God, I Hate Shakespeare | “Something Rotten” @ Ahmanson

Something Rotten (Ahmanson)[This is the post that I thought was lost. Instead, it crossposted to Dreamwidth, but with a date in 2016! I corrected the date, so now there are two copies of the review. Are they different? You’ll need to read them to find out.]

Most musicals start with a simple premise, idea, or property. I’m sure your familiar with this. A musical swinder. A gang fight, A matchmaker. Breakfast foods. You get the idea. The show we saw last night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), Something Rotten, was such a show. The premise? What if Shakespeare had been the stuck-up rock star of his generation?

The rest of the theme then follows quickly: What about the other “rock stars” of that era — the other writers? How did they get visibility when outshone by Shakespeare’s sun? How would they achieve the level of fame and fortune? Add in a bit of referential humor, and you basically have the plot of Something Rotten.

That referential humor, by the way, creates quite a interesting coincidence. When we were last at the Ahmanson back in October, we saw the musical Bright Star. The next day I saw a play that had echoes of the same thing – Mice. Last week, we saw Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas. It was a musical that was chock full of references to other musicals in addition to their main target of parody. Last night’s Something Rotten? Same thing. Most of the sequences involving the soothsayer were filled with references to other musicals, starting with “A Musical” (which you might remember from the Tony Broadcast) and exploding in the “Make an Omlette” scene. So, both recent visits to the Ahmanson have been sequential with related shows. That trend probably won’t last: Soft Power is sandwiched between School of Rock and Violet.

As I alluded too earlier, the plot of Something Rotten revolves around Shakespeare. Specifically, it is the story of the Bottom Brothers, Nick and Nigel, who are competing playwrights to Shakespeare. He used to be part of their acting troupe, but was fired because he was a bad actor (and he was told to become a writer). Shakespeare’s star keeps rising, and the Bottom Brothers keep failing. In an attempt to find the next big thing, Nick Bottom consults a soothsayer who says it will be … Musicals. Nick is eventually convinced and starts writing, using his brother’s poetry as lyrics. But the subjects just don’t work out, and so he visits the soothsayer again to learn what Shakespeare’s next big hit will be? The answer? Omlette, and perhaps something to do with Ham and Danish. Nick starts running and won’t be deterred, even when his brother falls in love with a Puritan’s daughter, and writes perhaps the best play he’s ever written. You can guess a bit as to what happens then: Shakespeare steals the good play and Omlette fails … and we deal with the aftermath. What? You didn’t want that spoiler? Well, Romeo and Julia both die as well.

Along the way, we meet some various other characters: Bea, Nick Bottom’s long suffering wife that just wants to help him succeed in any way she can; Portia, the aforementioned Puritan’s daughter who falls in love with Nigel’s words; Shylock, the Jewish financier who just wants to be a producer (answering the question of why you see so few Jewish folks at RenFaire); and the Puritans headed by Brother Jeremiah, who believe that theatre is a sin — especially those men dressed as women kissing men — and that music in theatre is just heresy and an abomination. Puritans really know how to screw up anything that’s fun. Give them an inch, and next thing you know, they’ll screw up the ideals of that new world we just discovered.

In general, the show is a delightful silly romp — made even more fun by all the interpolated show references. First time theatre writers Karey Kirkpatrick (FB) and John O’Farrell have crafted a hilarious story that allows you to forget the cares and troubles of the outside world for two and a half hours, and that’s sorely needed now. Kirkpatrick (FB) and his brother Wayne (FB, ★FB) — first time Broadway musical writers — also crafted some fun music for the show with some songs that have rapidly become favorites — in particular, “A Musical”, “Right Hand Man”, and the opener “Welcome to the Renaissance”. Director and Choreographer Casey Nicholaw then infused the stage expression with energy and the right level of self-referential camp to make it all work.

That’s two stellar CTG shows in a row.

It also helps that the performances are great as well. In the top position — sorry, Will — are Rob McClure (FB) as Nick Bottom and Josh Grisetti (FB) as Nigel Bottom. Rob McClure is someone I never realized I liked as much as I do. Perhaps I should explain. I’m actually a fan of the music of Jason Robert Brown’s Honeymoon in Vegas,  which flopped on Broadway but starred McClure. I also enjoyed listening to McClure’s work in Chaplin. But I had never seen him in person. Not only did he sing well, but he handled the humor and dance well, making this an enjoyable production. He also has great chemistry with his on-stage wife Bea, played by his wife-in-real-life, Maggie Lakis (FB). This real-life chemistry adds to the stage chemistry in songs such as “Right Hand Man”, which they both nail. But even in other numbers, such as my fav “A Musical” or “I Hat Shakespeare” or “Make an Omelette”, he is just spectacular. Turning back to Grisetti’s Nigel Bottom: This is the less comic, more romantic character who is the poet, who handles the humor, singing, dancing, and performance very well.  He is also quite strong, especially in his scenes with his love interest, Portia, played by his not-wife-in-real-life Autumn Hurlbert (FB). The duet with the two in “I Love the Way” and “We See The Light” is just great, but Grisetti does well by himself in “To Thine Own Self” (and the scene surrounding it).

Then there’s Shakespeare. What more be said. But seriously, Adam Pascal (★FB)’s portrayal of the bard has the right rock-star edge in it because Pascal has experience playing rock-star like characters from both Rent and Aida. He has experience with the rock style of music, and handles both the music and the swagger well. P.S.: This was a BCEFA weekend, and evidently two nights ago someone donated $1K, resulting in this.

I’ve already touched upon the two major second tier characters — the love interests Bea and Portia. Both gave wonderful performances, and I’ve already mentioned their singing. Alas, this show was not written with large roles for women that would showcase them even more. Also standing out on this tier were Blake Hammond (FB)’s Nostradamus and Jeff Brooks (FB)’s Shylock. We first see Hammond in the showstopper “A Musical” where he leads the action, and then he reappears in songs like “Bottom’s Gonna Be On Top” and “To Thine Own Self”. He handles not only the singing and the dancing, but the comedy side of the performance as well, as is just fun to watch. Brooks’ Shylock has a smaller role, but the nature of the character and the point that he is making appeals to me.

The last significant named character is Scott Cote (FB)’s Brother Jeremiah, who plays Portia’s Puritan father. A fun performance, especially in his comic interactions (not sung, but — for example — at the end of the Black Death scene) and in “We See the Light”.

Rounding out the on-stage cast were the members of the ensemble. It is harder to single out performances here, as the audience does not have an easy way of putting names with faces. I would, however, like to highlight Nick Rashad Burroughs (FB), who opens the show and Act II as the Minstrel, and who has a remarkable singing voice. In general, the ensemble does a fantastic job. I enjoy occasionally pulling out the binoculars and watching the faces of the ensemble, and these folks were clearly having a lot of fun, and that comes across to the audience. The ensemble consisted of the following folks (additional roles beyond the ensemble are noted): Lucy Anders (FB) [u/s Portia]; Kyle Nicholas Anderson (FB) [u/s Nigel Bottom]; Daniel Beeman (FB) [u/s Shakespeare]; Mandie Black (FB) [Asst. Dance Captain]; Pierce Cassedy (FB) [u/s Nigel Bottom]; Drew Franklin; Ralph Meitzler (FB) [u/s Shakespeare]; Patrick John Moran (FB) [u/s Nostradamus]; Joel Newsome (FB) [Lord Clapham; U/s Nostradamus, Brother Jeremiah, Shylock]; Con O’Shea-Creal (FB) [u/s Nick Bottom]; Kaylin Seckel (FB) [u/s Bea]; Sarah Quinn Taylor (FB); Tonya Thompson (FB) and Emily Trumble (FB) [u/s Bea].

The Off-stage cast (i.e., swings) were: Kate Bailey (FB) [u/s Portia]; Brandon Bieber (FB) [Dance Captain]; Ian Campayno (FB); and Cameron Hobbs (FB). Looking up the websites for this writeup, I can see why Bieber was Dance Captain — he has a hella lot of Assistant Choreographer experiences.

My periodic note to actors regarding my searching for their websites: I encourage you to get yourself websites — this provides a good stable place to put your credits and contact information. If you have such a site, remember to pay the domain name fees and keep it current. If you don’t have a site, the next best are sites like www.abouttheartists.com, Backstage, and other of those ilk with your resume. My last link of choice is Broadway World, Broadway.Com, or Playbill, because those only list Broadway credits, not the regional stuff you’ve been in.

Turning to the music side of things: Larry Hochman (FB) did the Orchestrations, with Music Arrangement by Glen Kelly (FB).  John Miller (FB) was the Music Coordinator. The orchestra was conducted by Brian P. Kennedy (FB), who also was first Keyboard. Others in the orchestra were: William Shaffer (FB) [Associate Conductor; 2nd Keyboard]; Cameron Rasmussen (FB) [Guitar]; Brad Flickinger  [Drums/Percussion]; Sal Lozano [1st Reed]; Rob Schear [Trumpet]; Robert Payne [Trombone, Contractor]; Jen Choi Fischer [Violin]; Justin Lees-Smith (FB) [2nd Guitar]; Alby Potts (FB) [3rd Keyboard]; Ken Wild (FB) [Bass]; John Sawolski (FB) [2nd Keyboard Sub]. Emily Grishman did the music copying, and was joined by Katharine Edmonds in doing the music preparation. Phil Reno was the music supervisor and did the vocal arrangements.

Finally, we come to the remaining production and creative credits. The scenic design was by Scott Pask, and worked reasonably well. In particular, I noted that it is something that might be doable by high schools, so this show might have a good long life. The sound design was by Peter Hylenski (FB), with Jeff Croiter (FB) doing the lighting design.  Both did what they were suppose to do: create the mood clearly, while otherwise being unobtrusive. Gregg Barnes (FB) did the Costume Design, and Josh Marquette (FB) did the hair design. The costumes worked well, although they seemed a bit more stereotypical than the costumes I see at the RenFaire, so someone’s got their history wrong. The hair — specifically the wigs — were more problematic. Note the quality of the hair itself, but watching the show with binoculars I was clearly able to see the net wig lines on foreheads — and that hurt the illusion. The fact that it is a wig must be invisible. Other production credits: Jeff Norman (FB) – Production Stage Manager, Matt Schreiber (FB) – Stage Manager, Brae Singleton (FB) – Assistant Stage Manager; Steve Bebout (FB) – Associate Director; Eric Giancola (FB) – Associate Choreographer; Telsey + Company (FB) – Casting; Jim Harrison (FB) – Company Manager; Port City Technical (FB) – Production Management.

Twice a year, the Broadway community raises funds for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. We always seem to catch one of these fund raising performances, and this weekend was no exception. We donated. Now it’s your turn.

Something Rotten continues at the Ahmanson through December 31. You can get tickets through the Ahmanson Website. Discount tickets may be available on Goldstar. This is a very funny and entertaining show; go see it.

The Ahmanson Theatre (FB) has announcement more of its 2018-2019 Season. In addition to the previously announced 👍 Dear Even Hansen, the Ahmanson has announced three more shows👍 Come From Away; 👍 Falsettos; and 👍 The Play That Goes Wrong. This is shaping up as a season worthy of subscription — I just need to learn what the remaining two shows are. Knowing the Ahmanson, one will likely be a pre-Broadway musical.


Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre(FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

November concludes with the Anat Cohen Tentet at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB) and  Levi (a new Sherman Brothers musical) at LA Community College Caminito Theatre (FB).

December starts with ACSAC 2017 in Orlando FL. As soon as we return, we’ve got Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB) and the Colburn Orchestra at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB). The weekend encompassing Chanukah sees us back at the Saroya  (FB) for the Klezmatics (FB). We also hope to squeeze in a performance of A Christmas Story at the Canyon Theatre Guild (FB). Of course there will also be the obligatory Christmas Day movie — who knows — perhaps it’ll be the upcoming The Greatest Showman.

Right now, early 2018 is pretty open, with only a few weekends taken by shows at the Pantages and Actors Co-Op. I did just pick up tickets for Candide at LA Opera (FB). But that will likely fill up as Chromolume announces their dates, and announcements are received on interesting shows. Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018! We may also be adding a CTG subscription, given their recent announcements regarding the next season.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.