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Something Rotten!
Music and Lyrics by Karey Kirkpatrick and Wayne Kirkpatrick
Book by Karey Kirkpatrick & John O’Farrell
Conceived by Karey Kirkpatrick and Wayne Kirkpatrick
Directed by Scott Miller
Choreographed by Alyssa Wolf
New Line Theatre
September 23, 2022

Chris Kernan, Carrie Wenos, Melissa Felps, Marshall Jennings, and Cast of Something Rotten!
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre

New Line has proved over and over that they know how to take Broadway shows and find more substance while focusing on the characters, often by scaling down to fit their smaller company and performance space. Their latest production, Something Rotten! is another example of this concentrated approach, and for the most part, it’s a resounding success. With thoughtful direction and a great cast, and toned-down production values, this show succeeds in managing to find the heart of its story while maintaining the crackling humor and fun meta tone of the piece.

The story takes place in London during Elizabethan times, but the look of this production is more of a mix of period and modern influences, with a much more minimalized staging and tone than the touring production based on the Broadway version that I saw at the Fox a few years ago. The story follows brothers Nick (Chris Kernan) and Nigel Bottom (Marshall Jennings), who head up a theatre troupe and are having trouble figuring out what their next play will be, after having to abandon their latest project due to competition from the persistent, rock-star like William Shakespeare (Clayton Humburg), who consistently sells out his shows and has drawn a large following of groupie-like fans, much to Nick’s distress. The more practical-minded Nick is looking for a hit that will help pay off his debts and support his family, resisting his forward-thinking wife Bea (Carrie Wenos) in her suggestions that she get a job to help. Nigel, however, is a poet, and what he strives for is artistic integrity. Nigel finds a kindred spirit in fellow poetry nerd Portia (Melissa Felps), to the dismay of her father, the stuffy Puritan Brother Jeremiah (Jason Blackburn), who is also leading an effort to shut down the brothers’ production and company. With various struggles including the financial difficulties, creative challenges, rivalry with Shakespeare, the moralistic challenges, and some unexpected family news from Bea, the increasingly stressed Nick decides to bring in a soothsayer–the enthusiastic Thomas Nostradamus (Jeffrey Izquierdo-Malon), nephew to the more famous prognosticator–to let him know what the biggest trend in theatre will be in the future, as well as what Shakespeare’s most celebrated play will be. The mixed up Nostradamus comes up with a hodgepodge of muddled information that leads first to the hilarious, gloriously meta production number “A Musical” and then to Nick’s newest hope of a bankable hit–Omelette: The Musical, along with a host of other terrifically witty meta-references to musical theatre that are too numerous to count.

The best word to describe this show, and this production, is “fun”. It’s also smart, thoughtful, occasionally raunchy, but most of all full of genuine emotion and a strong message about artistic integrity and the importance of authenticity vs. commercialism in art, and particularly theatre. There are also some well-place criticisms of the culture in Shakespeare’s day as well as some insightful comments about today’s society. It was big and flashy in it’s Broadway version, but director Scott Miller has impressively toned it down here, making it seem less derivative of the slapsticky tone of the works of Mel Brooks and Monty Python and more like a just as hilarious but also more character-focused story in its own right. With this toned-down approach, all the jokes still land, but the message and the heart ring even more true. 

Also working in this production’s favor are the simple production values, with Rob Lippert’s fairly basic but nice-looking unit set and a few furniture pieces setting the scene. The costuming by Sarah Porter is also fun, with cool touches like Shakespeare’s “rocker” look with the leather pants and eye liner, and the Elizabethan-inspired dresses for the woman characters. It all is in keeping with the whimsical but not over-the-top overall tone of the production, along with Matt Stuekel’s appropriately atmospheric lighting. There’s also a great band led by music director Mallory Golden, although their placement–in the middle of the performance areas, mostly behind the performers but slightly intruding into their space–sometimes leads to the music overpowering the singers, although this issue improves as the show goes on. The only major issue I have technically is with Nostradamus’s makeup and wig/bald cap, which is overdone to the point of looking cartoonish, which is out of keeping with the overall tone of this production and makes the character look like he’s not in the same show as everyone else. This is especially unfortunate considering Izquierdo-Malon’s otherwise terrific, scene-stealing performance, which is full of personality, excellent vocals, comic timing and impressive dance skills. It’s a true highlight of this production, despite the somewhat distracting makeup.

As for the rest of the cast, they are stellar–led by the amiable and marvelously-sung performances of Kernan as the angsty Nick and Jennings as the dreamer Nigel, who work especially well together as the obviously caring but very different brothers. There’s also excellent work from Wenos as the ambitious, loyal Bea, and especially Felps as the earnest, poetic Portia, whose scenes with Jennings are another highlight. Humburg is also a lot of fun, hamming it up as the egotistical and oddly insecure Shakespeare, showing off some surprising rock-star energy. Chris Moore also makes a strong impression opening the show as the Minstrel. There’s a strong ensemble in support, as well, keeping up the energy and comic timing, and performing well with Alyssa Wolf’s energetic and somewhat goofy (in a good way) choreography. 

Overall, Something Rotten! is a real treat. At New Line, it’s not big or flashy, but it looks great, for the most part, and it distills the story down to its essential elements–music, comedy, truth, and heart. It’s a remarkable example of the idea that sometimes, less really is more. 

Clayton Humburg (Center) and Cast of Something Rotten!
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre

New Line Theatre is presenting Something Rotten! at the Marcelle Theatre until October 15, 2022

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