Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Set during the English Renaissance of the 1590s when William Shakespeare had just recently become a success, the plot follows brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom (Jonathan Shew and Matravius Avent) whose theatrical company has hit rough times as they can't compete with the continued success of Shakespeare (Toby Yatso). Shakespeare is a megastar, loved by many, including Nigel, and loathed by just a few, especially Nick. With the company's financial sponsor about to walk and pull his funding, and no solid idea for a new play, Nick visits a soothsayer, aptly named Nostradamus (Kathy Fitzgerald), and spends all the money he has to find out what the next big thing in theater will be, thinking he will finally find success. But things don't go anywhere near as planned.
Something Rotten! is an original and hilarious musical comedy. It features an upbeat and tuneful score, by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick, with very clever lyrics that also have some really fun rhymes. The fast-paced book by John O'Farrell and Karey Kirkpatrick isn't just hilarious but the plot also goes in different directions than you think it will. It also has a huge heart at its center and manages to touch upon how women were treated at that period in time. The lyrics and dialogue of this backstage comedy also manage to incorporate numerous humorous shout outs to dozens of famous musicals of the past century.
Jonathan Shew evokes an excellent sense of desperation as the practical brother who is simply doing anything he can to support his family. His dialogue delivery is natural, spontaneous and humorous. Matravius Avent is sweet and charming as the sensitive, poetry-loving brother who sometimes finds himself anxious. The two play off each other well and both have warm and rich singing voices. Toby Yatso is one of the town's best comic actors and he is impressive here and appears to be relishing playing this larger-than-life comical role. Shakespeare is presented as having the status of a rock star and Yatso flips his hair and uses humorous eye gestures, a commanding line delivery, and comical body language to make Shakespeare into a complete diva, but also is good in the few brief moments that show us that being Shakespeare isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Kathy Fitzgerald is simply brilliant as Nostradamus. While the part is usually played by a man, it loses nothing with a gender change and Fitzgerald is an absolute hoot as the crazy soothsayer who has frequent outbursts and is often confused about what she sees that the future holds. Her performance, with Shew and the ensemble, of "A Musical," which is both a send-up and a loving homage to musicals, is hilarious. Hayley Cassity is warm, witty, feisty and fun as Nick's wife Bea, who takes on a series of hilarious and despicable jobs to help support her family, as she believes that women should be able to do the same things as men. As Portia, the Puritan girl who loves poetry and falls for Nigel, Sarah Julia Ambrose is winning, with a beautiful singing voice that hits some impressive notes. D. Scott Withers provides a lot of comic relief as Portia's bible-spouting father Jeremiah, and Tony Blosser creates three comical supporting characters that are distinguished and hilarious. The entire ensemble excels under Fitzgerald's assured and sure-footed direction, including Jonathan Duvelson and Alex Crossland who get a few featured and fun solo moments.
Eric Sciotto was one of the replacement actors for Shakespeare in the Broadway production of this musical and his choreography for this production is fun, fast, varied, and well danced by the entire cast. Jeff Kennedy's music direction delivers rich notes and sounds from the large cast and orchestra which are clear and crisp under Dave Temby's sound design. The creative aspects are impressive, including Aaron Jackson's effective Tudor style set design, Maci Hosler's colorful and humorous period costumes, and Daniel Davisson's rich and colorful lighting design.
Something Rotten! is an original musical comedy that is hilarious, with a tuneful score featuring several showstopping songs, but it's also a story that touches on some serious topics, including the need to be true to yourself. It also has identifiable characters and a story with a lot of sweet and heartfelt emotions. This production, with most of this cast, was supposed to have opened in March 2020 but was shut down shortly before their opening night due to COVID. Fortunately, Phoenix Theatre didn't cancel the show but just delayed it for two years and it's a good thing they did as it was well worth the wait.
Something Rotten! runs through June 19, 2022, at The Phoenix Theatre Company, 1825 N Central Avenue, Phoenix AZ. For tickets and information, please visit phoenixtheatre.com or call 602-254-2151.
Director: Kathy Fitzgerald
Cast (in alphabetical order):
*Members of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors & stage managers in the U.S.