The first Broadway production a theatre nerd sees sticks with them in a profound way, even if the show isn’t at a “Les Miserables” level of gut-wrenching morality.
For me, “Something Rotten” is that show. I was lucky enough to catch the original Broadway company weave its way through the two act affair at the St. James Theatre in New York City and watched from the top of the balcony in complete awe at the spectacle. As the lyrics go in “A Musical,” the Act 1 show-stopping tune, “There’s nothing as amazing as a musical.”
I had better seats when the show came to Madison this week. Still, the show provides a vehicle to entertain any audience, despite its inherent structural problems.
Revamped ‘Les Misérables’ production brings new relevancy, importance to OvertureAh, Les Mis. French novelist Victor Hugo’s seminal 19th century work–turned-Broadway-music-institution-turned blockbuster movie. This week, it returned to Madison’s Overture Read…
It is important to note the touring company is non-equity, which means that cast members either cannot be a member of the Actor’s Equity Association or have to enter into a special arrangement to perform in these shows. Generally speaking, this leads to a younger cast where a 25-year-old playing a 60-year-old is not unheard of.
The cast of “Something Rotten” fit this stereotype pretty well, with some actors playing double their age. This difference in ages created new relationship dynamics which did not exist in the original production.
Primarily, this could be seen in the relationship in the Bottom household. Nick Bottom, portrayed by Matthew Michael Janisse, is an aspiring troupe director in Shakespeare’s time who feels inferior to the Bard’s success. He lives with his wife Bea, played by Emily Kristen Morris, and his renaissance version of a couch-crasher playwright brother Nigel, played by Richard Spitaletta. In the original company, these roles were played by actors who were in their 40’s, making the failure status of their hopes and dreams much more apparent.
Theatre, music programs at UW converge to produce musical ‘Into the Woods’For the first time at Wisconsin Union Theatre, the Department of Theatre and Drama and University Opera are coming together Read…
Instead, the younger cast seemed more aspirational, as if they were just getting started. The cast made this dynamic shift work, albeit while changing the drivers of the story.
The main structural problem with the work is the question of who the protagonist is between the two brothers. Nick Bottom has the “I want” song, a standard way to identify who the protagonist is in a musical, with “God, I hate Shakespeare,” yet Nigel delivers the most emotionally charged number with “To Thine Ownself Be True.”
With the age of the cast lowered, Spitaletta seemed to be a fresh, young poet who was just getting his start rather than a failure who could not find love and therefore was forced to live with his brother’s family. This allowed Nigel to step into the forefront of the story and become the protagonist more so than Nick.
To me, this was a success as it allowed the audience to more thoroughly invest into Nigel’s character and his blossoming relationship with Portia, played by Jennifer Elizabeth Smith. Spitaletta did a fine job with the part, infusing a Justin Bieber-esque quality into his character.
Shakespeare’s swagger, as portrayed by Matthew Baker, seemed to be a waning light in comparison to Nigel’s teen pop energy. While Baker did not have the confidence and sexuality to exude Rock God status in “Will Power,” it seemed entirely plausible that he could feel threatened by Nigel’s poetry and therefore compelled to steal his work.
The rest of the ensemble did a fine job, yet the best parts of “Something Rotten” come from comedic genre awareness. “A Musical” proved to literally stop the show, as its schtick of placing references to “Annie,” “Les Miserables” and “Rent” among others in rapid-fire succession continues to delight audiences.
A misinterpretation of the word “Hamlet” by the soothsayer Nostradamus, played by Greg Kalafatas, leads to the splashy number “Make an Omelette!” in Act 2, which garnered the most laughs of the evening.
On the whole, what the show gives in comedy makes up for its pitfalls in structure, and this cast delivers a performance every theatre nerd in Madison should put on their calendars.
Something Rotten runs at the Overture Center until Sunday, October 14th. Ticket prices start at $40. $25 student rush tickets are available with a valid student ID.