Theater Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN! | Buzz Blog

Tuesday, March 1, 2022


Sending up Shakespeare and musical theater in one entertaining package

Posted By on March 1, 2022, 9:02 AM

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click to enlarge Matt Farcher and Robert Anthony Jones in Pioneer Theatre Company's production of Something Rotten! - PIONEER THEATRE COMPANY
  • PIoneer Theatre Company
  • Matt Farcher and Robert Anthony Jones in Pioneer Theatre Company's production of Something Rotten!
There’s a sub-genre of pop-culture storytelling that, for lack of a better term, I’d like to call the “I understood that reference” creation. Sometimes it takes the form of flat-out genre parody, and sometimes it’s more subtle (though maybe only barely), but in every case, the basic goal is the same: appealing to an audience by nudging them with gags based on other pop-culture storytelling. And if it’s not staged with tremendous panache, the heaviness of the nudging elbows can result in more bruising of the ribs than tickling of the ribs.

It's a fortunate thing, then, that Pioneer Theatre Company’s production of Something Rotten! is so overflowing with panache that the source material’s parade of nods to two different oeuvres—Shakespeare, and musical theater—feels more charming than tiresome. Set in circa-1600 London, it follows the misadventures of brothers Nick (Matt Farcher) and Nigel Bottom (Daniel Plimpton), who run a small theater company that struggles to gain a foothold in the shadow of the era’s rock star, William Shakespeare (Matthew Hyzdik). Desperate for a hit, Nick solicits the advice of a relative of the soothsayer Nostradamus (Robert Anthony Jones), who advises him that the wave of the future is this crazy concept called … a “musical.”

That concept provides the entry point to visual and verbal hat-tips to 60 years of musical theater classics: Oklahoma!, The Sound of Music, A Chorus Line, Annie, Les Misérables, The Lion King and many, many, many more, which then share time with various references to Shakespeare plays and characters. Writers Karey Kirpatrick and John O’Farrell—animated-film veterans with credits including Over the Hedge and Smallfoot—know that their target audience is going to be fine without footnotes, so they just keep shoveling them on, waiting for the kind of laughs that have people turning to their seatmates as if to say, “We both got that one, right?”

If the pace flags at all, that approach quickly becomes exhausting, but director/choreographer Karen Azenberg and a fantastic cast somehow make it all zip with energy. Hyzdik’s Shakespeare gets the showiest comic relief part as a leather-clad Bard all-too-clear about his own celebrity, but he’s matched by the giddy kinda-huckster-ism of Jones’ Nostradamus, and a slightly more restrained comedic charm from Lexi Rabadi, as the Puritan girl who becomes a love interest for Nigel. The songs (by Karey Kirpatrick and his brother Wayne) aren’t nearly as memorable as the vintage songs they’re sending up, but they’re perfectly serviceable, and provide a solid foundation for the production numbers.

The two major show-stoppers—the first act’s “A Musical,” and the second act’s “Make an Omelette”—are also the ones most indebted to musical-theater forebears in one way or another, the former with its heavy dose of referentiality, and the latter with a clear predecessor in The Producers’ “Springtime for Hitler.” Yet the slam-bang enthusiasm with which they’re performed provides a reminder of why musical theater is such a fertile ground for audience-friendly parody at all: The people who love them really love them, and love them most because of the form’s absolute commitment to crowd-pleasing spectacle. Something Rotten! might be the kind of show that indulges in obvious sop-to-the-audience clichés like a religious-zealot character who’s clearly deeply in the closet, but it’s not about subtlety. It’s more like a big party where the fun comes from the fact that everyone knows everyone else, and is ready for the satisfaction that emerges from familiarity.

Something Rotten! runs through March 12 at Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre (300 S. 1400 East).

About The Author

Scott Renshaw

Scott Renshaw

Scott Renshaw has been a City Weekly staff member since 1999, including assuming the role of primary film critic in 2001 and Arts & Entertainment Editor in 2003. Scott has covered the Sundance Film Festival for 25 years, and provided coverage of local arts including theater, pop-culture conventions, comedy, literature,... more

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