“Welcome to the Renaissance, with poets, painters, and bon vivants, and merry minstrels” sings minstrel Maya Valdez as the lights come up on stage and the everyday world is swept away. Valdez draws in the audience with her bright energy and is joined by the lively ensemble as they share how “everything is new!”
The cast and crew of Conrad Grebel’s Something Rotten! production transported the audience back to the Renaissance era in a comedic and nonsensical musical about the value of staying true to your emotions over chasing the glory of fame at any cost.
Written by John O’Farrell and Karey Kirkpatrick in 2015, with music and lyrics by Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick, Something Rotten! is a musical comedy set in 1595 during the English Renaissance. The musical recounts the life of the Bottom brothers, Nick and Nigel, as they attempt to write a hit production to rival the popularity of their competition, the Bard himself, Shakespeare. Nick Bottom (Josiah Ropp), desperate for success so he can support his family, enlists the help of famous soothsayer Thomas Nostradamus, who is also his nephew (Maia Aurini). Over the next two-and-a-half hours, they predict the future, discover the art of musicals, face criticism from Puritans, find new love, and end up in hilariously unfortunate situations.
In Act One we are introduced to Nick and Nigel Bottom . It is immediately clear the two brothers share the same passion for theatre, but have different approaches to success. Nick makes his feelings about Shakespeare known in the musical’s third number, saying, “God, I hate Shakespeare.” Ropp’s hatred was palpable as he moved across the stage, gesturing wildly but deliberately, expressing his barely-controlled rage for the “hack with a knack for stealing anything he can.”
Nigel, on the other hand, tries to emulate Shakespeare, writing heartfelt stories and poetry. It is Nigel’s poetry that leads him to Portia (Selah Woelk), daughter of the Puritan leader, Brother Jeremiah (Simon Friesen). Woelk and Woods’ tentative excited energy plays off each other as their relationship grows and they become the “star-crossed” lovers of their own story.
Ashley Johnson gave a strong performance as Nick’s wife Beatrice Bottom. In her song “Right Hand Man,” she sings how they should be an equal team. Johnson blended the boldness of Beatrice with the comedy of the story as she goes out, seeking her own job to support the family.
Adam Roth’s arrogant and flippant portrayal of Shakespeare and exasperated descriptions of how hard it is to be him were spot-on. The Bard Boys ensemble, following Roth to show his character’s popularity elevated the comedy of the situation, and his “woe-is-me,” petulant playboy attitude with their supporting dances.
In Act Two, it’s the almost-right predictions of Nostradamus (Maia Aurini) that set the Bottom brothers on the path of writing Shakespeare’s next big hit before he does; ‘Omelette’. Aurini’s character is confident in this prediction, and the audience gets a lesson in how to make an omelette, all too aware that the play Nostradamus was trying to predict is actually Hamlet.
Along with the acting, the music, sets and costumes were well-done. The orchestra, conducted by Anya Murray, was visible on stage and played beautifully. The energetic music led to several fun dance breaks, choreographed by Leah Dau, that had the audience wanting to join in. The taunting tap dance between Nick Bottom and Shakespeare, punctuated by shuffles and heel-steps, had great comedic timing and drew laughter from the audience.
The dedication to starting this long, intensive production showed on stage as everything came together in a farcical success. The Grebel cast and crew should be proud of their efforts as they brought this musical to life on campus!