Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Unexpectedly, a lot of Mr. Miller's usual background players seize the spotlight this time, and the sense of discovery is doubled–it's not just a new musical to me, but a chance to see entirely different leading men and women telling the tale with fresh wit and emotion. In this case, it's the performers who help put the "new" in "New Line": Chris Kernan and Marshall Jennings are excellent as the Bottom brothers in this 2015 musical comedy, which was nominated for ten Tony awards in its original Broadway run. (Ultimately the show's only Tony winner was for Best Featured Actor, in a season dominated by Fun Home.)
The enjoyable music and lyrics here are by Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick, with a book co-written by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell. It's a show (and, here, a gaggle of comic actors) that knows exactly when and where and how to get a laugh. Eventually, in the final ten minutes we manage to get one step ahead of the comedic formula, and the gazillion references to well-known musicals becomes overwhelming, and even a bit tiresome. But you still feel the comical desperation and jealousy of these two brothers, standing in the shadow of overpowering greatness. And if there were a prescription for joy, it would come with this show in the bottle.
Clayton Humburg turns in yet another terrific, full-bodied, chameleonic performance, this time as Will Shakespeare: the Elvis of Elizabethan England (in this telling, replete with pop-culture references). Actually it's two chameleonic performances in one, when he goes undercover to spy on the Bottom brothers' new production. Also, FYI, Mr. Humburg is at that magical age when an actor thinks about moving to New York. So don't get too attached. Melissa Felps is a tonic to the spirit as Portia, beautifully smitten with Nigel Bottom (the adorable Mr. Jennings). And Jeffrey Izquierdo-Malon is emblematically eccentric as Thomas Nostradamus, a descendant of the mysterious prophet. In his hands, visions of Broadway 400 years later become shattered, mixed-up insights, and regular fodder for laughter.
I often fail to capture in words how beautiful the singing is at New Line Theatre, and once again it's one glorious solo after another here, and thankfully in a manner that's easily understood (as opposed to some of their rock operas). Mallory Golden gets the official credit for the endless reserves of soaring vocal arrangements, as music director. Though Mr. Miller himself is always a driving presence behind the sheer musicality of it all.
It's not a huge flaw, but the choreography by Alyssa Wolf becomes flat and predictable: one big knot of singers in a clump. Theater locals used to call these "Dodie Clumps" after the beloved choreographer Dodie Nelke. That's probably because Ms. Wolf faces a challenge similar to Ms. Nelke's, in the limited dancing ability of some of the people on stage here. And it also may be due to the limited size of the Marcelle Theatre's stage. But it's not until the final big kick-line at the end that we get a sense of visual depth and dimension. There's plenty of movement, it's mostly just in self-protective swarms. Still, lots of fun.
New Line Theatre's Something Rotten! runs through October 15, 2022, at the Marcelle Theatre, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, St. Louis MO. The theater has its own fenced parking lot, just northeast of Circus Flora. For tickets and information, please visit www.newlinetheatre.org.
The New Line Band: