By Jennifer Mustoe
A year ago, my family and I saw Something Rotten! at the St. James Theatre on Broadway and loved it. I whooped with sheer delight (really) when I found out the Eccles is presenting Something Rotten! here in Salt Lake as part of their Broadway Across America series. And it is with sheer determination that I urge all in Utah who can to come see Something Rotten! before it leaves town. And you’d better be quick about getting your tickets. Last night, the beautiful Eccles Theater was packed. As it should have been.
Something Rotten! is the story of two brothers, Nick Bottom (Rob McClure)–the idea man, and Nigel Bottom (Josh Grisetti)–the writer. Both brothers were at one time actors in the same troupe as the now wildly successful William Shakespeare. As you can imagine, there are numerous jokes regarding the brothers’ last name. Nick wants to be as prolific, famous, and rich as their rival, William Shakespeare (Daniel Beeman), Nigel’s in it for the beauty of the art. But they just can’t seem to attain the fame that their rival has achieved. Nick sings one of my favorite numbers: “God, I Hate Shakespeare,” though this sentiment horrifies his fellow troupe members. Hate Shakespeare? The guy’s a genius. He’s The Bard. Not “a” bard, but “the” bard. McClure shows in this very first song his incredible comedic timing, beautiful voice, and his dedication to his role. Nigel adores Shakespeare’s work in an innocent-slash-obsessed fan sort of way, which leads to some problems later on in the plot. Innocence can blind a person. I’ll say no more. I’m really not giving away spoilers in this review. Nigel lives with his brother and Nick’s wife, Bea (Maggie Lakis), who is married to McClure in real life–which is pretty cool and romantic, I’m gonna say. Lakis has the fun opportunity of being a sexy, sweet, wholly feminist character from the Renaissance, and portrays Bea with pluck and flair. I loved her portrayal. It’s clear from the beginning that Nick loves being a family man and Nigel feels he’s missing out on love. Enter Portia (Autumn Hurlburt), daughter of the fanatical (and hilarious) Brother Jeremiah (Scott Cote), a Puritan who hates all things theater and really, art of any kind. Portia loves poetry, plays, and very quickly, falls in love with Nigel. Their courtship is funny, a little risqué, and pretty sweet. But how to overcome her father’s maniacal hatred of theater? The scenes between Hurlburt and Grisetti have some of the funniest, tenderest, most well-scripted moments and as a writer, they really meant something to me. Both have outstanding voices–Hurlburt’s fun and bouncy and Grisetti’s full, almost operatic at times, and very moving. Cote is out and out hilarious as Brother Jeremiah and makes even Puritanism seem worthy of a lot of laughs. Beeman as Shakespeare is sexy, fabulous, and wonderful. We were able to hear from him at the talk back and he’s actually in the ensemble and understudies the part, so we were lucky to see this wonderful actor perform front and center.
Meanwhile, problems involving money and not having a play to pitch to their benefactor cause Nick to approach soothsayer Thomas Nostradamus (Blake Hammond), nephew to the famous Nostradamus. Thomas has *some* ability to see the future, and his missteps in this are hilarious as he gives Nick some ideas on what will be the new thing in the theater: musicals. The song “A Musical” I admit, echoes ideas I’ve had in past years. In fact, I used to say that the only fun musicals were those I was IN, not AT, but I’ve repented of that. However, in “A Musical” Nostradamus is trying to explain to Nick what the biggest thing in theater will ever be. Nick is in shock, and when he presents this idea to Nigel and the troupe, they all think it’s stupid–singing instead of talking? It’s just crazy. Nostradamus then tells Nick what Shakespeare’s biggest hit will be, but it’s here that he gets it a little wrong. He tells Nick: Omelette. Shakespeare’s most famous play will be Omelette, and it comes with a side of danishes and ham. What ensues is some of the funniest commentaries on musicals, Shakespeare, theater in general, and breakfast foods.
As with productions at the Eccles, all is first-class and top notch. The set (Scenic Design by Scott Pask) is multi-layered, fun, pretty, simple but effective, and moved so expertly, you’d think it was being transformed scene to scene by magic. The yummy costumes (Costume Designer Gregg Barnes), some exaggerated Elizabethan corseted dresses, some Punk style rock star garb, are fantastic. Lighting (Jeff Croiter) and sound (Peter Hylenski) flow and create a beautiful area for the actors to perform. Director/Choreographer Casey Nicholaw takes this excellent musical, excellent cast, excellent set and creates an excellent experience for patrons. I noticed some slight changes in how some lines were delivered and I love that Nicholaw gives his tour actors the chance to create their roles for themselves within the construct of a show that’s being taken from Broadway and shared all over the country.
But to me, Something Rotten! isn’t all fun and games. Now that I’ve seen it twice, while I am no expert, what I saw this second time around were things to really admire that I hadn’t caught the first time. Yes, I loved all the references to Shakespeare and Broadway hits and societal norms and popular bits and pieces of our lives today. But, I love what happens between Nick and Bea–her fierce love for him that we see when she sings “Right Hand Man.” I deeply felt the brotherly love and the uncomfortable conflict between the two brothers. I like the ridiculous fandom that their world is giving Shakespeare and Beeman’s sexy, pretentious “Hard to be the Bard” clearly pokes fun at us with our preoccupation with celebrities. Nick’s character arch is poignant and special and one anyone who’s ever felt envious will understand. Bea’s devotion to her husband and perky “I got this” attitude is one I want for myself. Portia’s sweetness, willingness to stand against society and her father to be true to herself is a message we can learn from today. So many messages floating just below the surface that make Something Rotten! something very palatable indeed.
Perhaps part of the reason I’m able to really dig deeper into this comedic musical is we had a lovely, they’re standing right in front of us talk back after the show. The wonderful answers to the frankly wonderful questions asked by audience members let us see into these actors’ selves and they shared how they felt about their craft. Not much was actually said about Something Rotten! but much was shared about who these people are. It was very moving and my friend Joel and I talked about the 20 minutes of talk back as much as we talked about the show as we drove home.
I will say, Something Rotten! has some “salty” material (that’s my mom’s word) and I don’t know if I’d bring a child younger than say, 11 or 12. All of the risque bits are sexual, though there is of course no nudity, nothing graphic, and very little profanity. But it’s a middle of the road, solid PG-13. It isn’t necessary to know anything about Shakespeare, Hamlet (spoiler alert–Omelette is supposed to be Hamlet), or famous Broadway shows, but it certainly enhances your experience. That being said, if last night’s almost full house is any indication (and the glorious Eccles is a BIG full house), Something Rotten! is The Show To See. It’s fun, thoughtful, entertaining, clever, and might make you see eggs in a completely different way.
Broadway at the Eccles presents Something Rotten!, Book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, Music and lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick
Delta Hall at the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main Street, SLC, UT 84111
January 9-14 Tues-Thurs 7:30 PM, Fri-Sat, 8:00 PM, Sat 2:00 PM, Sunday 1:00 PM, 6:30 PM
Contact: 385-468-1030, firstname.lastname@example.org
Broadway at the Eccles Facebook Page
Something Rotten! Facebook Event