There’s nothing rotten about this Diane Lala helmed production.
“Something Rotten” is not profound, nor is it world-changing like some art can be. But it is a solid contemporary musical, full of upbeat, hummable numbers, memorable characters, and some of the best self-referential comedy you’ll ever hear in a theatre. CCM’s production mines all the laughs but doesn’t forget the heart.
With a catch score by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick and a book by Karey and John O’Farrell, it’s the story of two down-on-their-luck playwrights in the 16th century who are looking for a hit so that they can compete with “The Bard” and all of his success. There are so many references to other musicals, you have to see it more than once to catch them all.
Luckily, since the show is double cast, watching it twice is a smart idea! For the purposes of this review, I saw the “Montague” cast, which features August Bagg as “Nick Bottom,” Jett Blackorby as “Nigel Bottom,” Rose Messenger as “Bea,” and Haley Root as “Portia.” The remainder of the cast performs with both sets of leads.
Bagg, the MVP of the Carnegie’s summer rep season, once again grounds this production with his focus, tremendous voice, acting acumen, and overall presence. His take on the character is nothing revolutionary, nor should it be in a production that is essentially a tribute to the Broadway and tour versions of the show. Instead, what he does is bring maturity to the stage and keeps the story grounded when the other over-the-top characters could quickly derail things.
One of those over-the-top characters is “William Shakespeare,” played masterfully by Garrett Van Allen. Allen looks like a modern-day rock star and has the necessary swagger to convincingly play Shakespeare as the narcissistic hack that the show portrays him to be.
Speaking of over-the-top, “Nostraumdus,” the soothsayer who leads the Bottom Brothers astray – but just a little bit – is hilariously embodied by sophomore Spencer Stanley. It’s hard in collegiate productions to cast older characters successfully, but I never thought about that with Stanley. He nearly steals the first act with the musical number “A Musical.”
Another actor playing older is Jackson Reagin. Reagin is versatile and stellar here as “Brother Jeremiah,” the probably-closeted Puritan and the closest thing this show’s B-story has to a villain. Kudos to Kelly Yurko’s makeup and hair work, as they aged him in a convincingly comedic fashion. The rest of the cast looks fantastic, too.
The female leads are equally proficient but, unfortunately, don’t have as much to do. Still, Messenger milks every moment she can get out of “Bea’s” character arc and commands the stage with her voice. Haley Root, as “Portia,” is a sweet love interest for Blackorby’s “Nigel,” and has great chemistry with him. They shine during “We See the Light.” Finally, Sara Pansing plays “Shylock,” which is traditionally a male role – and she shows a very different side of herself than she did as “The Witch” in “Into the Woods” this summer.
The ensemble is full of stars-to-be, as well. Jamal Stone is mesmerizing as “The Minstrel,” and I found myself drawn to the work of Delaney Benson, Alloria Frayser, Ryan Dever, Nate Jones, Coty Perno, and Benjamin Chang throughout the show. That said, the entire ensemble of this production is solid and integral to the success of the show’s massive musical numbers – and they executed with the precision you’d expect from one of the country’s top Musical Theatre collegiate programs.
You also expect excellence from the tech departments, and they did not disappoint either. Scenic designer Joshua Gallagher is able to transport us with just a few set changes, despite this show taking place in multiple locations. Glen Breed’s costumes are period-perfect. Natalia Carlson’s lights spotlight the action appropriately and pop in the moments they need to. Props manager Hattie Fann has a lot of work to do in this show and didn’t miss a beat. Sound designer, Patrick Kiernan, did a fine job mixing the show.
Diane Lala’s choreography utilizes the talents of her exceptional students while honoring the original production’s intent. What a joy it must be to direct this level of talent in a show this complicated. Finally, musical director Matt Welsh conducts a fabulous orchestra and works hard to spotlight the fantastic vocals of every cast member.
SOMETHING ROTTEN is a not-to-be-missed production featuring what are certainly several of Broadway’s future generation of stars. The fact that there were so many empty seats is baffling and just plain wrong. The good news is that there are more chances to see the show next weekend . . .so click here to secure your tickets now.