REVIEW: "Something Rotten!" — Musical Theatre West @ Carpenter Performing Arts Center

Updated: Jun 20, 2020

“It’s Quite a New Sensation! What Shall We Call it? — Will Power!”

In the vein of satirical musical comedies and parodies, such as Monty Python’s “Spamalot,” and “Urinetown,” “Something Rotten!” is a hilarious, intoxicating send-up of musical theatre, a farcical, post-modern Shakespearean riff centered on a couple of playwright brothers, Nick and Nigel Bottom, who are on a quest to write their very first musical for the stage, all while competing with the wild popularity of their nemesis, contemporary playwright, William Shakespeare.

The production basks in the puerile puns, giggly double-entendres, lip-smacking bad taste and goofy pastiche numbers often found in college revues. All those traits, I should add, have also propelled two of the most successful Broadway musicals of recent years: "The Book of Mormon" and Mel Brooks’ “The Producers.” Yet how restrained and elegant those shows seem to be next to “Something Rotten!”

A Musical Theatre West triumph, “Something Rotten!” officially opened at Carpenter Performing Arts Center last Friday, October 18th, and runs through Sunday, November 3rd. The show was originally nominated for ten Tony Awards, including Best Musical, winning one with Christian Borle as Best Featured Actor in a Musical. Its cast album also received a nomination for the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album.

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, who need to come up with a hit play or their ragtag troupe will be out of business. But no one in town can compete with the local rock star, Will Shakespeare, who makes the ladies swoon and the men green with envy. Certainly not our resolute brothers (Eric Petersen, as the charming rogue, Nick, and Beau Brians, 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. 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.