“Something Rotten” is Something Wonderful at The Lied. And that’s no yolk!

The national touring company of the Broadway hit, Something Rotten, premiered their show to a highly enthusiastic audience at The Lied Center for the Performing Arts on Friday night.

“God, I hate Shakespeare!” – Nick Bottom

Something Rotten is set in 1595, and tells the comedic story of brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom, struggling to write a successful play during an era when William “Will” Shakespeare is the superstar playwright of the day. Faced with losing their financial sponsor, and dealing with a case of writer’s block, Nick can’t help but resent the fact that a former member of his small acting troupe – Will – has gone on to “rock star” levels of success, while Nick is struggling just to provide for his wife and younger brother, Nigel. Meanwhile, Nigel, the more sensitive, emotional and introspective of the Bottom brothers, has been writing poetry, secretly admires his older sibling’s arch-nemesis, and has fallen in love with the local puritan leader’s young daughter.

When Nick becomes desperate enough for a hit play to seek a soothsayer’s advice about the future, he learns that the next big thing in the world of the theatre is going to be musicals – complete with song and dance. He also learns, mistakenly, that his rival, Will’s, biggest success may be a future play called…“Omelette”. What follows is a hilarious romp that pokes fun at the traditions of musical theatre, while still paying homage to both the legacy of William Shakespeare and the toe-tapping, tune-hummingly addictive qualities of classic and contemporary stage musicals.

“I am the Will with the skill to thrill you with my quill!” – Will Shakespeare

The cast is uniformly excellent, from Matthew Michael Janisse and Richard Spitaletta’s Nick and Nigel Bottom, to Greg Kalafatas as the wacky Nostradamus, and Matthew Baker as the self-obsessed Will Shakespeare. Emily Kristen Morris as Nick’s wife Bea, and understudy Allison C. Scott as Portia were both marvelous in the two significant female roles, particularly Morris as Bea, who gets to attempt to break the Renaissance glass ceiling as she tries on several men’s jobs during both acts. I also thought Devin Holloway as the Minstrel had a great voice, and enjoyed the few moments he had to shine in “Welcome to the Renaissance!” Robert Head gets some laughs as Robin, one of Nick’s troupe of actors, and Peter Surace does memorable double-duty as both the effete Lord Clapham and the theatre-obsessed jewish lawyer Shylock. The rest of the ensemble shines in many group song and dance numbers, which were choreographed very effectively.

“It appears to be a play where the dialog stops and the plot is conveyed through song!” – Nostradamus

[…] “Wait, wait…so an actor is saying his lines, and then out of nowhere, he just starts…singing?” – Nick Bottom

I’ve been enjoying listening to the show’s Original Broadway Cast Album soundtrack ever since it was nominated for a Grammy in 2015, so finally getting to see some of the catchy tunes from this show done live on stage was a treat. From the opening number “Welcome to the Renaissance”, to Bea’s hopefully pleading “Right Hand Man”, to the show’s biggest hit “A Musical” with Nostradamus and Nick, the first act ends on two of the more memorable pieces – “Will Power” and “Bottom’s Gonna Be on Top!” The second act features more fun, starting with Will’s “Hard to Be the Bard”, Nigel’s emotive “To Thine Own Self”, and the crazy numbers from Nick’s egg-themed music, including “Something Rotten!” and “Make an Omelette,” complete with multiple dancing eggs on stage. The song-and-dance numbers feature many winks and nods, both blatant and subtle, to other famous musicals, from Rent, Cats and Les Mis, to West Side Story, Sound of Music and Annie – all of which got laughs from tonight’s audience.

“Every time I hear a perfect rhyme I get all tingly!” – Portia

The writing is snappy, filled with fast-paced banter between the characters, in both the songs and interstitial dialog. The highly-suggestive double-entendres in a poetry-reading scene between Nigel and Portia still have me laughing, hours after seeing the show. This production never slows down, the energy is constantly “up”, and even the massive set changes between musical numbers are accomplished with speed and seeming ease. Production design for this show was incredible – ranging from simple benches in the foreground to extensive Tudor-style cityscape backgrounds, to glitzy Las Vegas-type sets for at least one of the musical numbers. I really enjoyed the mobile furniture on set during the “Hard to Be the Bard” number – seeing Will roll his writing desk and chair across the stage while the doorway behind him moved in tandem was a terrific feat of furniture choreography. I also have to say the costumes (including multiple costume changes for the non-lead members of the ensemble) were beautiful.

“Welcome to the Renaissance. Where everything is new!” – ensemble

The original Broadway production of Something Rotten ran from April 2015 to January 2017, for a total of 742 performances. It got 10 Tony nominations, though the only win was for Christian Borle as Best Featured Actor in a Musical as Will Shakespeare.  Something Rotten has been on the road ever since, for nine to ten months out of every year, with various cast members rotating in and out of the road company. The particular combination of cast that brought the show to Lincoln is very smooth, very professional, and very entertaining. My only complaint about tonight’s performance, and I have this about many of the shows at The Lied, was with the sound mixing. Most of the “solos” were clear and easy to understand, while most of the group numbers (or pieces where at least two or three performers were singing at the same time) ended up rather muddled and hard to pick out the lyrics or dialog. My companions for the evening agreed with this complaint – the only way I understood some of the song lyrics was because I’ve listened to the cast album so many times. However, even with that caveat, Something Rotten was a high-energy production on opening night, and I strongly recommend trying to catch one of the remaining performances if you have the chance. The cast definitely earned the extended standing ovation they received from the Lied Center audience at the end of the show!

Pardon me while I pop my copy of the Something Rotten soundtrack CD in – I want to listen to “A Musical” again!

If you go: The Lied Center for the Performing Arts is located at 301 N. 12th St. in Lincoln, NE. Something Rotten is being performed only on Friday, April 26th at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, April 27th, at both 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Get your tickets now online or by calling the box office at (402) 472-4747.

Scott Clark has worked in a variety of roles for the Lincoln City Libraries for nearly 40 years, where he regularly shares book, music and film reviews on their readers advisory website. He’s also reviewed books for the Lincoln Journal Star, and KFOR radio, and has shared his reviews of films and stage shows on his blog and Facebook feeds for many years. He’s a reader, writer, and sometimes actor, who loves to share his enthusiasms, in an effort to connect people with things they just might fall in love with!

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