summation of what makes “Hamlet” tick.

The plot of “Something Rotten” is as dense as a Shakespearean play. Characters are of 1595 London, dressed in the era with practically every male wearing top-quality custom boots. Stuff of history is in the story, though plenty of “history” is fudged because in the end this is an entertainment.

Matthew Michael Janisse and Richard Spitaletta are spot on as the brothers, Nick Bottom and Nigel Bottom, respectively. Nick craves fame. Nigel is a natural creative talent. As the wannabe, Nick steals from the family savings to hire a soothsayer, Thomas Nostradamus (Greg Kalafatas, who is over-the-top nifty). Nick’s wife, Bea (Emily Kristen Morris) sacrifices much for the sake of her man. Nick bumps into and falls in love with Portia (Jennifer Elizabeth Smith), a young Puritan woman who inspires poetry from him. Morris and Smith are lovely singers. As Shakespeare, Matthew Baker has a lot of pizzazz – Will power, as a super-splashy song says.

“Something Rotten!” received 11 Tony Award nominations on Broadway. It won one, though that was for an actor. Creative honors eluded the show, probably because it dices Shakespeare on its way to developing a tone of know-it-all, all-for-fun sassy guys in the back of the class and its shotgun style with names. It’s like an encyclopedia of music theater drops on the floor and all the titles and characters pour out.

Mostly, “Something Rotten!” is a merry experience. It sweeps through musical styles of today and unloads bundles of comedy with a company that is infectiously enjoyable.

***

Creative: Book – Karey Kirkpatrick, John O’Farrell; music and lyrics – Karey Kirkpatrick, Wayne Kirkpatrick; director and choreographer – Casey Nicholaw; scenic design – Scott Pask; costume design – Gregg Barnes; lighting design – Jeff Croiter; sound design – Peter Hylenski; hair design – Josh Marquette; make-up design – Milagros Medina-Cerdeira

Cast (in order of appearance): Minstrel – Devin Holloway; Brother Jeremiah – Mark Saunders; Portia – Jennifer Elizabeth Smith; Shakespeare – Matthew Baker; Nick Bottom – Matthew Michael Janisse; Nigel Bottom – Richard Spitaletta; Francis Flute – Brian Cowing; Peter Quince – Drew Arisco; Tom Snout – Tim Fuchs; Yorick – Nick Pankuch; Robin – Robert Head; Snug – Devin Holloway; Lord Clapham – Peter Surace; Shylock – Peter Surace; Bea – Emily Kristen Morris; Eyepatch Man – Peter Surace; Nostradamus – Greg Kalafatas; Shakespeare’s Valet – Nick Pankuch; Will Power Backup Boys – Zachary Bigelow, Tim Fuchs, Julian Burzynski Jr.; Chef Trio – Zachary Bigelow, Devin Holloway, Nick Pankuch; Master of the Justice – Brian Cowing; Ensemble – Drew Arisco, Abby Bartish, Emma Benson, Zachary Bigelow, Julian Burzynski Jr., Brian Cowing, Tim Fuchs, Robert Head, Devin Holloway, Keeley Anne McCormick, Nick Pankuch, Avenna Sawyer, Allison C. Scott, Peter Surace, Dorsey Ziller

Orchestra: Music director, keyboard 1 – Matthew Croft; associate music director, keyboard 2 – Sarah Pool; bass – Crissy Martinez; reeds – Michael Witsberger; drums/percussion – Jesse-Ray Leich

Running time: Two hours, 37 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 24, 25, 26; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Oct. 27; 1:30 and 6:30 p.m. Oct. 28

Info: foxcitiespac.com

***

Musical numbers

Act I

“Welcome to the Renaissance” – Minstrel and Company

“God, I Hate Shakespeare” – Nick, Nigel, The Troupe

“Right Hand Man” – Bea, Nick

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

“A Musical” – Nostradamus, Nick, Ensemble

“The Black Death” – The Troupe

“I Love the Way” – Portia, Nigel

“Will Power” – Shakespeare, Ensemble

“Bottom’s Gonna Be on Top” – Nick, Company

Act II

“Welcome to the Renaissance” (Reprise) – Minstrel

“Hard to Be the Bard” – Shakespeare and Ensemble

“It’s Eggs!” – Nick, The Troupe

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

“To Thine Own Self” – Nigel, Nick, Shakespeare and The Troupe

“Right Hand Man” (Reprise) – Bea

“Something Rotten!” – The Troupe

“Make an Omelette” – Nick and Company

“To Thine Own Self (Reprise)” – Nick

“Finale” – The Company

***

THE VENUE: Thrivent Financial Hall is the main theater of Fox Cities Performing Arts Center on College Avenue in downtown Appleton. The capacity is 2,072. The seating area is in the shape of a horse shoe, with three balconies following the shape. The stage is 60 feet across and 40 feet high. The décor features Veneciano plaster walls with dark-stained cherry wood. In the oval dome ceiling is a 65-foot long chandelier that is reminiscent of the Art Deco era. The design includes ruby inserts in the opaque cream-colored glass. Flowing along the walls up to the chandelier are parallel metal pipes as if of a musical instrument. Flat walls in the front third of the hall are salmon colored, while red pleated theatrical curtains dominate the rest of the side walls. The white acoustic wing over the stage looks like the underside of a sci-fi spacecraft. The lobby area consists of lots of geometrics, glass and, on the ground level, a feeling of openness and spaciousness. The exterior of the gray building features gentle curves. A large glass skylight is reminiscent of a human eye.

THE NAME: Thrivent Financial has roots in a life insurance company that was chartered in 1902 as Aid Association for Lutherans, based in Appleton. The corporate name has been Thrivent since 2002.

Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays. My latest book, “I Fell Out of a Tree in Fresno (and other writing adventures),” is available in Green Bay at Neville Public Museum and Bosse’s.

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