by Lynn on June 6, 2024

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Festival Theatre, Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ont. Runs until Oct. 27, 2024.

Book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell

Music and lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick

Conceived by Karey Kirkpatrick and Wayne Kirkpatrick

Directed and choreographed by Donna Feore

Music director, Laura Burton

Set and costumes by Michael Gianfrancesco

Lighting by Bonnie Beecher

Sound by Haley Parcher

Cast: Carla Bennett

Devon Michael Brown

Jeremy Carver-James

Dan Chameroy

Juan Chioran

Starr Domingue

Henry Firmston

Jordan Goodridge

Bonnie Jordan

Alex Kelly

Bethany Kovarik

Jeff Lillico

Amanda Lundgren

Gracie Mack

Anthony MacPherson

Jordan Mah

Kevin “Koovy’ McLachlan

Jamie Murray

Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah

Steve Ross

Jason Sermonia

Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane

Mark Uhre

And a large chorus.

Joyful, funny, smartly directed and choreographed and breathlessly performed.

The Story. Something Rotten! is not one of your better-known musicals because it opened in April, 2015 just before a little epic named Hamilton opened in August, 2015. Everything disappears when next to Hamilton.


The book for Something Rotten!  is by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell. The music and lyrics are by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick.

Something Rotten! is a wild, funny musical about trying to be successful writers during the time of Shakespeare (1595), who is at the top of his game. Two brothers, Nick and Nigel Bottom run a theatre in London, England, and are always playing catch-up to Shakespeare who is wildly successful.

Nigel is the poet-playwright of the two brothers, and he likes Shakespeare’s work and even shows him some of his poems. Shakespeare is not above stealing lines or ideas from Nigel.  Nick hates Shakespeare and needs something to better him so he goes to a soothsayer named Nostradamus to read the future about what will be the rage.

Nick is told something called a musical will be the new rage—it’s a kind of theatre when actors will talk but when anyone least expects it, the actor will start singing. Nick thinks this is wild but he’s desperate and goes along with it. And Nick is also told what the subject matter is of Shakespeare’s next hit….so stealing is not really a crime here as long as you can sing and dance to it.

The Performance. The Kirkpatrick brothers, Karey and Wayne get off to a rousing start with “Welcome to the Renaissance” that sets the time, tone and pace of the show. It’s a rousing ode to what is going on in world/England at the time; it’s lead in song with beaming joy by the Minstrel, exuberantly played by Jeremy Carver-James and the chorus.

It also establishes that the sound for the orchestra and singers is too loud and not balanced. The singers sound almost piercing and the band thumps away and almost drowns out the words. Now that can’t be right. The Festival Theatre is stunning acoustically. The audience can hear a whisper when the natural voice is properly projected for Shakespeare etc. Why can’t that balance be achieved for this musical. (That piercing volume was not a problem for La Cage Aux Folles at the Avon). Something Rotten! is not a rock concert—can’t something finally be done about this endless problem of “TOO LOUD!” End of rant.

While this new creation of “a musical” might seem odd to those folks in 1595 used to people talking to each other, without oddly bursting into song, there is nothing artificial or forced from the acting of this gifted, superb cast. Nick Bottom is beautifully played by Mark Uhre as an impatient, nervous, irritable man, worried about the future of his theatre. He is frustrated by the easy success of that show-off Shakespeare (Jeff Lillico). Mark Uhre illuminates that frustration in his intense, energetic performance of the fittingly titled, “God, I Hate Shakespeare.” It’s free-wheeling and full of passion.  

As Nigel Bottom, Henry Firmston is a reasonable, calming, sweet presence to the excitable Nick Bottom. Henry Firmston realizes how thoughtful and gracious Nigel is. He is a true poet, uncertain of his abilities but clear on when something doesn’t work or is morally wrong. Nigel tries to help Nick but Nick’s raging anxiety is a problem. Starr Domingue as Bea, Nick’s patient, capable wife sings “Right Hand Man” with such confidence and concern that you know she would and could move mountains for him, if only he’d notice and trust her.   

As Shakespeare, Jeff Lillico is all swager and pomposity, with a rock-star attitude, and he can sing wonderfully as well. “Will Power” is Shakespeare’s ode to himself, complex, clever, challenging and tossed off as easily as flipping his hair back for effect.

The always hilarious Dan Chameroy plays Nostradamus, the soothsayer. There is not a moment in which Chameroy doesn’t realize at least four laughs. In a bit of 1595 social commentary there is the character of Shylock played with aplomb by Steve Ross. His family and friends must be kvelling he’s so good. Shylock is a money lender, the only job he says a Jewish person could have at the time. He peppers his dialogue with Yiddish expressions. Shylock is quite happy that Shakespeare has said he will include him as a character in one of his plays. Shylock looks forward to being depicted as “the nice Jew.” Irony makes one sigh or say ‘Oy.’

Something Rotten! is directed and choreographed by Donna Feore who outdoes herself here. The pace of the dancing is, fast, furious and breathtaking. It’s creative, inventive choreography. Donna Feore also realizes every single joke in the script and visual jokes that arise from situations. She will have the audience laugh so hard their cheeks will hurt, all of them.

Something Rotten! references other musicals and Donna Feore raises the stakes here by also referencing other musicals she has directed and choreographed. It’s a double whammy to try and see how many musicals are referenced and how many she has directed by the clues. The whole cast is wonderful and so is this musical.

Comment. Shall we talk about the ‘elephant in the room’ in Something Rotten!? I speak of Shylock and the references of Jews. Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell do subtly reference how Jews have been depicted in plays, literature etc. so Shylock looking forward to being depicted in Shakespeare’s play as a ‘nice Jew’ is wishful thinking on Shylock’s part, we know it from hindsight. And Shylock is partially correct when he says he can only be a money lender at that time—he could also be a tinker or a tailor—the jobs were limited to those three for him.

Even a subtle reference to Jews in a musical these days, makes one suck air, ever so slowly. The world is fractious and angry. Antisemitism is on the rise. What to do? Exhale, ever so slowly and laugh in the face of the anger.

Last year with Spamalot the is a song called “You Won’t Succeed On Broadway” (if you don’t have any Jews). Uncomfortable though that might sound, it’s true. If one makes a list of the top twenty or so Broadway composer/lyricists over the last 50 years they are all Jewish: Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, Lorenz Hart, Cy Coleman, Jerry Herman, Alan Jay Lerner, Frederick Loewe, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, etc. At the bottom of that list (but certainly not last or least) is gentile Cole Porter. One can also now add Eric Idle, Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Apparently there were a few complaints last year about the Jewish references and allegedly the Stratford administration felt it necessary to add something to the musical to temper the reference. That is unfortunate. Spamalot is a wonderful show and has been making people (of all ethnicities and religions, and dare one say it, Jews the most) laugh. Today’s headlines make people sensitive when other times one would slough off a funny reference. A sense of humour is such a defensive shield.  

The Stratford Festival Presents:    

Plays until Oct. 27, 2024.

Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes (1 intermission)

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