Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Also see Carole's recent review of Silent Sky
Nigel Bottom? The brother of Nick Bottom, immortalized in A Midsummer Night's Dream as the "rude mechanical" who runs an amateur theatrical troupe and who is temporarily turned into an ass. In Something Rotten!, Nick Bottom runs a theatre troupe; Nigel, a sensitive poetic soul, writes sonnets and plays. William Shakespeare started out in the troupe but broke off to start his own company and now, after Romeo and Juliet, is a superstar poet and playwright surrounded by adoring fans a la Elvis.
The Bottom brothers' troupe is failing fast and their foppish aristocratic patron threatens to stop supporting them unless they come up with something new and forward-thinking. Nick, who has not one whit of creativity in him, consults a soothsayer to find out what the future of theatre will be. This is Nostradamus–not the Nostradamus but his nephew Thomas. Peering into the hazy times to come, Nostradamus predicts that what will bring audiences into theaters is MUSICALS! There will be shows in which there is dialogue, then suddenly people start singing. Sometimes they start dancing, too. Sometimes they sing and dance at the same time. Inconceivable, from a 1590s point of view. Opera hadn't even been invented yet.
This leads into the best number in the show, called simply "A Musical." It is a lightning-fast run-through of almost every hit musical of the past 70 years, from Rodgers and Hammerstein on, including West Side Story, Annie, Fiddler, Cabaret, Les Misérables, and a lot more. It moves so fast that it requires crack timing by every member of the cast, and they pull it off perfectly here. It's the kind of thing I love about live theatre.
Bottom decides to mount a musical about something in recent memory, and so we get a production number about the Black Plague. Well, that's not going to work, so it's back to Nostradamus's nephew. This time Nick asks him to look for what will be Shakespeare's biggest hit, so that Nick's troupe can beat him to it. The future is a little cloudy but it looks like something called "Ahmlet." And so in the second act, we get a musical about omelettes! That's the kind of silliness this play deals in.
I found it to be a lot of fun, but I have to say that if you're not familiar with Shakespeare or haven't attended many Broadway musicals, you might find Something Rotten! to be one of the craziest shows you've ever seen. If you're a theatre person, though, it should be right up your alley.
Putting on a musical like this one requires tremendous effort from a lot of people, both in pre-production and in performance: a good set designed by Jason Roman and built by him and Westin Huffman; lots of costumes (including dancing eggs) designed by Chris Appleton with assistant Danielle Fugler; lighting designed by Nicholas Hogan; sound by Lando Ruiz; props by Jordan Claghorn; and music direction by Greta Greenblatt. Then there are 22 people on stage and almost as many backstage. The running crew and dressers are Elias Braun, Jordan Cleghorn, Koby Poter, Danielle Fugler, Alex Avila, and Robert Johnson. Imagine how busy stage manager Kaleah Baca and assistant stage manager Vicky Vail must be.
Among the people we do see, everyone does a fine job. Cedric Gegel, the only non-local, is a terrific sleazeball Shakespeare. For some reason, he's the only one in the cast with a British accent, and a very convincing one it is. Ron Gallegos, Jillian Foster, Devon Frieder, and Nicholas Handley are all very good, and I'm very glad to see Alexander Harden back on stage after too long an absence. The always excellent Tim MacAlpine is unfortunately saddled with the thankless role of the Puritan cleric, and the only time he gets to stand out is in the worst number in the show, a gospel-inflected waste of time that should have been cut. Although most of the music is not memorable, the other production numbers are fun and energetic, and the entire ensemble work their butts off (or should I say "bottoms").
Maybe this show is not for everybody, but then again nothing is for everybody. I'm hoping that New Mexico theatregoers will support it with their attendance, and I look forward to whatever Devon has in store for us next year.
Something Rotten!, by Devon Frieder Productions, runs through February 11, 2024, at the Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale SW, Albuquerque NM. For tickets and information, please visit albuquerquelittletheatre.org.