Song and Dance and Sweet Romance
Wondering how two Renaissance-era thespians competing with Shakespeare for stage space happen to create an exhilarating new theatrical art form?
For one quite improbable answer to that question, see the rousing musical melting pot, “Something Rotten!” which opened Thursday at the Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire. Keenly directed by Scott Weinstein with robust choreography by Alex Sanchez, the story plays out in spirited fashion in 1590s London–with decidedly modern moorings–among effusive references to virtually every musical ever written.
As the story goes: Two brothers Nick and Niles Bottom–KJ Hippensteel and Alex Goodrich in a terrific teaming of talent–are desperate for a hit for their fledgling theater troupe. Nick loathes Shakespeare (Adam Jacobs), a former member of the troupe, who has made it (somewhat, it is implied) on his own. Nick and his adoring and all-for-equality wife, Bea (Cassie Slater), have been saving for a place away from the plague, the pestilence and the petty Elizabethan alliterations they must face from day to day. So, after Bea extols her point of view in “Right Hand Man” and goes out to get a job, Nick ventures off looking for a quick fix to his dilemma from Nostradamas (Ross Lehman), a rather skeptical soothsayer who predicts that the next big thing will be musicals full of “song and dance and sweet romance.”
The rock-star playwright roiling Nick Bottom’s bonnet is Will Shakespeare –a scintillating performance by Jacobs–whose crafty charm picks Niles’ poetic pocket. Meanwhile, the righteous Brother Jeremiah (Gene Weygandt) tries to disrupt the budding romance between his daughter Portia (Rebecca Hurd) and Niles. Things end up twisted in translation, and that leads Nick, Niles and the troupe down a path from a show about the plague-infested dark ages (“The Black Death”) into the frying pan for “It’s Eggs!” and on to the splendidly manic premiere of the show-within-the-show.
Conceived by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick, the team who wrote the music and lyrics with book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, “Something Rotten!” received 10 2016 Tony Award nominations and ran for 742 performances on Broadway. The fast-paced revival, staged efficiently in-the-round with Scott Davis’s impressive multi-level staging that includes a bevy of clever Elizabethan marquees, Jesse Klug’s artful lighting and magnificent Theresa Ham costumes, fill the stage with color and vitality. The rich and tuneful score shines under the musical direction of Ryan T. Nelson and conductor Patti Garwood.
Jonathan Butler-Duplessis leads the company in the brilliant opening number, "Welcome to the Renaissance," and the superlative Lehman and company bring the proceedings to a full stop with his rendering of "A Musical." The tender ballad “I Love the Way” by Hurd and Goodrich is a highlight, and the non-stop, exuberant talent of the ensemble, which brings the hilarious Bottom troupe to life and back up the Bard in "Will Power" and "Hard to be the Bard," make the light-hearted folly of "Something Rotten" come up smelling as sweet as a rose by any other name.