Theatre review: Musical Theatre West’s Something Rotten!

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Photo by Caught in the Moment Photography
Grasan Kingsberry (William Shakespeare) in Musical Theater West’s Something Rotten!

Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare! If you were a writer in London circa 1595, you’d be sick of hearing that name. That’s the premise of Something Rotten!, Musical Theatre West’s (MTW) tuneful comedy continuing at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center through Nov. 3. One writer decides to strike back at the Bard’s popularity by staging– of all things!– a musical, (mis)guided by a soothsayer’s premonitions about the future of theatre and Shakespeare’s most famous play.

If that premise isn’t enticing enough, exceptional acting, singing and staging make it all the more so. Nick Bottom (Eric Petersen) and his younger brother Nigel (Beau Brians) need their theatre troupe to put on a successful production immediately or face consequences from moneylender Shylock (Roland Rusinek), who can’t be appeased by being named in a play because, yes, Shakespeare already did that. Perhaps another reason Nick sings, “God, I Hate Shakespeare.”

In desperation, Nick consults soothsayer Nostradamus (not that one, but his nephew), played by David Gaines, who foretells that musicals are the wave of the future, leading to the extravagant number, “A Musical,” that includes dozens of references to hits from “A Chorus Line” to “Westside Story.” Something Rotten! is thus as much an ode to musicals as to Shakespeare, and a gleeful sendup of both.

When Nick’s first attempt at a timely musical production of “The Black Death” fails, Nostradamus channels Shakespeare’s as-yet-unwritten greatest hit– something breakfast-y about ham and a Danish– leading to Nick’s new musical, “Omelette.”

Shakespeare himself (Grasan Kingsberry)– treated by the Renaissance populace like a rock-star stud in gold lamé leggings at a “Shakespeare in the Park” event– infiltrates the venture and attempts to steal the idea from trusting young Nigel. After all, as he sings, it’s “Hard to Be the Bard” without borrowing a few lines here and there.

Meanwhile, poetic Nigel is in forbidden love with Portia (Madison Claire Parks), daughter of theatre-denouncing Puritan, Brother Jeremiah (Dedrick Bonner). And Nick’s wife Bea (Chelle Denton) wants to help in a forbidden way by earning money working outside the home. As she confidently states, women will surely be equal to men by 1600.

The cast’s ebullience and talent enhance our enjoyment. All the leads perform with aplomb, with Rusinek in multiple parts, opening the show as a minstrel and leading a rousing “Welcome to the Renaissance”– clearly a night-and-day difference from the Dark Ages.

Original costuming (Robin I. McGee) and beautifully painted sets (Paul Black)– depicting the Globe Theatre, Nick’s home and a seedy soothsayer’s street– add color and context. Choreography by Eric Sciotto delights, music direction by Dennis Castellano moves, and direction by Josh Grisetti expertly animates book, music and lyrics by Karey Kirkpatrick, Wayne Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell.

If you love Shakespeare– and especially if you don’t– MTW’s production of Something Rotten! will charm you with its campy but smart take on the playwright and delightfully over-the-top music and song.

Musical Theatre West’s Something Rotten! continues at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 E. Atherton St., Long Beach, through Nov. 3, with performances Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm & 8pm, and Sundays at 1pm & 6pm. Tickets start at $20. For tickets and information, call the box office at (562) 856-1999 x4 or visit musical.org.