William Shakespeare has always been a favorite of mine. I was assigned to read works by Bill the Bard in school and have also watched film adaptations of many of his famous works and have seen one on stage, though I’d love to increase that number.
While reading the synopsis for “Something Rotten!” I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect as I filed into the busy Des Moines Civic Center Tuesday for opening night. I had heard it compared to “Spamalot” and “The Book of Mormon,” so I knew comedy would be a major part of the show.
Set in the ‘90s, the 1590s that is, smack dab in the middle of the Renaissance world of Elizabethan England and during Shakespeare’s heyday, brothers and struggling bards, Nick and Nigel Bottom are trying to write a hit play to compete with The Bard. It’s not so easy trying to compete against the best.
Nick feels the strain to support his wife and younger brother, so he is desperate to try anything to come up with a good idea. He pays a soothsayer to look into the future and tell him what people will want to see. The answer is to write the first musical. Here is where the comedy really amps up. There were so many funny, subtle jabs at musicals, all done in song for perfect use of irony. They worked in so many references to big Broadway musical productions, it was hard to hear them all. But I digress.
After the show-stopping musical number convinces Nick this is the next big thing, he hurries to find his brother to tell him all about it. However, wanting to write a musical is hard when you can’t come up with the perfect idea. Discouraged by the first few attempts, Nick returns to the soothsayer to try to steal one of Shakespeare’s future ideas. The soothsayer only gets bits and pieces of “Omelette” and then picks up on ideas from other musicals like “Sound of Music” and “Phantom of the Opera” to fill in the blanks. What Nick and Nigel come up with is completely ridiculous, but that’s part of the fun of watching “Something Rotten!” unfold.
The performance was thoroughly enjoyable. It was fun, lighthearted entertainment. It had all of the elements to make anyone walk out of the theater happy — song, dance, humor and love. Rob McClure gave a wonderful performance as Nick Bottom. As the central character, he draws you in and makes you root for the underdogs. Even when Nick is trying too hard, you know he is only doing so because he wants to be a success for his family. I always make a point to read the playbill, especially about the lead actors. I was delighted to read that Maggie Lakis, who plays Nick’s wife Bea on stage, is McClure’s wife in real life. They each had a special note to each other in the text, and it made their performance on stage all the more endearing.
Shakespeare was portrayed as the villain in this story, however I can’t bring myself to see him that way. He was a “rock star” persona, and I had a silent fangirl moment when I realized Adam Pascal played The Bard. Pascal played the original Roger in “RENT,” and it’s one of my favorite musicals. Pascal’s rocker singing voice was perfect for this Shakespeare. I was so thrilled to get to see him perform on stage.
“Something Rotten!” was fun from beginning to end. I couldn’t possibly reveal everything about it that made it so much fun to watch, nor should you want me to spoil it. It will be at the Civic Center through Sunday. Go check it out if you have the chance.
Contact Pam Rodgers