Sometimes, second tries are better. Hopefully, that will be true for this writeup, because after four hours, when I went to post the first version of this writeup, WordPress not only ate it with an unknown error, but conveniently hadn’t been saving a backup. Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m writing this with a headache I didn’t have the first time. [Update: I discovered Monday morning that the original review did post, only with a date of November 21, 2016 — because it also crossposted to DW! I’ve fixed the date, so now there are two copies of the review. Are they different? You’ll have to read them to find out.]
However, sometimes first attempts are great. Witness the show now at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). It is from two new writers for Broadway, Karey Kirkpatrick (FB) and John O’Farrell (although both have extensive writing experience). It is from a first-time Broadway song-writing team, brothers Wayne Kirkpatrick (FB) and the aforementioned Karey Kirkpatrick (FB) — although both have extensive experience on the pop music side. Lastly, it is based on a new (i.e., first-time) idea from those brothers.
This could have had the makings of a total disaster. After all, two brothers, writing a show for a medium they’ve never worked in, with a totally new idea. What could go wrong? Hold that idea for the synopsis.
So what was their idea? After all, some shows have very simple ideas at their heart. Gang warfare. A matchmaker. Stealing a loaf of bread. A litterbox. A breakfast food. At the heart of this show — it’s genesis — is the idea: “What if Shakespeare had been the rock star of his age, with all the ego that comes therewith?”
And that, friends, it the plot of Something Rotten. Can I go home now? I feel like I’ve done this before.
OK, so that’s not all their is to Something Rotten. There is also a lot of satire of shows that have been previously on Broadway. This creates an interesting coincidence. Last week, we saw another show that poked fun at Broadway shows, Spamilton. Two consecutive shows that have a common thematic element. That also happened the last time we were at the Ahmanson: Both Bright Star and Mice! share a common thematic elements. The third time, however, won’t be the charm. I’m at a loss to think of a single common thematic element between Soft Power and either School of Rock or Violet. But who knows….
So what is the story of Something Rotten? Imagine it is the Renaissance — you know, what you see at your local RenFaire. Shakespeare is at the top of his game and is the equivalent of a rock star. The rest of the writers in town? Well, they’re just a renfaire show compared to him. But two brothers continue to try to best him: Nick and Nigel Bottom. Shakespeare once was a part of their troupe, until they fired him for having no talent as an actor — they told him to try writing. A big mistake. Since then, he’s been rising and they are having trouble paying the bills (as his wife Bea, who will do anything to help him, continues to remind him). Nick is the outward face and the main writer; Nigel is a poet at heart. Knowing they must find the next big thing to beat Shakespeare, Nick visits a soothsayer. The prediction: Musicals. At this point, Nick decides to write a musical, using Nigel’s lyric sonnets as lyrics. They start with a first attempt, but their topic just doesn’t sell — a musical about the Black Plague. Nick decides he just needs to know what Shakespeare’s next big hit will be? He visits the soothsayer again, and the answer is: Well, it looks like something called Omlette. There are also visions of Ham and Danish, along with snippets of plots and loads of other musical ideas. So off Nick goes to write a musical about breakfast foods. He even allows the Jewish financier, Shylock, to invest.
You can see where this is going, right?
Complicating the plot are the Puritans. They really know how to destroy the mood. In this case, the daughter of Brother Jeremiah, Portia, has fallen in love with Nigel’s poems — and thus with Nigel. But Nigel is a man of the theatre, where men dressed as women kiss other men, and they are bringing in song and dance. He forbids the relationship, and we all know what happens with forbidden relationships in Elizabethan times.
I think you can take it from there.
The humor in this show is very broad, and there are loads of sexual jokes and double entendres. If you’ve ever been at a renfaire, you know that fits right in. There are loads of references to other Broadway shows, either by word or sight gag. If those are your tastes in humor, you will love this. They are, and I did. I found this an extremely funny show — perhaps not as funny as Spamilton, but very very close. I also enjoyed the music quite a bit. Ever since the Tony Awards showcased “A Musical”, I’ve loved that song, and other songs such as “Right Hand Man”, “Welcome to the Renaissance”, and “Make an Omlette” are equal earworms. So this show had broad humor and great music. It’s not very deep, but when you go to see a musical, who wants to see something dark and dreary. Well, except for Les Miserables.
Director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw understands broad humor, given his background with Drowsy Chaperone, Book of Mormon, and Spamalot. He works with the performance team to bring the humor out to the audience, playing it broad and including the timing for the laughs. He fills the dances with energy as if they were something new, and cleverly plays with and on the conventions being parodied. It works well and is quite enjoyable.
So should you see this for the story? Yes, you’ll have lots of fun, and find it well worth the price (which will be substantially less than you’ll pay for that show on Hollywood Boulevard — and that’s no joke). But the story isn’t all — there are great performances in addition.
In the top positions are Rob McClure (FB) as Nick Bottom and Josh Grisetti (FB) as Nigel Bottom. McClure’s Nick is in many senses a classic straight man — he isn’t in on the joke of what is going on around him, and in that, he’s hilarous. He plays that aspects quite well, which combined with strong singing and dancing make him a joy to watch. I’ve heard him before but never quite connected the voice to the performance (in both Honeymoon in Vegas and Chaplin), and I’ve likely seen him in the Avenue Q tour, but his performance here makes me want to follow his career a bit more. Just watch him in numbers like “God, I Hate Shakespeare”, “A Musical”, “Bottom’s Gonna Be On Top” or “Make an Omlette”. He also has great chemistry with his on-stage wife, Bea (Maggie Lakis (FB)), which comes across wonderfully during their shared “Right Hand Man”. This shouldn’t be a surprise, as his on-stage wife is his off-stage wife of 12 years — they met in the cast of Grease. That certainly must make touring easier.
I haven’t forgotten about Nick’s on-stage brother, Nigel. Of the two, Nigel is more the poet of the two, and has less of the physical and dance humor. He does get a cute girl, tho…. Grisetti handles NIgel’s character well, capturing the poetic side of him and the adultation of Shakespeare (which his brother hates). He also has a very nice singing voice which is shown in his numbers with his love interest, Portia, played by Autumn Hurlbert (FB): “I Love the Way” and “We See the Light”. He also demonstrates it in his number “To Thine Own Self”.
Of course, how can we forget the rock star bard, Will Shakespeare, played by Adam Pascal (FB). Pascal captures the character well, perhaps from his actual rock star experience, both from his lead roles in both Rent and Aida, as well as his rock credentials. It is clear he is having fun with this role and is conveying that to the audience. Watch him in “Will Power” and “Hard to Be The Bard” and you’ll see what I mean.
Moving to the remainder of the named characters, the next two main ones are Nostradamus, played by Blake Hammond (FB), and Shylock, played by Jeff Brooks (FB). Hammond’s Nostradamus is a hoot, from the first time we see him just before “A Musical”. He sings well, dances well, and most importantly, plays the humor well while having a load of fun. Just a joy to watch. I also enjoyed Brooks’ Shylock. A much smaller role, but I have to love a MOT in a role that highlights what it was like for Jews during those times (something conveniently omitted from your local RenFaire). He does great in “To Thine Own Self”.
The remaining named role is Scott Cote (FB)’s Brother Jeremiah, head of the Puritans and father of the aforementioned Portia. Cote gets some of the best double entendre lines in the show, and he says them with a great straight face and the occasional double-take. He is also great in the “We See The Light” number.
This then brings us to the ensemble and the smaller named roles. Two things I would like to highlight about the ensemble: (1) Nick Rashad Burroughs (FB) [Minstrel, Snug, Chef Trio] was wonderful as the MInstrel who opens each acts; (2) the ensemble seemed to be having loads of fun with this show. I watch a show both with and without binoculars, and it was fun just watching the faces of the ensemble as they were performing and just having fun. That fun is infectious and carries to the audience. The ensemble, in addition to Burroughs, consisted of (additional named roles and understudy (u/s) noted): Lucy Anders (FB) [Portiau/s]; Kyle Nicholas Anderson (FB) [Tom Snout, Chef Trio, Nigel Bottomu/s]; Daniel Beeman (FB) [Yorick, Shakespeare’s Valet, Will Power Backup Boy, Shakespeareu/s]; Mandie Black (FB) [Asst. Dance Captain]; Pierce Cassedy (FB) [Robin, Nigel Bottomu/s]; Drew Franklin [Will Power Backup Boy]; Ralph Meitzler (FB) [Will Power Backup Boy, Shakespeareu/s]; Patrick John Moran (FB) [Francis Flute, Master of the Justice, Nostradamusu/s, Brother Jeremiahu/s, Shylocku/s]; Joel Newsome (FB) [Lord Clapham, Eyepatch Man, Nostradamusu/s, Brother Jeremiahu/s, Shylocku/s]; Con O’Shea-Creal (FB) [Peter Quince, Will Power Backup Boy, Chef Trio, Nick Bottomu/s]; Kaylin Seckel (FB) [Beau/s]; Sarah Quinn Taylor (FB); Tonya Thompson (FB); and Emily Trumble (FB) [Beau/s].
The following folks were in the cast as backup swings: Kate Bailey (FB) [Portiau/s]; Brandon Bieber (FB) [Dance Captain]; Ian Campayno (FB); and Cameron Hobbs (FB). I’ll note there’s a clear reason Bieber is the dance captain — he’s got loads of asst. choreographer credits under his belt.
Turning to the music, without which the songs and the dances would …. look funny. Brian P. Kennedy (FB) was the Music Director and Conductor, with Music Supervision and Vocal Arrangements by Phil Reno, music arrangements by Glen Kelley, orchestrations by Larry Hochman (FB), and music coordination by John Miller (FB). The orchestra consisted of: Brian P. Kennedy (FB) [Conductor / Keyboard1]; William Shaffer [Assoc. Conductor / Keyboard2]; Cameron Rasmussen (FB) [Guitar1]; Brad Flickinger [Drums / Percussion], Sal Lozano [Reed1]; Rob Schaer [Trumpet]; Robert Payne [Trombone / Contractor]; Jen Choi Fischer (FB) [Violin]; Justin Lees-Smith (FB) [Guitar2]; Alby Potts (FB) [Keyboard3]; Ken Wild (FB) [Bass]; John Sawolski (FB) [Keyboard2 Sub]. Music Copying was by Emily Grishman, who was joined by Katharine Edmonds for Music Preparation.
Finally, turning to the production and creative team. The scenic design was by Scott Pask, who creates a reasonably flexable approach using backdrops and lighting; it looked flexible enough to allow this to be easily adapted for the high-school and regional crowd — ensuring a long life. The sound and lighting design was by Peter Hylenski (FB) [Sound] and Jeff Croiter (FB) [Lighting]. Costume Design was by Gregg Barnes (FB), who created a look that was a bit fancier than RenFaire, but probably fit what people were expecting. Josh Marquette (FB)’s Hair Design was great at the design level, but there was an execution problem — with the binoculars, the hair-net of the wig was a clearly visible line on the forehead, and that’s not great for suspension of disbelief. Rounding out the production credits were: Jeff Norman [Production Stage Manager]; Matt Schreiber [Stage Manager]; Brae Singleton (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager]; Steve Bebout (FB) [Assoc. Director]; Eric Giancola (FB) [Assoc. Choreographer]; Telsey + Company (FB) [Casting]; Jim Harrison [Company Manager]; Port City Technical (FB) [Production Management].
Something Rotten continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through December 31. Tickets are available through the CTG Website; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. The show has broad humor, great singing, great dancing, and loads of references to other shows. Who could ask for anything more … oh, right, never mind that line. Still, it is a wonderful show and you’ll have a great time.
But don’t leave just yet. Twice a year Broadway turns to us, its captive audience,
to demand ransom (uh) request our support for Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS (FB), an organization that — all joking aside — does some remarkable work. We go to enough theatre that we always seem to catch the BCEFA appeal, and we always give something. You should too, by clicking here. Alas, no one donated enough at our performance so that this happened.
While this season is troubled for the Ahmanson with the postponement of the next show, the next season is looking great. In addition to the previously announced 👍 Dear Evan Hansen, CTG has announced three more shows: 👍 Falsettos, 👍 Come From Away, and 👍 The Play That Goes Wrong. Depending on what the last two shows are, this might entice me to subscribe.
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.
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-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 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.