Friday, August 11, 2017

"Something Rotten" at The Smith Center

The other night I got to do something I really enjoy, which is to watch someone else experience their first show at The Smith Center. We chose Something Rotten for her first show there, since Colette Robinson and I are avid fans (and sometime performers) of Shakespeare.

As we took our seats in Reynolds Hall just before curtain, I was pleased we had been able to snag gallery box seats since we'd had to wait until the last minute to get our tickets. Sitting down in the the gallery boxes made me laugh because doing so reminded me of those two curmudgeonly spectators from The Muppet Show, Statler and Waldorf who sat up in their balcony box judging everyone. The highest level boxes at Smith Center provide a lovely close up and somewhat aerial view of the stage because of their height. 

Something Rotten, created by two brothers, (The Kirkpatricks), is a show about two brothers, (The Bottoms), who write plays. Unfortunately for them, this is during the time and in the same town as the one and only William Shakespeare. Before you stop reading because maybe you're not a fan of Shakespeare, you should know that they speak standard English for most of the show, and you don't have to know his work to enjoy it, which is one of the things I like about this show. If you know his plays it makes it even funnier, but if you don't it doesn't take anything away from your experience as an audience member.

With an upbeat opening, "Welcome to the Renaissance," performed first by Nick Rashad Burroughs as the Minstrel, then joined by the cast, Something Rotten is a play on Shakespeare's play within a play, a spoof of musicals, and a spoof of a Shakespeare play that makes fun of itself constantly. Lest you think this is a show praising the Bard think again. The second song is "I Hate Shakespeare!"....where Nick Bottom bemoans Shakespeare's overrated talent. 

Speaking of Nick Bottom, he is trying to keep his wife and himself out of poverty, so he involves the help of a seer to look into the future to see what Shakespeare will write next so he can steal it and reap the profits.  The seer, Nostradamus, (ok not quite Nostradamus, it's his nephew Thomas), tells Nick what the play will be. So Nick and his brother begin to write it...not realizing they're working on a slightly warped version of a play due to Thomas Nostradamus' shaky psychic abilities. (I'm not going to write about that and let's just make it a funny surprise, like the first time I ever saw The Producers).  The Bottom brothers, wanting to really make a splash, decide to add another dimension to the show by making it a musical. This decision is followed by a dazzling display of the meaning of "A Musical!" Blake Hammond as Nostradamus was funny, light, and gleeful as if an animated character, throughout the production.

One of the subplots referring to modern times is about Nick's wife Bea wanting to be an equal partner in her marriage to Nick, and finding ways to help support the family so he could write. This was obviously not a thing women did much of in the 1500's, although Bea was hopeful and exclaims, "It's 1600 women will be completely equal to men in every way!"....Haha oh boy! Nigel Bottom also has a love interest, Portia, whose Puritan father is not so crazy about her blossoming love for a poor and unknown playwright.

Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Now, Shakespeare himself, an obviously important part of the story is a big cheese in town. He's bold, handsome and eccentric in his bedazzled Renaissance threads! 

"Shakespeare is like a rock star. We always talked about him early on being a cross between Mick Jagger, James Brown, Tom Jones and a little bit of Austin Powers. This is a version of Shakespeare you haven't seen before and it works if you love Shakespeare or hate Shakespeare." -Karey Kirkpatrick

I also like how they portrayed him equal parts insecure and conceited, like many great artists. In one scene after he enters to the chants of "We Want Will, We Want Will," he delves into a mini concert and the song "Will Power" for a throng of admirers holding up their lit candles with praise...because you know this was before lighters and smart phones.

In the end will Nick and Nigel Bottom find their way to the top?...(to quote one of the show's songs). Or will they forever live in Shakespeare's shadow? As the story progresses it takes itself to new and funnier heights. At some point I just let go trying to understand it all and just laughed and laughed. Colette and I were like two schoolgirls mesmerized and totally in the moment either giggling or bursting out into laughter throughout.  I have to appreciate the writers, cast and crew for giving me the experience of enjoying something like a child again. To even grasp a moment of that here and there as an adult is a true gift. From my aerial view I also noticed the audience's energy in the packed house as the laughter built throughout the show. At the end, (we stayed until most had left), as people were leaving they were still laughing and clapping as they made their way down the aisles to the exits. 

In many ways, aside from the obvious comparisons to Spamalot, (who is the same Director/Choreographer for Something Rotten, Casey Nicholaw), this show reminds me of Noises Off. It takes maximum talent, effort and timing for a cast to pull off a show like this, and when they do it's indescribably surprising and fun! 

The Kirkpatrick Brothers along with John O' Farrell spent four years and several rewrites (the original title was Shakespeare's Omelet) before they completed the show and it opened on Broadway in 2015. For example they originally composed 50 songs, (yes 50!) before narrowing it down to 15. 

Rob McClure, Josh Grisetti, Adam Pascal, Maggie Lakis, Blake Hammond, Autumn Hurlbert, Scott Cote, Jeff Brooks, Nick Rashad Burroughs, Joel Newsome, and a funny, talented and energetic supporting cast!

The Smith Center production's Music Coordinator, Philip Fortenberry

Something Rotten remaining shows -
Aug. 11 7:30 pm & Aug. 12 and 13 2:00 pm & 7:30 pm
Tickets are $29 - $127  

Parking is free at the Smith Center, (thank you Smith Center!)

Copyright Anna Wendt 2017

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