Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Also see Rick's recent review of Frida...A Self Portrait
The musical, which opened in New York in 2015, is set in London in the 1590s toward the end of the Renaissance. The story focuses on two playwrights, brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom, and their efforts to match the success of their contemporary, William Shakespeare. Desperate to maintain a patron and to write a hit, Nick secretly consults with a soothsayer to learn both what the next big thing will be in theater and what Shakespeare's greatest hit will be. When the soothsayer is a bit off on his prediction regarding "The Bard," and Shakespeare himself seeks to sabotage the new show the brothers are writing, chaos ensues. In addition, romantic entanglements involving Nick and his wife Bea, and Nigel and Portia, the daughter of local Puritan leader Brother Jeremiah, further complicate things.
The book by John O'Farrell and Karey Kirkpatrick is comedy gold. Part of the hilarity is that, despite being set over 400 years ago, the show uses a lot of modern language, references (in part due to the soothsaying), and mannerisms. The juxtaposition is quite amusing and makes these long-ago characters very relatable. Those who are big fans of either Broadway musicals or Shakespeare will glean extra humor out of the proceedings, but it isn't a prerequisite for enjoying the show. A large serving of sexual innuendo is also present (adding to the humor), so this show isn't for little ones. The storytelling is clear and intriguing enough to keep the audience's focus, but it's really the laughs that make it work.
Something Rotten! also boasts a first-rate score by Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick. Wayne is a well-known composer for Contemporary Christian, country, pop, and rock artists. The songs, like the dialogue, also have modern lyrics and melodies, again creating a humorous fit for the material. Whether it is the jazzy uptempo "Right Hand Man" (sung by Bea to her husband Nick), the humorous anthem "God, I Hate Shakespeare," the massive production number "A Musical," or the beautiful and plaintive "To Thine Own Self," the tunes are pleasingly melodic with well-suited (and likewise often very funny) lyrics. "We See The Light" is a comedic gospel-tinged number, and Shakespeare's "Hard to Be the Bard" and "Will Power" have a more rock 'n' roll edge to them, and match the character's rockstar persona.
CCM has double-cast four roles for Something Rotten!, and the opening night cast was viewed for this review. As Nick Bottom, Nick Pattarini captures the surly tone, jealously and desperation of a writer out of ideas and worried about supporting his family. He has great stage presence and meets the vocal needs of the role with ease. Andrew Burke brings out the adorable innocence of Nigel, the younger brother with a poet's heart, and supplies a beautiful tenor voice for the songs. Garrett Van Allen nails the pompous yet insecure nature of Shakespeare, delivers the songs with great skill, and gets in on the laughs as well with some silly antics in disguise.
Abby Tucker is a spirited Bea and shows off an impressive belt with "Right Hand Man." Alli Bossart presents Portia as part-nerdy bookworm and part sexually repressed woman, and brings forth the humor in the role. Spencer Stanley has the funniest role as Thomas Nostradamus, and leads the biggest number in the show with aplomb. He isn't quite as over-the-top eccentric as portrayed in earlier productions, but this is an enjoyable and showy performance that the audience adored. Jackson Reagin strikes just the right balance of pious and vindictive brooding with repressed homosexuality for Brother Jeremiah, also to great humor. Jamal Stone (Minstrel), Declan Smith (Lord Clapham), and Sarah Pansing (Shylock) do very well in supporting roles, and the hardworking ensemble kick-up their heels and lend their voices effectively for some excellent choral work.
Director and choreographer Diana Lala has staged the show in a fashion similar to the Broadway and touring productions, but with enough variation to make it her own. The blocking, tone and transitions are just what the production needs, and both the comedy and heart of the piece come through clearly. The choreography for the large, showstopping production numbers, which often combine tap dancing and other modern styles with Renaissance-themed movement, are fun and lively. Matt Welsh leads a superb sounding 11-piece orchestra.
Joshua Gallagher's scenic design is varied and appropriate, but lacks the detail and flair audiences are used to seeing for mainstage productions. The costumes by Glenn Breed are slightly modern takes on period outfits, keeping in line with the comedic tone of the show. There are several times that costumes, hair, and other design elements failed to match lyrics within the songs, which are missed opportunities for cohesiveness. The lighting by Natalia Carson is professionally rendered and includes a few fun effects. On opening night, there were some sound issues during the opening number and in a few other spots, unfortunately.
If you are already are a fan of Something Rotten! or if this is your introduction to the musical, CCM's production of this hilarious, tuneful and original show is worth seeing.
Something Rotten! runs through October 30, 2022, at Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Patricia Corbett Theater, 290 CCM Blvd, Cincinnati OH. For tickets and information, please call 513-556-4183 or visit https://ccmonstage.universitytickets.com/w/?cid=168.