Updated: May 18
It’s Hard to be Bard!
Put your hands together for the one, the only ... William Shakespeare!? He struts on stage in tight leather pants, and his fans go wild. He's the Mick Jagger of the Elizabethan age, a suave glam-rocker who improvises great lines like "If music be the food of love, play on," all casually shot from the hip.
As the "man who put the 'I am' in iambic pentameter," Brennan Eckberg has the stage presence and camp to put over his self-adoring Bard to the nth degree, giving a slight jolt of anarchy to the show, while evoking stars like Kurt Cobain or David Bowie with that gritty, mixed rock vibrato.
Grammy Award-winning songwriter Wayne Kirkpatrick, along with screenwriters Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell have teamed up to give us a laugh-a-minute, snort-milk-funny evening that skewers Shakespeare while referencing nearly every hit Broadway musical in recent memory.
“We were big history buffs,” says Karey Kirkpatrick. ”It just started, wouldn’t it be funny if Shakespeare’s London were a lot like what Broadway was in the ‘30s? If the writers had agents, and the Tin Pan Alley scene. What would it be like to be writing in the shadow of William Shakespeare, after "Romeo and Juliet" just opened?”
Hailed as the funniest musical comedy in over 400 years, this 2015 parody spring musical now seems to be among the first live productions back on stage in this section of the country, and here presented by Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts in the HBUHSD Historic Auditorium, premiering May 14th - 16th, and May 20th - 23rd, Thursday/Friday/Saturday evenings at 7pm and Saturday/Sunday matinees at 2pm. Still fully masked (although the leads wear clear, indiscernible “shield” masks), the cast performed last evening to a partially filled auditorium, around ninety patrons, with the theatre still under the gun from healthcare guidance agencies. But you couldn’t tell from the excitement and applause in the seats.
Complete with a 16-member pit orchestra, the show is conducted by 27-year APA veteran, Gregg Gilboe, directed and musically directed by the acclaimed, award-winning Tim Nelson, and choreographed with polish and style by APA Artistic Director Diane Makas and Jennifer Simpson-Matthews.
Here’s the setup: The year is 1595 and the English Renaissance is in full flower in Tudor London. Isaac Newton will soon discover gravity; King Henry IV of France declares war on Spain and Shakespeare’s play, “Romeo and Juliet” has just opened to a rousing success. In a clever opening number, “Welcome to the Renaissance,” we’re introduced to some of the marvels of this wondrous age. Cue Francis Bacon, clutching a chicken to let us know that he’s found a way to freeze meat. And here comes Sir Walter Raleigh, aristocratic nose in the air and puffing on a pipe filled with tobacco, the marvelous substance he brought back from his travels to the new world. And don’t even get these cheerleaders started on all the brilliant playwrights of the age, like Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Dekker and John Middleton.
Among this rivalry are writers Nick Bottom and his brother Nigel, struggling playwrights, perpetually stuck at second-tier while Shakespeare plays to packed houses. No one can compete with Will Shakespeare, local rock-star writer, who makes the ladies swoon and the men green with envy. Certainly not our resolute brothers (Jack Borenstein as the charming rogue, Nick, and Max Hardy as an endearing innocent Nigel), who can’t seem to catch a break.
Even their last name is Bottom, and, to any writer, fodder for an inexhaustible source of wordplay. Ex: "Bottom's Gonna Be on Top." You can imagine how many one-liners hinge on the Bottoms' name. But now, their theater troupe will lose their rich patronage if they can’t come up with an idea for a play that Shakespeare hasn’t done already. “Oh, God, I hate Shakespeare!” rails Nick, in plummy tones of envious contempt.
When Nick's wife Bea (Payton Moore) searches for a job to support them, Nick decides to gamble their savings on a soothsayer. The sage he finds—Nostradamus—tells Nick he can see into the future and divine exactly what the Bard is writing next, channeling his revelations head-on, through his feet, hands, and apparently even his hair. “It's the greatest play in theater history,” he claims, and so Nick decides then and there to steal Shakespeare's idea for himself.
And that's not all! "In the future," Nostradamus (Gavin Yauchzee in full animated splendor) envisions what "the biggest, most fantastic thing in theater will be—musicals!" Cue a major production number that’s complete with impromptu chorus, triumphant kick line, and countless references to musicals from “A Chorus Line” to “Les Misérables.” Bowled over by the soothsayer's encouraging forecast, the Bottom brothers proceed to write and stage their own newest masterpiece, aptly called “Omelette: The Musical,” an outlandishly terrible coup de théâtre that makes “The Producers” Springtime for Hitler look like a Pulitzer Prize winner.
Jack Borenstein gallantly carries the show on his back as lead Nick Bottom. Mr. Borenstein has a scrappy, infectious energy that's compelling to watch even as Nick succumbs to his worst instincts. The incredible tap-battle between Shakespeare and Jack is one of the pinnacles of the show.
As Jack’s brother, Max Hardy makes a sincere, unpretentious Nigel, and he brings the show the closest it comes to a pure, genuine feeling. Nigel is bookish but with a romantic's heart. And Mr. Hardy plays him as such an effortlessly honest nerd that his blooming in the face of true love with the Puritan Portia (Rachel Bronder) is heartwarming, and it becomes clear that the couple runs counterpart to his brother's story.
The supporting cast could not have been picked better. Ms. Moore (whose vocal power is top-notch, especially in the number, “Right Hand Man”) is at once feisty, spunky and serious as Nick's wife Bea, and Ms. Bronder is adorably quirky, and just a bit ditzy in her love for poetry—a big reason she falls for Nigel. Both actresses are compensated with highly caffeinated performances that push hard for laughs.
Puritan Brother Jeremiah (enacted by Kyler Naef) seems to have some underlying closet issues, and has little tolerance for Portia’s dalliance with poet Nigel. Mason Creyaufmiller as Shylock, the Jewish money lender who desperately wants to be a part of the theatre world, and Shane Gorsage as flamboyant theatre producer Lord Clapham both provide chuckles and strong character support along the way.
Still, this show was proudly inspired by the Bard's bawdy quill, and the real playwright was never one to resist a lewd pun. It's admirable just how many gags based on actual Shakespeare lines earn hearty laughter. Even in a sendup like “Something Rotten!” William Shakespeare still emerges as the star of the show. As the lyric colloquially states, "the man knows how to write a bitchin' play!"
The hardworking ensemble kick up their heels and lend their voices effectively for some excellent choral work, and many of the character roles and supporting roles are alternates based on show dates assigned. For the opening show Friday night, additional cast members included Drew Dela Llana, Irene Emahiser and Gracie Hill as Minstrels; Katie Gray, Irene Emahiser and Miranda Ellis as Chefs. Other cast members included Brock Lichthardt, Audrey Camacho, Nat Carlson, Jackson Hartin, David Elliot, Olivia Arens, London Baskerville, Max Smith, Michael Smith, Seth Christ, Kole Williamson, Nate McDaniel and Joseph Cobb.
Technical Director Joe Batte; Sound & Lighting Design Josh Behrens; Costume Design Carole Zelinger; Wardrobe Hair & Makeup Marissa Sellers; Prop Design Trish Merrill; Dance Captain Olivia Aniceto.
Something Rotten! runs through May 23rd at Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts. Due to limitation of seating and a pre-sale requirement, tickets may not be immediately available. Check with APA’s website, https://www.hbapa.org/ regularly to see if seats may be available in the near future.
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report