Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Something Rotten (Ovation Theatre 2022)


At this point, I would say that my wife and I both drag each other to live shows at about an equal rate. She has a crazy knowledge of musicals, while I have a list of classic works I want to see. Not that either of us dislikes the other’s choices, though. What it really means is that we see a lot of stuff on stage. 


Something Rotten was definitely my wife’s choice, but again, no objection from me, particularly given the cast of actors I knew could bring great voices to the roles. And also, Ovation Theatre uses live music, and I know people in the band, so we decided to go and bring the two kids who wanted to see it. 


I don’t think I have ever seen anything quite like Something Rotten. As the name implies, it is about Shakespeare. And very much about Hamlet, although not just about that play. It is also a musical. About musicals. Which means it had references to dozens of other musicals, whether in the form of tunes, or of lyrics, or of jokes, or whatever. There are a lot of naughty double-entendres throughout, naturally - this is about Shakespeare, after all. Plus, in this play, Shakespeare is the villain. 


The basic idea is this: Shakespeare is sucking up all the oxygen in the Tudor Era, and nobody else can sell a play. Worse, Shakespeare keeps putting his rivals and other enemies in the plays as characters. And even worse than that, he has made a habit of stealing his best lines from other poets. 


Enter Nick Bottom. No, not the weaver-turned-actor of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Nick Bottom the playwright. And also, Nick’s longsuffering wife Bea Bottom; and his talented but fragile little brother Nigel. Poor Nick (and his assistant writer Nigel) were SO close to putting on their version of Richard II, when Shakespeare drops his first. So now they need a new idea, or their patron will fire them. And that Shylock guy keeps wanting payment on that debt. But ideas are hard to come by. Nick is out of ideas, Nigel is suffering from panic attacks at the thought of having to write a play by the next day, and Bea has decided to go out and get a job. Except in the 1500s, there aren’t a lot of good jobs available for women, particularly feminists. Which means she puts on a beard and….well, actually, that sounds very Shakespearean. 


Out of other options, Nick steals the nest egg, and goes looking for a soothsayer to tell him what the future of theater will be.  


Apparently, good soothsayers are in short supply, and that Nostradamus is dead, so Nick ends up with Nostradamus’ not-entirely-sane nephew, Thomas, who goes into a trance and sees the future. Sort of. 


Thomas informs Nick that the future of theater will be “Musicals.” Which makes for a hilarious song, of course. Nick sells the idea to Nigel, and the two of them set to it.


Their first try results in a comedy about the Black Death. Which, well, doesn’t go over that well. Despite all the dancing and singing. 


Meanwhile, Will Shakespeare is hamming it up as a rock star - in leather and the most absurdly huge codpiece (and considering the many codpieces and codpiece jokes in this play, that is saying something…) 


With things continuing to fail, Nick finally gives in, and lets Shylock come on as the producer of the show - breaking the law, of course, but inventing the role of “Producer” for their musical. Shylock hands over some money, and Nick goes back to Thomas to find out what Shakespeare’s future greatest hit will be - so he can steal the idea. 


And the result is a breakfast themed play entitled Omelette. “I see something about a danish in it.” This leads to a truly hilarious and horrifying compromise between the desire to entertain, and Nigel’s attempts to make eggs into a metaphor for life and meaning. 


Obviously, everything and everything continues to go worse and worse. Except that Nigel has met a Puritan girl and fallen in love, and she inspires him to be true to himself, and write what he feels is his voice. Nigel ends up essentially writing Hamlet, which Shakespeare steals, and…well, it gets pretty crazy at the end. 


I thought the casting was excellent for this show. I knew that Ken Burdick would be great as Thomas Nostradamus - and he was. His cross-eyed trances were disconcertingly convincing, and he was always “on” - even when he was just in the background on stage. Nancee Steiger as Bea was also as good as expected. 

 Thomas Nostradamus (Ken Burdick)

Jake Chivington has been in a number of plays lately, notably Big Fish, and seems to be finding a voice as a main character. He was endearing as Nigel, and is gaining confidence in his singing. He’s a young actor to watch, for sure. 

 Nigel Bottom (Jake Chivington) and Portia (Lenessa Age)

Tim Fromm was delightful as Shylock, who just wants to be part of the theater. Lenessa Age was sweet and innocent as Portia the Puritan girl, Cody Gardia was wonderful in drag again, and the various ensemble members really brought it with the dancing. It is my understanding that a lot of extra rehearsal went into the complex choreography (and the tap sequences) for this one. Impressive job. 

 Nick Bottom (Jack Slider), Bea Bottom (Nancee Steiger), Nigel Bottom (Jake Chivington)

The two characters the musical centers on, however, are Nick and Will. I don’t believe I have ever seen Jack Slider in a lead role before, although he has been on stage in supporting roles. So I had no idea how good his voice is - he just killed it all night. Again, perfect casting. He fit the role just right, and had the chops to do it. 

 Nick Bottom (Jack Slider) and Shylock (Tim Fromm)

Likewise, the ever-delightful Jason McClain was lugubrious and loathsome and a bit fey as Shakespeare the villain. “Will Power” was a hard-rocking tour de force that was the highlight of the first act. Thoroughly enjoyable. 

 It's Will Power, baby! (Jason McClain)

I already mentioned the codpieces - but costumes were a huge deal in this musical, from the gaudy Elizabethan outfits to chorus girls to…well, there were a LOT of costume changes, along with the necessary doubling of ensemble parts to maximize the talents of the actors that danced best. The time and effort and thought that went into this production were substantial. 


I’ll also mention the great work done by the band. Which leads me to the single sour note: unlike every other time we have been to Ovation, this time, the band was not listed in the program. What??? Somebody dropped the ball on this one. Always credit the musicians, people!


I believe this runs another weekend, so if you are in Bakersfield, go check it out. 


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