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FringeReview USA 2023

Something Rotten


Genre: Musical Theatre

Venue: Keefe Center for the Arts


Low Down

In the musical comedy ‘Something Rotten’, put on by Nashua’s very capable Actorsingers, playwright brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom do their best survive in a world where Shakespeare has a monopoly on the theatre scene.


 At the top of ‘Something Rotten’, we are welcomed to Renaissance London with a catchy tune that gets us up to scratch on the non-stop innovations of the day. The newly enlightened peoples of the late 16th century are basking in the glow of tobacco from the new world, the concept of frozen chicken, and very exciting developments in plumbing. They are also enjoying the brilliant output of William Shakespeare, who dominates the theatre scene, much to the chagrin of any other playwrights hoping to get an audience. Nick and Nigel Bottom are two such playwrights, struggling to make ends meet as long as the Bard is on the scene. After a chance meeting with Nostradamus’s soothsaying nephew Thomas, the Bottom Brothers resolve to invent what Thomas has seen to be the next sure-fire hit of future theatrical endeavors: musicals. ‘Something Rotten’ was originally conceived in the 90s by film writer Karey Kirkpatrick and pop songwriter Wayne Kirkpatrick. Spitting Image writer John O’Farrell joined the team and they polished it into what premiered on Broadway in 2015. Since then, it has been a favorite in community theaters for its large cast, punchy tunes, and sure-to-please references to Shakespeare and musical theatre.

Because of the show’s reliance on references and puns, it is particularly important that the cast and direction is quick, versatile, and up to the challenge, and this production more than delivers. As Nick Bottom, Mare Michael Murai brings his considerable chops and pleasing voice to flesh out a character who in other hands could have easily fallen flat. Nigel Bottom, the more talented younger brother, is played by high school senior Finn Roach in his first role with Actorsingers, and he gels well with the more experienced cast, particularly as half of the double act he becomes with his love interest Portia (Dara Brown). Together, Roach and Brown light up the stage with undeniable chemistry and comedic timing. 

One of my main criticisms of ‘Something Rotten’ is that although the script seems to acknowledge it does require female characters, it doesn’t quite know what to do with them once they are there. Despite this, Dara Brown and Zoë Vitalich (playing Nick’s wife, Bea) both command the stage when they are present. Vitalich’s delivery of the song ‘Right Hand Man’, the first of ‘Something Rotten’s unfulfilled promises for her character, delighted the audience as did her every foray onto the stage performing various jobs to keep the coffers full while Nick figures out how to achieve his big break. Along for the ride is Thomas Nostradamus, played with considerable presence by Mike Colena, and the very likable Ben Berube as last-ditch hero Shylock. Randy William brought high-camp fire and brimstone to the character of Brother Jeremiah, and Elliot Robert Owens as William Shakespeare himself stole every single scene he was in with a Bard that mixed Joseph Fiennes with Conrad Birdie on methamphetamines. Rounding out the considerable ensemble was minstrel Samantha Weis, who ushered us into the Renaissance with her lovely voice, and the green-stockinged Colin J. Malette, hopping angrily about the stage as the irritable patron Lord Clapham. 

As a script, I don’t believe ‘Something Rotten’ will live within the annals of musical theatre as a beloved piece of work. The stakes are unclear, many of the references had been trotted out previously in 2005’s ‘Spamalot’, and in a musical about musicals there is a song about musicals in which they miss-stress the word ‘musical’. It is in this way that it has become a perfect show for a community theatre such as this one, because it allows for the talents of the cast and crew to shine. Actorsingers has transcended the text, and through pure grit, have turned something easily fine into something incredibly enjoyable and above all a wonderful example of why community theatre is necessary. This is in no small part due to the fantastic direction of Donna O’Bryant. Martha Daniels Holland’s choreography lives up to the show’s lofty Broadway promises, right down to the compulsory kick line. The gorgeous costumes (by Allison Szklarz and Lindsay Vago) and impressive set (by John McAllister, Jim Webber, and Donna O’Bryant) make the transfer of our minds from auditorium to 16th century London a simple task. Music director Judy Hayward is the icing on the cake, bringing us a live band for the accompaniment, which was a real treat in this age of recorded backing tracks.

If the proof is in the pudding (or the omelette, if you’ve seen the show), this production is proof of what can happen when community theatre is given the support and resources that allow people to showcase their innate creativity and talents. While this production is now closed, you can expect Actorsingers to return in the winter with a production of ‘Catch Me if You Can’. Be sure to catch that one if you missed this.